Jeweller takes a closer look at the history of Hammerton’s Jewellers with Ryan Hammerton, Director, as it turns 142 this year.
FOUNDED BY John Hammerton
LOCATION Eight Street, Mildura, VIC
Our retail business first commenced in 1879 at 173 Little Ryrie Street, Geelong, opened by my great-great grandfather, John Hammerton.
John and his son Horace were highly regarded silversmiths, jewellers, and engravers, with many of their pieces now housed in museum collections in Melbourne.
The two most prominent items are the Geelong Mayoral Chain and a solid 15-carat gold paperweight that was presented to Dame Nellie Melba in 1922.
The piece was considered to have enormous significance and was purchased by Museums Victoria, with the assistance of the Sunshine Foundation and the Australian Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account, for a staggering $130,000.
The relocation from Geelong to Mildura in 1916 is the most substantial change our business has undertaken in its history. Horace’s son, Horace Geoffrey ‘Geoff’ Hammerton, took the helm in 1933, and trained in bench jewellery, engraving, watchmaking and also as an optician.
Geoff was deployed during World War II and spent six years away from the store, helping to develop anti-aircraft equipment. His wife Florence took over management during the war and continued working in the business for decades to come.
Ian, Geoff’s second-eldest son, joined the business in 1968 as an apprentice watchmaker. The tiny Eighth Street store was a beehive of activity, with up to 10 staff!
I joined the business after a few years pursuing a career with Hewlett Packard, but ultimately chose to return to our regional town. My wife Clare and I purchased the business from my parents in 2007 and set about refurbishing the store.
Despite our successes, we haven’t pursued much in the way of expansion outside of the region. The township is geographically isolated – 400km from the next-largest town/city – which doesn’t allow for easy expansion into other areas.
We purchased one of our competitors’ stores, Etheringtons The Jewellers – which was established in 1932 – as an opportunity to differentiate our retail offer in the region.
The depth of range in jewellery in the modern era was too much for our original 50sqm store and rather than increase the store size, the ability to present two store options proved to be a better outcome.
Five years ago, we were also fortunate enough to acquire a substantial 500sqm double-storey building next to our Langtree Mall business, which was built by the former retailer Thomas Jewellers.
The building design was intended for a ‘cash-and-carry’ approach with over 200sqm of storage; we have slowly modified it to better suit our requirements and these areas will be repurposed as we look to expand our range of services.
Although I’ve only been involved in the business for around 20 years, we’ve already seen a ridiculous number of financial crises, huge spikes in material costs, aggressive alternate sales channels, and competitors entering the market.
In an era where the global pandemic has rocked everyone’s businesses, being custodian to a 142-year-old business gives you some clarity over the challenges that predecessors endured in the past.
Remaining somewhat conservative in your approach to growth, adhering to better quality, and maintaining your relationships with customers and suppliers are critical aspects to ensure consistency.
It’s an interesting thing to manage a business that has operated through five generations.
Each generation has been very different to the next; we’ve slowly moved from very traditional bench jewellery through to focusing on more modern manufacturing techniques with global capabilities.
It does have the feeling of a family legacy that’s inescapable – for me, earning degrees in computer science and business, and a fledgling career in the world of IT, wasn’t enough to escape the pull of something very familiar!
With a rapidly changing landscape I don’t have an expectation that my children will follow me into the business.
Like many family business owners, I think I’ll be averse to relinquishing control, which will provide them with the freedom to look into other career paths!
Whether they can secure something as enjoyable as our industry – or return with a view to taking over the stores – will determine the longevity of our business.