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The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Exploring Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter

Jeweller Kate Smith in her Birmingham Jewellery Quarter studio

Why on earth are there SO many jewellery shops in Birmingham?!

That's a very good question, so I thought it was time I told you more about what makes my home city such a gem (pun intended).

Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is the birthplace of the UK jewellery industry, steeped in history and still thriving. 

In my latest blog, I'm pouring everything I've learned about the famous JQ into a modern guide to the most sparkling postcode in the Midlands (including my personal recommendations and how to get there) – all to make your trip a success.

What is Birmingham Jewellery Quarter?

With a history spanning two centuries, Birmingham's famous JQ has a reputation as the heartland of UK jewellery, thanks to its rich manufacturing legacy.

As you'd expect for such a concentrated area of manufacturing, lots of people in the area have connections to the JQ.

In fact, many people who visit my workshop share memories of working in a factory or for someone down the road. I love hearing their stories - it brings the past to life and it's one of the things that makes this area so special. 

My Jewellery Quarter Story

I can vividly remember the definitive moment I decided to become a jeweller. It happened right here in the Jewellery Quarter.

Age 17, I was on a college trip to the School of Jewellery at Birmingham University from my hometown of nearby Stourbridge.

I'd been contemplating my future career path and weighing up jewellery making or glass and lighting design (Stourbridge is famous for its glass industry, so both felt like natural choices that combined my creativity and technical skills).

My lecturer (quite candidly!) told me I'd make more money being a jeweller, but I was still undecided. It wasn't just about money, I wanted to find my passion.

Kate Smith, founder of Kate Smith Jewellery, at her university degree show
21 & fresh faced - my degree show at Middlesex University

In the foyer, there were display cabinets full of degree work for the jewellery course. I stopped to look at them and was struck by how contemporary they were - like nothing I'd done so far at college. I'd done metal work, but this was something else.

I remember thinking: THIS is what I need to be doing.

It all felt straightforward after that. I went to Middlesex University in North London for a change of scenery and was fortunate enough to do work experience at the famous Hatton Garden. 

Kate Smith outside her Birmingham Jewellery Quarter workshop on Vyse Street
Outside my Jewellery Quarter workshop on Vyse Street

I loved that experience, but I was always planning on coming back to the JQ to set up my own business. The character and vibe are something else, and it feels right for me to continue that local legacy in my own original way.

I've been a contemporary fixture in the Jewellery Quarter since 2001 when Kate Smith Jewellery Design graduated from a makeshift bench in my parents’ garage to the workshop you can visit today to see my team at work. 

What role does Birmingham have in the history of British jewellery manufacturing?

OK, so it all began in the 18th century when Birmingham became a hub for metalworking and jewellery manufacturing and started to attract skilled artisans.

Industrialisation, steam power, and new manufacturing techniques saw production explode during the 19th century when a cluster of workshops, factories, and jewellery-related businesses sprang up. 

Women at JW Evans silverware firm, in the Jewellery Quarter, in the late 19th century.
Women at JW Evans silverware firm, in the Jewellery Quarter, in the late 19th century.

During the Victorian era, demand for jewellery spiked and the area flourished, becoming widely recognised on an international scale for quality craftsmanship and innovative designs. 

And while it has experienced challenges like economic downturns and changing consumer behaviour (hello Google), the JQ keeps adapting, embracing new technologies and techniques, and maintaining its rep as the UK jewellery hub.

In the late 2010s, the Jewellery Quarter had a glow up, with investment and regeneration turning it into a vibrant urban area where people live, socialise, and shop, while keeping its historical character and spirit intact. 

It's still home to a plethora of independent specialist retailers and craftspeople, and remains the heart of the UK jewellery scene.

Signage directing to Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
There are many easy ways to travel to the Jewellery Quarter

How to get to the Jewellery Quarter

The historic Jewellery Quarter is on the edge of Birmingham's bustling city centre.

The largest concentration of shops is around Vyse Street, in the Hockley area, which is about a mile outside of Birmingham city centre - making it a 20-25 minute walk.

It's a lovely stroll from the centre through St Paul's Square, a really pretty area with a church, art gallery, and restaurants. This is the perfect pitstop for a drink on your way there or back into town! See my recommendations below

The JQ is also easily accessible using public transport

Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Train and Metro Station
Jewellery Quarter Train & Metro Station

There's a train station in the JQ, with trains and trams stopping there – it’s a 5-minute ride from Birmingham Snow Hill or Moor Street train stations.

Or hop on the 101 bus from the city centre. National Express West Midlands bus services also stop in the area.

Oh, and don't forget - opting for public transport means you swerve the city congestion charge - extra change to put towards your shopping trip! (check here if your vehicle is exempt from the charge).

By car

There's street parking in the area, as well as the Jewellery Quarter multi-storey car park. Use the Ringo Parking App to pay with ease.

Today’s Jewellery Quarter - mixing traditional and contemporary

People often ask: just how many jewellery shops are there in this area of Birmingham? 

There are said to be more than 800 jewellery businesses, with 100 retail shops and 50 modern designers and artisans.

Browse and buy everything from wedding rings, watches, brooches, engagement rings, a range of diamond jewellery, earrings, and necklaces, 

People shopping in the Jewellery Quarter
A snapshot of the JQ

Generally, designers like me are more tucked away and don't have a shop front presence on the high street.  

It's almost like there are two sides to the quarter - the retail shops and contemporary designers. If you're someone who loves something a little different from the norm, I highly recommend you do your research, plan your trip, and make appointments in advance.

Where can I buy contemporary pieces within the Jewellery Quarter?

There are a number of jewellers (like us!) who specialise in beautifully designed modern pieces if you're searching for an alternative to the traditional engagement ring or wedding bands.

However, as I've already touched on, many of these businesses and small workshops don't have a shop window.

So, we always advise you to do your research and plan out your day in advance if you're looking for something a little different. 

I regularly get comments like "your jewellery is so different from the other things we've seen out there" - so if contemporary pieces are your thing, we'd love to welcome you to our workshop.

Contemporary jewellery designer Kate Smith pictured in her Birmingham Jewellery Quarter studio and workshop
Join me for a cuppa in our beautiful Jewellery Quarter workshop & studio

At Kate Smith Jewellery, you can come and visit our workshop by appointment. We'll give you a guided tour, talk to you about what you're looking for, and show you some pieces we think you'll love.

Just contact us and let us know when you're visiting so my team can make sure the kettle is on!

Your jewellery is all about you, so we're here to welcome you in for a chat, guide you through the process, show you what's possible, and craft something you'll cherish forever. 

Is gemstone and diamond jewellery cheaper in the JQ?

There are plenty of gemstone specialists and diamond dealers in the quarter, many of which supply the retailers and designers located here. This means prices can be more competitive due to the concentration of businesses and close proximity between manufacturing firms and retailers. 

However, for independent craftspeople and designers like us, it isn’t about competing on price. It’s about priding ourselves on a personal service and world-class quality.

Our customers come to us for luxurious pieces that stand the test of time, so it’s not about slashing prices or competing with the studio next door. You’ll see what we mean when you visit our side of the JQ - it’s all about creativity over competition. 

Can I have silver and gold jewellery or engagement rings made to my style in the JQ?

Yes, there are lots of shops in the JQ where you can create and personalise bespoke jewellery exactly how you want it.

I made the decision a few years back to only create bespoke pieces that align with my style of contemporary jewellery. If you like my collections and want something unique to you, I'd love to have a conversation about bringing that to life.

Remodelling your old jewellery in the Jewellery Quarter

While most shoppers are hitting the JQ for something new, you might have inherited or neglected jewellery you’d love to turn into a brand-new piece that suits your vibe.

My jewellery remodelling service is really popular with customers who have a distinctly contemporary style they want to combine with their sentimental side. 

In fact, I’ve given a rare insight into the remodelling process from first enquiry to final delivery in this blog post - take a look if you’re intrigued by how it works.

Landmarks of the Jewellery Quarter: what to see and do

Within the English Heritage JQ Conservation Area, you'll find over 200 listed buildings (including ours!) and a number of historical landmarks.

Birmingham Assay Office
Birmingham Assay Office

Birmingham Assay Office

The largest in the world and only one of four in the UK, our Assay Office was founded in 1773. This is where precious metals are tested and undergo hallmarking for quality and authenticity.

Chamberlain Clock in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
Chamberlain Clock - a centrepiece of the JQ

Chamberlain Clock

Erected in 1903, the Chamberlain Clock honoured Joseph Chamberlain's South Africa tour. It's recently been refurbished and I'm 100% sure you'll catch a glimpse of it when you visit the JQ.

St Pauls Square in the Jewellery Quarter
St Pauls Square - beautiful all year round

St Paul's Square

The last Georgian square in Birmingham, St Paul's Square centres around the Grade I listed church built in 1779. A gorgeous green space to picnic in the summer or perch on one of the benches with a coffee on a winter's day.

Banksy on Vyse Street, Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
Banksy on Vyse Street

Our very own Banksy

Created overnight in December 2019, the artwork by Banksy can be seen to the right of the Jewellery Quarter Train Station entrance on Vyse Street.

The Jam House in the Jewellery Quarter
For music, food & dancing - The Jam House

The Jam House

The Jam House (on St Paul’s Square) is housed in a historic Georgian building and it’s one of the city's most atmospheric live music venues.

Big Peg building

Recently re-branded at JQ Modern, this is a prominent JQ structure housing various businesses, including offices, studios, and workshops for makers, designers, and creatives. It's where I first shared a workshop with other new business start-ups as part of an incubation scheme, back in 2001!

Warstone Lane and Key Hill Cemeteries

Both Grade II listed, these famous graveyards are resting places for notable figures, with Warstone Lane known for its catacombs. Well worth a wander through these expansive spaces.

RBSA Gallery (off St Pauls Square)

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Gallery is an art gallery located off St Pauls Square. The RBSA is one of the oldest art societies in the UK, founded in 1821, and the gallery showcases contemporary artworks by emerging and established artists, covering painting, sculpture, printmaking, and more.

Jewellery making classes in Jewellery Quarter

Try your hand at jewellery making! A special mention to my Workshop Manager, Pippa, who runs her own jewellery school - The JQ Set - in the Jewellery Quarter. She teaches in a beautiful space and her classes are ideal for anyone keen for an introduction to jewellery making or wishing to improve on their existing skills - all tools and materials are provided. 

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

If you'd like to add some extra culture to your visit, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

in the city centre is well worth a visitare ideal. It's situated near the impressive Library Of Birmingham. This is a fantastic space and has areas that will appeal to all ages.

Eating & Drinking in The JQ

Are there any restaurants in the Jewellery Quarter? Erm, YES!

Thanks to the Jewellery Quarter Regeneration Partnership, it's become quite the urban village with cool apartments and a buzzing food and drink scene to cater for new residents and creative craftspeople.

And Birmingham City Council has further plans in the pipeline for more redevelopment, refurbishment of old buildings, and regeneration to safeguard its future success.

So, where should you head to for a coffee, cocktail, or delicious meal on your JQ jaunt?

I'll let you in on a secret and share my personal recommendations.

Where to get coffee in the quarter

Urban Emporiums, Jewellery Quarter coffee shop

My favourite coffee shop is Urban Emporiums - the best coffee in the JQ and they do delicious all day brunches. Located right in the centre of the JQ, - it's definitely worth a stop if you love a proper coffee to fuel your retail therapy. 

Places to eat in the Jewellery Quarter

If you fancy a tipple or a bite to eat, there are some gorgeous bars and restaurants to check out.

We’ve had some brilliant workshop nights out at The Rolling Mill Bar and Restaurant in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter - the food is great and they do lovely non-alcoholic cocktails for us non-drinkers (if you're curious, you can read more about my sobriety in this blog post). The award-winning Hive Cafe & Bakery is also fantastic for vegetarian and vegan lunches.

The Hive Cafe in the JQ

For delicious Middle Eastern food, try Damascena - friendly service in a beautiful setting. And finally, Pasta di Piazza (off St Pauls Square) has amazing Italian dishes. They are popular though, so do book ahead!

Pasta dish at Pasta di Piazza, Birmingham

Plan, browse and buy - experience Jewellery Quarter hidden gems for yourself

If you're hoping to discover a modern, unique, or alternative to traditional jewellery during your visit to the JQ, we'd love to meet you and find out more to see if we can create your dream piece.

We're located on Vyse Street and our workshop opens by appointment only. Get in touch to book your visit.

Can't make it in person? You can also browse and buy rings, necklaces, bangles and cuffs, men's jewellery, and earrings online.

Happy shopping! 

A selection of contemporary jewellery collections all available from our online shop and in our Birmingham Jewellery Quarter studio