What do you think of when you hear the words 'Pawn Broker'? What image comes to mind?
Is it of a cramped little shop, its walls lined with unpainted wooden shelves and festooned with cobwebbed and tarnished trinkets? Where the age-darkened oak lends itself to the gloom, festering a suffocating essence of decay which permeates the air, tainting the atmosphere with a sense of desperation and dreams long-dead until it is too oppressive to bear; an opaque varnish laden with its own particular burden of hopelessness and doom?
And of the proprietor? What images come to mind there?
Is it a bent over, huddled figure, spectacles perched on the very tip of his nose like some sort of modern-day Ebeneezer Scrooge? In your imagination does he run a finger up the bridge of his nose, settling those glasses before offering a toothless grin to the unwary customer? Shining some bauble on his tattered coat, fingering it with grimy hands and offering a pittance as the owner of the item is forced reluctantly to part with it in exchange for just enough money to purchase a stale crust of bread?
Up until this weekend that had certainly been my perception of pawnbrokers and their trade. But just how wrong I was became apparent this weekend when I was invited to Suttons and Robertsons' exclusive pre-Christmas event at their Birmingham branch.
Suttons and Robertsons style themselves as 'Pawnbrokers of Distinction' and on stepping through their doorway I had to agree with them. The interior of the shop resembles a collector's private viewing room more than it does an actual shop. Here there are no crowded displays where gaudy rings jostle with garish bangles or where brassy necklaces drape ten to a pad over faux-leather cushions.
No indeed! Suttons and Robersons are the real deal! Here glittering diamond necklaces that might once have adorned the neck of a Russian Tsarina are afforded the space and presentation they deserve. Dazzling bracelets which shine brighter than a thousand stars are showcased in refined dignity and exquisitely crafted rings are displayed individually, affording the eye and brain just enough time to wonder at the beauty of each piece before moving ceaselessly on, each remarkable item more stunning than the one before.
Each and every article in their store is not just a piece of jewellery, it is a work of art, a thing of beauty to behold. And each has its own story to tell. Because this is no ordinary shop and these are no ordinary pawnbrokers.
Once you step across their threshold it is almost as if you have entered another world. Chic modern décor and minimalistic furnishings lead the eye to the few display cabinets on show and there is a real feeling of understated grandeur, as if the quality and value of the items speak for themselves and need no further ostentation. And yet every cabinet is a masterpiece in itself, glistening with sumptuous gems and intricate gold, fashioned into flattering and unique designs.
But it is seldom just a place which makes such an impression, its the people who work there too, for these are the life-blood of any business. Suttons and Robertsons' staff are the best in their business, knowledgeable and business-like with a warmth of attitude which shines through. They are nothing like the bespectacled aforementioned figment of my imagination but neither are they stiff and unapproachable. What they do have is an almost mystical quality in that they can gauge the finer points of every stone within its setting, its precise worth and its world-wide exclusivity.
Because that was the thing that struck me most about my visit - how exclusive everything was, from my invitation to attend, right down to the private viewing rooms where 'pledges' as anything taken in exchange for money is called, is valued and accepted.
Looking a little like a private banking room I could only imagine what gems have in time flitted across the counters there.
I was a little humbled by the natural beauty that was on show, diamonds that had been formed by nature over millennia and crafted by skilled hands...and to be completely honest I wondered why I had been extended the invitation. All was to become clear when I asked my next question - who uses such upmarket pawnbrokers?
The answer was as simple as it was profound. Anyone it seems can use the service if they have something suitable to serve as a pledge.
The item brought in to be pawned ALWAYS remains the property of the client! So even if they do not come back to claim it at the end of the term, it remains in effect theirs, so much so, that when the item is sold at auction, if it then makes a profit over the amount of the original loan and interest value, Suttons and Robertsons send a letter to the client, informing them of this and request that they come in to collect the surplus value.
Many clients are well known stars of stage and screen and/or household names. They are neither down at the heel nor shady, they are simply utilising their assets in a whole different way, sparing themselves the time which they would otherwise have to spend liquidising assets and redistributing them, to cover a short-term period. Because that's the true beauty of the pawnbroker I discovered - no credit checks, no expansive forms to be filled in triplicate, no need for collateral other than the item on offer. Less fuss, less hassle.
And then, when the term is over, or sooner if the client wishes as items can be returned at any time within the set term, the client merely repays the loan plus interest and their item is back in their possession with no need to be switching funds from one Swiss bank account to the other.
So now that I have got to here you are wondering where I come into this picture aren't you. Well here it is - are you ready?
Suttons and Robertsons are planning a social event for their extensive client base and they have asked that I provide an author talk and book signing at the event! Of course I immediately said yes...now I'm wondering if I should have held out for a diamond tiara to wear during the evening ;)
And all that talk of Swiss bank accounts has made me think of a little holiday chateau in the French Alps for a week or two. If only I had the money...oh now there's a thought! Did anyone see where I put that old engagement ring of mine? ;)
Happy reading folks!
Suttons and Robertson also buy, mend and value jewellery. For more on their services see