Established in 1946, R.A.Braithwaite has been an independent, family-owned jewellery business now for well over 70 years.
Our story began with Reginald Arthur Braithwaite being trained as an instrument maker in the Royal Air Force. He was then, later, asked to be an air gunner and then further, an officer and was involved in World War II. After the war, he had two options – he could either remain in the RAF or return home. He chose to return home and was demobbed from the RAF and returned to York with his wife Joyce.
Reginald, having a history of instrument making, set out repairing watches and clocks for the people of York, as being trained in instrument making provided a similar skill set. A close family friend, who owned numerous properties in York, offered Reginald the ability to rent one of his properties (which is now) No. 10 Gillygate York, which he promptly opened as a clock and watch repair shop which he named after himself, R.A.Braithwaite.
He offered a key point of difference from many other shops at the time, of having an extremely fast repair service for watches and clocks. At this time just after the war, people owned more clocks than watches, with the majority of the repairs being on clocks that hadn’t been working for many years. After a few weeks of opening the shop in Gillygate, Reginald made a great name for himself and many customers asked if he sold watches as well as repairing and servicing them, as they were becoming increasingly popular to own. He swiftly introduced just six Swiss Army and six Smiths Empire watches to understand if they would be popular with his customers. As he did not have any window display props available to him, he used his sister in law’s bedsheet and his wife’s silk petticoat material, laid over cardboard boxes to create a display in the shop window. Alongside the watches, he also displayed some of his wife’s jewellery, purely to enhance the display having only purchased twelve watches as a trial.
The twelve watches which he had on show in the window of the shop in York sold exceptionally well, much to his surprise, however, he also had numerous enquiries to purchase his wife’s jewellery, which was not for sale!
It was this confidence which then allowed him to introduce a small range of jewellery using the same method, as a trial. Again, the jewellery sold well and the rest is history!
Joyce, working as chief cashier at a grocery shop in York City Centre, managed the accounts side of the growing jewellery business as she had the ‘financial brain’ which, alongside Reginald’s ‘creative brain’ worked fabulously together as a team.
Now, the business not only repaired clocks and watches but also sold numerous jewellery and watch items therefore giving R.A.Braithwaite a very good reputation as an independent jewellers in York.
Due to the increasing demand for repairs and the ever-growing business in sales, Reginald needed to employ some staff to continue the momentum. He carried out all training himself making sure the new team used the specific method he had previously used to repair and service the clocks and watches. This enabled him to focus on the front of house and sales side of the business in the retail shop. Two key services post war which R.A.Braithwaite offered its customers was firstly a payment plan option which enabled customers to pay small increments each week to save up for something special and secondly, the availability of purchasing 18ct Gold wedding rings.
During the war, often people did not have wedding rings as gold was not readily available as the coupon and rationing did not allow it – often people would use a curtain ring or other non-precious metal as a wedding ring. However, post war, gold was more available and became incredibly popular for those getting married.
After some time, the flat above the Gillygate jewellers shop became available to rent, so Reginald and Joyce moved there so they could have work and home life all in one place.
After some time of successful jewellery shop in Gillygate, Reginald and Joyce decided it was time to rent a property within the heart of York City Centre. A shop became available to rent in Feasgate which they could also live above. This shop was also named after Reginald as R.A.Braithwaite, and, for a period of time, the couple had two shops with one of them managing each shop. However, after some time, this became unmanageable, so they decided to close the jewellers in Gillygate and focus on the jewellery shop in Feasgate as it was more central.
After many successful years renting in Feasgate, the owners of the shop and surrounding property wanted to sell the whole block to be redeveloped, therefore, the business would need to relocate. Reginald and Joyce set out in search for a property to buy. They settled on two favourites after an extensive search, but the outright winner was the property in Goodramgate where the business remains today. The shop used to be a fruiters and the couple bought it in March 1962. Reginald fitted out the shop and showcases within the Goodramgate jewellery shop himself, due to being a particularly good craftsman and it was all ready to open for business within six weeks.
After a period of time with the Feasgate property on the market, the owners couldn’t proceed with the sale therefore offered all the current tenants the option to remain in their property at reduced rents. R.A.Braithwaite therefore remained open for many more years in Feasgate.
Now having two shops successfully trading in York City Centre, the business was able to expand further, and Reginald was told about a property which had come up for sale in Driffield. The shop was previously the Majestic cinema sweetshop and therefore he named the shop “Majestic Jewellers”.
After a period of time with the one shop being so successful in Driffield, another property came up for sale a little further along the road.
The couple also purchased this one and named it R.A.Braithwaite in line with the York shops and offered a different range of goods to “Majestic Jewellers” to ensure they could provide for every client.
Further time went on and Reginald was told about a jewellery shop for sale in Bishop Auckland. The couple bought this shop and rebranded it into another branch, also named R.A.Braithwaite.
More time went by and another shop came up for sale but this time in Scarborough which again became another branch of R.A.Braithwaite to take the total number of jewellery shops up to six.
The final shop was then opened which saw Reginald and Joyce taking over the lease of No. 31 Parliament Street in York which they named “York Goldsmiths”. This shop offered fine jewellery and was a different offering to that of Goodramgate or Feasgate shops and again was well within the heart of the city.
Dianne, daughter of the co-founders, had grown up between the different shops and unknown to her, had been learning the ropes along the way! Joyce and Reginald gave her ‘jobs’ to do such as stacking empty ring boxes in cupboards or cleaning the showcases which she thoroughly enjoyed as a new task to aid her learning as a child. When Dianne joined the business in September 1973, she worked her way up from the bottom, as her father had required all staff to do, to ensure she knew every element of how the different parts of the business worked together.
Dianne married Frank in 1975 and then he finally joined the family business in February 1981 after Dianne’s father suddenly passed away the previous month. He was experienced having worked in commercial banking and had spent numerous holidays and weekends working within the family business but, bar the learning on the job, knew very little about the jewellery industry. Frank went on to complete numerous jewellery qualifications across the years to develop his knowledge and become an expert in many fields.
Today, Dianne and Frank work as a team with integrated workshops to deliver the same qualities Reginald originally set out over seventy years prior.
Expanding further from purely the retail shops, R.A.Braithwaite has, over time, had jewellery display showcases in the top York hotels. York is a very popular tourist destination city and often visitors wanted to purchase mementos such as jewellery of the famous ‘White Rose of Yorkshire’ or models of York Minster. Showcases were located in Elm Bank Hotel around 1964 and then later around the 1990’s in The Royal York Hotel (Now, The Principal which is attached to York Station) and also Dean Court Hotel which is situated at the west door of York Minster.
R.A.Braithwaite has also been present at numerous wedding fayres and showcased a full bridal jewellery selection – This ranged from diamante tiaras to make any bride feel extra special on her wedding day, jewellery including the famous ‘something blue’, bridal party gifts and also the key … the wedding rings! Wedding fayres were in numerous locations including Carlton Towers near Selby, The Royal York Hotel, York Racecourse, The Yorkshire Showground, Fairfield Manor Hotel, The Grange Hotel and many more.
In the late 1990’s, R.A.Braithwaite also got ahead of the game and introduced an online brochure-style website under the name www.braithwaitesjewellers.com. This later turned into a fully e-commerce website and whilst needing updates, the website served the local, independent jewellers in York well with orders from around the world. In 2019, the decision was made to move the focus of the business into purely online and close the retail shop (even though it remains open today) therefore investment was needed and the website went through a huge rebuild and redevelopment to bring it up to date in 2021. The company is now ready for the next 70 years of trading!