Discreetly located on the second floor of ‘The Wales Corner’ building in Melbourne’s Collins Street, Abrecht Bird Jewellers seems a world away from the more glitzy jewellery stores on street level.
At the entrance to the retailers’ showroom, there is no boldsign advertising its presence and there are no windows, let alone window displays, showcasing its merchandise.
More significantly there is absolutely no passing foot traffic.
Inside the showroom is similarly understated.
There are no hovering sales assistants and no branded jewellery or watches on display.
Instead the room is filled with four simple glass cabinets displaying a small selection of jewellery, two sets of tables and chairs and a few pot plants as well as a door to the adjoining jewellery manufacturing workshop.
Yet, despite these marketing faux pas, Abrecht Bird has attracted a steady stream of clients looking for bespoke jewellery ever since it officially opened its doors to the general public in 1992.
At the time the move into retail was a complete change in direction for the Abrecht and Bird families who had separately, over four generations, established two of Australia’s most respected fine jewellery wholesaling companies – J Bird & Son (1910) and Fred Robt. Abrecht (1875).
David Bird, the grandson of the J Bird & Son founder John Bird, says the two companies were competitors, albeit ‘friendly competitors’, for almost 80 years before they decided to join forces.
“We had a similar history,” he recalls. “We were both fine jewellery manufacturers who prided ourselves on producing high-quality handmade jewellery for our clients all around Australia.
“But although both our businesses were well-established and highly respected, we could both also see that the manufacturing/wholesaling industry was changing in ways we didn’t like,” he says.
“For example when casting was introduced into the local manufacturing industry many retailers no longer wanted to pay extra for handmade pieces as they didn’t understand the manufacturing process and the difference in quality between a handmade and cast piece of jewellery.
David says that both companies could “see the writing on the wall” for their businesses’ futures unless they made major changes. The catalyst for change occurred when his son Peter was the victim of a robbery.
“The crunch came when I was robbed on the road in 1996 doing what three previous generations had done before me (visiting retail clients),” explains Peter.
“In Sydney I got picked off the street by a professional South American criminal gang who distracted me for a moment and then lifted my case of jewellery.
“The whole thing only took about 10 seconds.”
Although Peter was physically unharmed in the robbery, the Bird family decided that the risks associated with travelling with cases full of high-value merchandise were no longer worth it.”
A few years earlier the Bird and Abrecht family businesses had amalgamated and so the transition to retail seemed a logical path.
Today, Abrecht Bird Jewellers is owned by Peter and his new partner Greg John (a jeweler, with 40 years experience who has worked in the business for the past 10 years).
Peter says that in many ways the retail business operates in a similar way to the families’ former manufacturing companies.
“Both families built their businesses by forming close relationships with their retailer customers over many years.
“When we decided to go into retail I was worried that I would miss having such close relationships with customers but we still do form close relationships as we’re a bit different to a traditional retailer.
“Our customers rarely come in and buy products off the shelf – we usually design and manufacture their personal orders.”
“Our clients make appointments to see us and then we sit down and spend quality time with them to produce quality designs,”
“It’s different to normal retail where you just open the door and try and serve whoever comes in.”
He says that at one stage the families considered locating the business at street level but decided against it due to the numerous advantages of upstairs trading – including lower rents and “no tyre-kickers”.
Peter says the vision for the business now and in the future is simply to produce the best quality for valuejewellery for their customers.
“We have a combinedtotal of over 230 years of experience making jewellery,” says Peter.
“We enjoy making things to a standard that no-one else can.
“We handmake our jewellery to the highest quality possible in the same way that four generations of the Bird and Abrecht families have done before us – the only difference is that we now sell direct to the end-customer rather than retailers.
“We build our business through our referrals so basically people only come to see us if they are recommended by someone who has enjoyed the experience.
“We feel that it is sufficiently self-sustaining that if service and production is of significant high quality then we don’t have to advertise.
“Our products and service are our best advertisements.”