My grandfather, George Pragnell, started in the jewellery trade as a young gemmologist with Biggs of Maidenhead, where he was privileged to serve the Royal Family and became a protégé of Charles Biggs. In 1954, enthusiastically supported by his wife Margaret, he took over a small jewellers at 5 Wood Street in Stratford upon Avon and established the company under his name.
The original c.1585 Tudor building where the business began remains to this day, although the shop has since expanded to incorporate three surrounding Tudor cottages. The unique interior of the current showroom remains faithful to the period, with the gradual development resulting in the exposed walls, beams and original Jacobean ceiling; all of which have been meticulously cared for and preserved.
At the beginning, George Pragnell was not only a jewellers but also a home. Above the shop was the family accommodation where George and Margaret lived with their three children, Michael, Jeremy and Sarah. This has since been converted to office space to allow the business to develop, although the importance of family values has not been lost.
The town of Stratford and its most famous son, William Shakespeare, have played a crucial role in the development of our family business. My grandfather realised the significance of the location of his business and became deeply involved in the local community. In 1964, in collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a medallion, designed by the goldsmith Paul Vincze, was struck to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. In 2014, on the Bard's 450th birthday, the Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Prize was introduced with a toast to the immortal memory of the great man by one of the greatest living authors, Hilary Mantel, and awarded to one of the greatest living stage directors, Sir Nicholas Hytner.
In 2015 George Pragnell was proud to present Shakespearean actor, director and award winning international film star, Sir Kenneth Branagh, the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award - an annual award for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare.
Sir Kenneth Branagh received the Pragnell Award and was presented with a silver vessel which had been handcrafted at the George Pragnell workshops and joined a roll-call of A-list names in the process. Previous Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award recipients constitute a thespian hall of fame including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.
George founded the company with the watchword "Our knowledge is your safeguard". Since then, our knowledge has been enhanced (quite by chance!) through the marriage of my father to my mother, Jane, of sixth generation Bond Street jewellers, Waters and Blott, as well as my marriage to Emily, a relative of the Garrard family. The family has gleaned further knowledge through the acquisition of other jewellers such as George Tarratt of Leicestershire (Est. 1913) and Philip Antrobus of Bond Street (Est. 1815), who were commissioned by HRH Prince Philip to design and manufacture the Queen's engagement ring.
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. Having spent his childhood in such close proximity to jewellery, my father was well prepared for a life in the family business. He trained with several leading houses across Europe, including the Crown Jewellers and joined the business in 1972, succeeding his father a decade later at the helm.
He set out to grow and develop the business, a crucial aspect of which was to expand the premises. The current showroom is evidence of my father's uncompromising vision to grow George Pragnell into a destination, one that, should you enter in the doors at 5 & 6 Wood Street, will not soon be forgotten.
The philosophy of individuality that can be seen in the jewellery offering at George Pragnell stems from this vision. Along with paying homage to the past, the business has often been at the forefront of innovation in the industry. My father recognised the importance of establishing strong connections with the Swiss watchmaking houses and the company continues to enjoy a close relationship with them to this day, allowing for several exclusive models to be available to George Pragnell before anywhere else in the UK and, in some cases, the world. The pinnacle of this special relationship was the unique Patek Philippe minute repeater that was created in partnership with George Pragnell to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our company in 2004.
Having trained at the Gemological Institute of America in California, I then spent a number of years in New York working with some leading gemstone polishers and antique jewellery dealers.
I joined the company in 2005. In 2008 we designed and donated the Marie Curie daffodil fancy orange diamond ring in recognition of their diamond anniversary. The ring was later auctioned at a dinner at Claridges, raising a good amount for the charity.
I became Managing Director in 2010 and have since focused on customer service, developing the company's gemstone collection and jewellery design. In 2011 our Hummingbird ring won the Goldsmith’s Company Craft and Design Award in its 100th year.
Subsequently, our workshop has been presented with several Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council awards, including recognition from software designers for pioneering development of computer technology in jewellery design, which brings concepts of designs alive for our customers. The design and planning of the setting of the finest gems is a specialist service offered in Stratford and by our London showroom in Mayfair.
George Pragnell is now a company with a highly trained staff possessing a great variety of expertise, from antique silver, gemmology, valuations, design, watchmaking, goldsmithing, trophies and many more, most of whom have been with us for over 10 years and many for longer. The company now provides a greater diversity of goods and services under one roof than any other fine jeweller in the UK. This is a claim we are proud of and shall strive to retain. Extensive knowledge and exceptional customer service allow us to retain the custom of many British families and increasingly attract an international clientele from all around the world, from American industrialists to African tribal leaders, from Chinese entrepreneurs to world famous artists and musicians and from Middle Eastern sheikhs to European royalty. This success, for which we thank our customers, allows us to improve our offering each year.
Having completed our Diamond Jubilee year, the company celebrates its history but also looks to the future. Whilst creating new and exciting jewellery collections, using only the finest gemstones, we shall continue at the forefront of Great British fine jewellery craftsmanship and design. Investing in rare gemstones and the most talented craftsmen, combined with innovative technology, allows us to provide you with original designs of exceptional quality, delivered with unrivalled service.
In an age of mass manufacturing, the ethos of individuality, and quality still courses through the veins of our family company.
As you explore the pages of our website, I hope you will agree that our investment in the future promises to intrigue and delight.
We look forward to welcoming you through the doors of 5&6 Wood Street, where you can be sure of a warm welcome.