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Jewellery Quarter Research Trust



(By Yana and Richard)

In the second half of the 19thcentury the Quarter’s ‘Top of the Trade’ (high class) jewellers were getting through large quantities of diamonds, which were mainly bought in via London from the cutting centre of Amsterdam.


One of these quality diamond jewellers was William Spencer of Regents Street, a medal winner at the 1862 International Exhibition. He was tired of the ever growing delays occurred in receiving cut stones. Amsterdam’s cutters at that time were overloaded with work owing to large discoveries in South Africa.

So, in 1873, Spencer, whose father, Joseph, and grandfather, William had both been lapidaries, installed cutting equipment and set about using the gem cutting knowledge he had grown up with to learn how to cut the hardest substance known to man. His first successful attempt was also Birmingham’s so he duly presented the stone to the Lord Mayor and it was set in the Mayoral Chain of Office where it still resides.

Here on Key Hill is ‘Gem buildings’ which is considered an important early example of a modern functionalist factory design, decoration having taken a back seat to bold functionalist construction.

Dating from 1913, it was built as a state of the art works for the gem cutting firm of Ginder & Couch, later Ginder and Ginder whose advertising proudly proclaimed that, “We are the only diamond cutters in Birmingham. We cut, saw and polish our diamonds in our Birmingham factory and the cost of diamond cutting is less in Birmingham than in Amsterdam owing to many advantages we possess”!

Their first successful attempt to cut a diamond went straight into the mayor’s chain of office to join William Spencer’s effort of 40 years before.

In the First World War Ginder’s set about buying all the diamond cutting equipment they could get their hands on in New York in order to cut diamonds to sell back to the Americans to bring in money for our war effort. It was originally intended that the equipment would come from Belgium and Holland, which was not to be.


Also during World War One they were part of a trade-wide scheme to employ wounded and disabled ex- servicemen.  

During the First World War the establishment of diamond cutting in the town was greatly assisted with the arrival of skilled Belgian refugees. In 1916 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that, ‘There are now two large and rapidly growing diamond cutting works established, which between them  employ between one and two hundred hands, where nothing of the kind previously existed outside of Amsterdam and Antwerp’.


However, with the cessation of hostilities, Belgian diamond cutters returned home and the hopes that Birmingham would become an international diamond cutting centre on a par with Amsterdam and Antwerp never came to pass.

Diamond and Emerald brooch.

Alabaster & Wilson 1909.