A life in jewellery started for the young John Baldwin in the swinging mid 1960s when, as an art student, he was headhunted from college in Loughborough and propelled into London’s Mayfair to work alongside famous jeweller to the stars Ernest Blyth.
It was a grounding that set the young jeweller on the road to success and almost 50 years after opening his first shop he is still just as passionate about his profession today.
In 2007, John set up shop in Devon’s own jewel, Tavistock, quickly earning a reputation for his talent and customer service, while providing the kind of specialist service that attracts customers from far and wide.
Baldwin Jewellery is an expert in their field, a modern day jewellers that encompasses traditional values. They strive to offer their customers the best value and service they can, using their extensive knowledge and experience in the industry. This is what makes them special and sets them apart from most run of the mill high street jewellers. “A jewel within a jewel,” says John.
The business has two Facets. A wonderful sense of the traditional that’s no better represented than by John himself, offering an extensive collection of fine, high end diamond and gold jewellery, lovingly hand crafted using traditional jewellery skills and services. and a contemporary side that showpieces the latest designs and trends created by the premier brands and designers of the jewellery world that John’s son James personally oversees, while also designing and crafting his very own, bespoke ranges.
The Swinging 60s
John was studying a 3D design course at Loughborough art and design college when he met Ernest Blyth, the man who was to become his mentor and friend.
“Ernest came to the university as a visiting lecturer,” he says. “He was a very famous jeweller in the 1960s. He liked what I was doing and my ideas, took me under his wing and asked me if I would like to come and work with him for two weeks.”‘We had a lot in common; we both loved jewellery and squeezing every last once out of life. Well, it was the Swinging ’60s,” recalls John fondly. “After the two weeks were over he offered me a job. I was gobsmacked, but incredibly proud and motivated. He took me under his wing. He really was the Dorian of the jet set and I ended up being his top man in my 20s. What a grounding I had. We designed the best jewellery for the most fabulous people of the time, including the royal family. One minute I was in loughborough learning my trade, the next I was in London perfecting it to the great and good of society!”
Royal Jewellery Commissions
John enjoyed many high profile commissions, including being asked to design a very special brooch for the Queen to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Armada.
The Queen’s brooch, which she said she loved in a letter to John, was based on a piece of jewellery Sir Francis Drake gave to Queen Elizabeth I after the Armada. It represents a particular highlight in John’s career and one that he is justifiably proud of.
The Royal Navy
One of John’s first commissions was a table centre piece mess silver for the Royal Navy for HMS Frigate, Chatham. John also created a resplendent piece in silver to commemorate the medical staff who died in the Falklands War, along with other notable Royal Navy silverware to mark the commissioning of new ships.
Due to his work with the Royal Navy, John was asked to create a special piece of jewellery for Princess Margret, patron of HMS Illustrious, to mark the ship’s recommissioning. He took his inspiration from the crest of HMS Illustrious and created a brooch which she was presented with at the ceremony.
Reaching For The Stars
“When I started I was a humble art student with not much in the way of even the clothes I stood up in. One day Ernest took me to Saville Row in his Lotus Elite to see his tailor and he kitted me out with the best suits of the time. I felt like a million dollars. I felt like I had really made it. I didn’t earn much but working for Ernest changed my life. It gave me the confidence to get on in life and I’ve never looked back since. It’s that zest for the creative life that I’ve hopefully given to my son, James. Yes, there will never be another time like the ’60s, but I like to think I’ve kept hold of that spirit of creative adventure in my own little way.”
From his humble beginnings, John enjoyed many high profile jewellery commissions, “I made jewellery for the Queen, Princess Margaret and Prince Charles and pop stars like Ray Davies from the Kinks. Mary Quant used to roll up to the shop and out would come the Champagne. That’s what it was like at that time, in that incredibly mad, but intensely creative world. I literally lived the Creative Revolution and I can honestly say that it put me and my skills on the map. We were designing and making high class jewellery but we were also living that mad life.”
John was also entrusted to keep it secret that he was creating the wedding rings for Dawn French and Lenny Henry, who were also frequent clients and visitors to the shop in Plymouth…when they were still together, that is!
The Wonderful West Country
John worked for Ernest Blyth for three years before moving to the West Country to take up a post as a lecturer at Plymouth Art College and in his spare time continued to design and make jewellery. He worked as a teacher for ten years, but missed the hands on satisfaction of designing and crafting his own beautiful creations and so opened his own shop in Cornwall Street in Plymouth in the 1970s.
John, James and The Next Generation
John & James’ traditional skills of jewellery making are today combined with the latest in Computer Aided Design to design and produce high quality and beautifully bespoke pieces.
From an early age it was obvious that James Baldwin possessed exceptional craft and creative design skill, so it was of no surprise that after leaving Kelly College in 2004 he would join his father to realise his own burning ambition to be a jeweller. Having gained his skills working alongside of one of Britain’s great goldsmiths, John knew that to be a jeweller of exception James needed to do the same, so set James to work as his apprentice. James initially trained at the bench gaining all the hand skills and knowledge for the manufacture and repair of fine jewellery. His training also involved working for several different companies in Birmingham’s jewellery trade and courses in diamond grading, conceptual design, and precious and semi -precious stones.
With perception James saw the future of jewellery design and fabrication was CAD/CAM (Computer aided design and manufacture) and has spent considerable time acquiring the skills and knowledge to put himself at the forefront of 21st century jewellery design.
Having worked alongside John for over a decade now, James has earned a reputation as a highly skilled jeweller in his own right, with a wealth of knowledge over all genres of jewellery and gems. James’ ambition is to build on the long and proud reputation that is Baldwin Jewellery, continuing to design and realise beautiful jewellery with exemplary customer service. His mission is to continue to build on the incredible reputation that Baldwin Jewellery has and to take the business into the future proving that it will always be about creativity, craftsmanship and incredible service. It will always be about Shaping Modern Heritage.
John and James decided to close their Plymouth store to fully concentrate on making Tavistock the centre of the future for the business. With a strong desire to combine the best of the high street with the ability to spread the their brand message to a wider audience by developing their website facility, what better place to claim as home than Devon’s quaint and vibrant Tavistock.
As John says, “We already have clients that come from all over the UK and the world, but we understand that they love us for what we are, our independent way of delivering our particular service and, in a way, Tavistock represents a lot of that too. We’re are fiercely proud to be in the South West and to fly the flag for all that is wonderful about the countryside and the people here. I may not have be born here, but my business was!”
Making jewellery in Tavistock is about as good as it gets as far as John Baldwin is concerned. “I love being in Tavistock. I was offered a shop here many years ago but I declined. When the chance came up again I took it. Everyone loves Tavistock and I just feel that we are a special part of it. Every day that I open the shop is a pleasure for me.”