From an engagement ring fit for a princess to a world-record-busting Patek Philippe watch and show stopping Art Deco bracelet. George Pragnell has been supplying some of the finest pieces in the world since 1954. Here, Managing Director Charlie Pragnell tells us the story behind this most British of brands
How did George Pragnell come about and how has it evolved over the years?
My grandfather, George Pragnell, started in the jewellery trade as a young gemmologist with Biggs of Maidenhead, where he served the Royal Family. In 1954, supported by his wife Margaret, for those days, a very modern lady from Yorkshire, he took over a small jewellers in Stratford Upon Avon and established the company under his name.
It was inevitable that one of George’s children would take up the mantle of running the business and that opportunity fell to my father, Jeremy. Spending his childhood in such close proximity to jewellery prepared him for a life in the family business, and having trained with several leading houses across Europe, including the Crown Jewellers, he joined the business in 1972 and set out to grow it. The current showroom is evidence of my father’s vision.
What inspired you to join the family business?
I joined the company in 2005, having trained at the Gemological Institute of America in California and having spent a number of years in New York working with some leading gemstone polishers and antique jewellery dealers. I became Managing Director in 2010 and since then I have focused on customer service, developing the company’s gemstone collection and jewellery design, a specialist service which is offered in Stratford Upon Avon and by our Mayfair showroom.
No other fine jeweller in the UK has such a diversity of knowledge or skills or provides such a wide range of goods and services under one roof
What makes George Pragnell unique?
No other fine jeweller in the UK has such a diversity of knowledge or skills nor provides such a wide range of goods and services under one roof. We have three valuers, ten qualified gemologists, goldsmiths, clock makers and silver specialists.
As well as creating new and exciting jewellery collections, using only the finest gemstones, we can help whether you are looking for a 10-carat emerald cut diamond ring cut in New York in the 1930s, a rare watch or clock, or whether you simply want your natural pearl necklace re-strung and a candlestick fixed. We’ll find everything from a nib for an antique barometer to a matching pair of lost Kashmir sapphire earrings and we even will repair the enamel on your antique Faberge box. Years ago you could find a shop on Bond Street that would do all of this for you under one roof – but nowadays you’d have to visit many separately.
Highlights for the brand over the years?
The town of Stratford Upon Avon and William Shakespeare have always played a key role in our business, and over the years we have created pieces for a number of events, including the Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Prize in 2014 to celebrate the Bard’s 450th birthday, which was introduced with a toast by the novelist Hilary Mantel and awarded to the stage director Sir Nicholas Hytner. In 2015 we presented Sir Kenneth Branagh with the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award and a silver vessel, which was handcrafted at our workshops. Then in 2016 we presented a Royal gift to The Prince of Wales on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
We have built up a loyal following of British families as well as an international clientele, from American industrialists to European royalty
My father recognised the importance of establishing strong connections with the Swiss watchmaking houses and the pinnacle of this special relationship was a limited edition of five PATEK PHILIPPE minute repeaters, each one priced at £162,000 in partnership with George Pragnell to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our company in 2004. When one later went on the block at Christie’s in Hong Kong it fetched a cool £390,000, a world record for that reference.
On a personal note, in 2011 I designed a ring depicting a sapphire-breasted humming bird hovering over a hot pink freesia, which won the coveted Goldsmiths Craft and Design Council Gold and Fine Jewellery Award in its 100th year.
Who are your customers?
Over the years we have built up a loyal following of British families who visit us in Stratford Upon Avon, as well as, increasingly, an international clientele, from American industrialists and African tribal leaders to Chinese entrepreneurs and European royalty.
Design, by nature, needs to be collaborative, so my cousin, Tom and I design together
Your jewellery designs are exquisite. Can you tell us more about them?
Design, by nature, needs to be collaborative, so my cousin, Tom and I design together, creating a sounding board for ideas and always open to input from the craftsmen. Many of the masterpieces we create are for celebrations, such as a ruby necklace for a 40th wedding anniversary or a ring with multiple stones to represent each child. Among our recent designs is a beautiful duck-egg tourmaline pendant (pictured in the header), which is breathtaking. We are about art, not fashion. Our masterpiece collection is unique, handmade in our workshops, each a one-off creation.
And finally, how would you sum up the ethos of George Pragnell as a brand?
In an age of mass manufacturing, the ethos of individuality and quality still courses through our veins. My grandfathers first advertising slogan was “Our knowledge is your safeguard” a sentiment we continue to develop today.