By Scott Wright

IT may seem decidedly bold for a retail business to be carrying out the biggest overhaul in its 154-year history in the midst of a pandemic, given the continuing restrictions imposed on the sector.

But that is precisely the strategy being undertaken at Hamilton & Inches, the prestigious Edinburgh jeweller, which has held a Royal Warrant for more than 120 years.

Work is stepping up on a £3 million project to transform the historic company’s Grade A listed, five-storey building on the capital’s George Street, a project which will radically revamp its showrooms while upgrading its workshops and service department. A dedicated Rolex repair centre will be developed in the basement.

The project, which Hamilton & Inches says will showcase its contemporary offering while staying true to the Georgian building’s heritage, comes as the jeweller reported strong trading in December, in spite of the challenges posed by the continuing coronavirus crisis.

Speaking shortly before the latest Scotland-wide lockdown, chief executive Victoria Houghton said while 2020 had been “disruptive” and “unprecedented” in the company’s history, “we have come out much stronger, and we are doing very, very well.”

Noting that the jeweller had seen a “dramatic” rise in online sales, which climbed more than 500 per cent in November following the launch of a new website, Ms Houghton said: “To date [we are] having the best December we have ever had.

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“Jewellery, watches, they hold their value. That is something people appreciate in such uncertain times.”

Ms Houhgton is enthused about the possibilities afforded by the refurbishment, on which the jeweller is working alongside design practice Waldo Works and Simpson & Brown Architects.

Asked what has given Hamilton & Inches the confidence to forge ahead with the investment in spite of the hugely uncertain outlook, Ms Houghton said: “These are long-term plans we had in place long before the pandemic. We feel it is still very much an important part of the future business strategy. We are very confident in our team, the business, and the luxury retail market. We want to continue on track.

“And being an independent business we saw the value in investing in the renovation, not only for the business but also our customers. We are a destination – it is not as if they can go to another branch. We feel there has never been a more important time to play such a key role in driving Edinburgh’s retail recovery.”

Ms Houghton added: “As the restrictions loosen, we are actually very excited about the prospect. You can’t buy quite a few of the brands online, so it is very much a shopping experience. It is not just a transaction. People appreciate that. They come in, have a coffee, have a glass of Champagne. It is not just a purchase; it is very much an experience.”

While the refurbishment work to date has focused on back-office areas, attention has now been turned to the showroom. It was always in the jeweller’s plan to close to allow work to take place in January, before the mandatory closure effected by the Scottish Government.

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When asked what customers could expect from the new look, Ms Houghton replied: “It will be really luxurious, more contemporary. But because we are a listed building, we will still be retaining the beautiful features of the building. It is absolutely stunning. It will just be making it more of a shopping experience; updating the frontage, so it will be more open, more inviting [with] easier display cabinets to actually shop from, [and] installing two beautiful private viewing rooms at the back of the showroom.

“We are renovating the Rolex area, and enlarging the Patek Philippe area. It is really great, very exciting for our customers.”

Of particular excitement to Ms Houghton, who has responsibility for the Hamilton & Inches brand and creative direction, is the company’s commitment to training staff in traditional jewellery making skills. The jeweller runs an apprenticeship programme and has links with academia. “We want that to continue and flourish,”she said. “We have silversmiths, workshops and jewellers.”

Ms Houghton was appointed chief executive of Hamilton & Inches in April 2019, having been on the board since January 2018, following an approach by chairman Peter Lederer.

Prior to that, Ms Houghton held a variety of fashion and accessories roles with Next and Marks & Spencer.

“I have had quite a varied background, but I have always had an interest in jewellery and fashion,” she said. “And I have always been in retail.

“I was lucky enough to work for Next for three years in Bangkok, Thailand. I was working in product development in silver jewellery. There, I sourced and designed accessories, and that’s when I first became interested in fine jewellery. So I have got over 20 years’ experience in buying and retail.”

Asked what she enjoys about her role, Ms Houghton said: “It’s such a great business to be involved in, especially [with it] being independent and privately owned. I really enjoy the varied nature of my role. We’re a close-knit team, and I enjoy working across all departments.”

Ms Houghton added: “It is such an opportunity to be involved in such an iconic Scottish brand. This investment we are making now, and this refurbishment, is such an exciting new chapter for Hamilton & Inches.

“We want it to bring us forward for the next 154 years.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
I really enjoyed living and working in both Thailand and Romania. It’s great to be able to live and work somewhere different and immerse yourself in the culture, you don’t get to do that when you are there for leisure. I’ve been lucky to experience the best of both worlds, from the beaches of Asia to snowboarding in the Alps. 

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
At the age of 14 I set up a jewellery business. I’ve always been creative and it was clear to me from a very young age that I wanted to be in business. It was my aim to secure a role that embraced both business and creativity, there is nothing quite like being able to do it all. 

What was your biggest break in business?
It was when I was approached by Hamilton & Inches Chairman, Peter Lederer to join the board and then becoming CEO a year later. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to where I am, and it was a proud moment when that was recognised. I was extremely grateful to be given such a great opportunity. 

What was your worst moment in business?
Like most people in business, this year (2020) has probably been the worst due to the pandemic and the unknown nature of the situation. It’s been a challenging time for us all at Hamilton & Inches, having to adapt to new ways of working and implement safety measures. However, we’re hopefully coming out the other end and we’ve worked extremely well to overcome all of the issues we faced. 

Who do you most admire and why? 
I would have to say my mother. She is always positive, incredibly kind and generous with her time. She loves bringing people together and always has a smile.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
I’ve just finished Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. And right now I’m loving Michael Kiwanuka’s album Love & Hate.