Jos & Alison Skeates

Independent jewellery boutique EC One has been providing a bespoke service since the Nineties.

Husband and wife team Jos and Alison Skeates discuss ethical gems, Hatton Garden and supporting new talent.

How long have you been in Exmouth Market?
Jos: We’ve been in Clerkenwell since 1997. We were 26. It was easier to achieve things like that in retail back then, because the rates and rents were a lot less and people were willing to have a go.
Alison: It was very exciting. On this street, of the people you see now there was only Moro, who beat us by a couple of months.

What do you like about the area?
J: I think it’s one of those streets in London that has a community feel to it. We know all the people that work in the shops. It’s a street for Londoners – that’s the beauty of Clerkenwell. I like Clerkenwell’s creativity, there’s always something new going on.

What was your background?
J: I trained as a goldsmith, I’d done a five-year apprenticeship with a master craftsman. Then I did a degree in jewellery design at St Martin’s. Now I deal with anything to do with production and
A: I was working in IT and wanted to do something more creative. I look at jewellery and make decisions partly on my gut. And we have a very able team.

How many staff do you have?
J: There’s a team of 10. We have four goldsmiths – including an apprentice through the Goldsmiths’ Company – who work on special commissions.

What was your vision for EC One?
A: We wanted it to be somewhere that people would pop in and buy treats for themselves or gifts for friends, so that it felt like their kind of place when they wanted to do something significant.
J: People come to us after visiting Hatton Garden and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a different shopping experience. We make bespoke jewellery, so it’s tailored to the customer without the cutthroat prices.

Where do you source your diamonds?
J: A lot of it will come from suppliers around Hatton Garden, we buy our stones and gold there. We wanted to be near it, but not in it.
A: Our name is the postcode for Clerkenwell and also for Hatton Garden – the diamond district of London, where Jos has his roots. The shops there are not very lovely, but behind that there are these amazing warrens of incredible things, such as amazing gemstones, that most people will never see.

How much do people typically spend?
J: Day to day for jewellery it’s a couple of hundred pounds, but for an engagement ring it’s £3,000 to £5,000. One of the things we love doing is interacting with customers and getting them involved in the making of it.
A: There was a very beautiful ring that left yesterday: a tanzanite diamond ring. It’s a slightly purple-tinged blue stone, which has become increasingly rare. That was £15,000.

What’s it like playing such a key role in a couple’s marriage?
J: When people get engaged you see them at their happiest, which is a real privilege. The human dynamics are quite interesting – we think it would make a brilliant TV show. We see more gay couples now, which is really interesting.

How busy is Christmas?
J: We probably do about 20 per cent of our turnover in two weeks. We tend to get a lot of guys coming back year after year for necklaces and earrings. Rings not so much, because it might imply something else. We did have one guy who proposed without meaning to. She opened the box and said: ‘I will’!

Where do you go to relax?
J: We go to Moro, they have been our closest mates. The Quality Chop House, that’s really good. We love Café Kick and the cocktail bar above the Exmouth Arms. We took everyone to Kerbisher for fish and chips the other day.
A: The food market has been really good, it gets people away from their desks, it’s a lovely buzz. I want to try the new Korean, Jubo. We’re very excited about Dirty Burger and Pizza Pilgrims.

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How do you source new designs?
J: We do a lot of trips ‒ Las Vegas is great, Paris Fashion Week. We have our own competition called Unsigned once a year. We mentor the winner to help them produce a collection. We’ve done it for five years.

Do you have an ethical policy on diamonds?
J: We pioneered conflict-free diamonds even before the Kimberley Process [global warranty system set up in 2003]. Five years ago, my wedding ring was the first ever piece of Fair Trade jewellery. We had it hallmarked at Goldsmiths’ Hall to say it was Fair Trade.

EC One, 41 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL