Thomas Jew­ellers to close af­ter 66 years

Hamilton News - - COMMUNITY -

Neil Thomas was just 9 years old when he started work­ing in his fa­ther Bob’s jew­ellery shop, Thomas Jew­ellers, in Toko­roa, run­ning er­rands.

The store, which Bob Thomas opened on Rose­bery St, Toko­roa, in 1952, was an iconic re­tail store in the South Waikato town.

Later this year Thomas Jew­ellers, which has been op­er­at­ing for 66 years, will close its doors for the last time along with sis­ter store, Neil Thomas Show­case Jew­ellers in Vic­to­ria St, Hamil­ton.

Neil is re­tir­ing and it’s time for new things, which means shut­ting up shop.

“It’s the end of an era, so it’s a happy-sad feel­ing,” says Neil. “I’m happy to move on to a new chap­ter, but I’m sad for nos­tal­gic rea­sons.”

When Bob, now 91, opened Thomas Jew­ellers in 1952, Toko­roa was still “a pi­o­neer town”, he re­calls, with few shops.

“The forestry mill [Kin­leith Mill] was about to open, and a lot of shops in the main street were still un­der con­struc­tion.”

In the years that fol­lowed, Toko­roa boomed.

“It was vi­brant,” says Bob. “The town of Toko­roa al­most achieved ‘city sta­tus’, which was 20,000 peo­ple — we weren’t far off.”

Bob started in the jew­ellery trade as a 16-year-old in Christchurch, do­ing a six-year ap­pren­tice­ship be­fore later mov­ing to Toko­roa.

He set up his busi­ness as a “one-man band” re­pair­ing watches, but quickly ex­panded. Thomas Jew­ellers had three watch­mak­ers at one time, six staff, and turned out seven ap­pren­tices over the years.

Neil and Bob have al­ways had a good re­la­tion­ship.

“We’ve al­ways been very close,” says Bob. “It worked well with the busi­ness too, work­ing to­gether as fa­ther and son.”

Neil fin­ished high school with an am­bi­tion to be­come a watch­maker and be­gan of­fi­cially work­ing there at 17.

“He came home from St Paul’s [Col­le­giate] and said, ‘I know what I want to do, the same thing as you’,” re­calls Bob.

The craft of watch­mak­ing was a pas­sion for Neil. Af­ter do­ing a five-year ap­pren­tice­ship at Thomas Jew­ellers, he won a schol­ar­ship to Switzer­land to train at the Omega group of com­pa­nies.

“For my 21st present my par­ents bought me a one-way ticket to Switzer­land. I thought, ‘look out world, here I come’,” says Neil.

He learned from the mas­ter watch­mak­ers, and brought his knowl­edge and skills back to New Zealand, where he gave sem­i­nars on quartz watches on be­half of the Watch­mak­ers Guild of New Zealand.

“Peo­ple were hun­gry for in­for­ma­tion,” re­calls Neil. “I re­ally en­joyed shar­ing knowl­edge and I’ve got a pas­sion for what I do, so it was lots of fun.”

In 1984 he went into busi­ness for him­self, tak­ing over the fam­ily busi­ness Thomas Jew­ellers from Bob.

As the main jeweller in Toko­roa, they did ev­ery­thing — en­grav­ing, jew­ellery, watches.

“In Hamil­ton you had spe­cial­ist jew­ellers but in a smaller town, we were it,” says Neil.

Four years later he be­gan to ex­pand, buy­ing up a long-es­tab­lished jew­ellery busi­ness in Ro­torua in 1988, and six years later in 1994, one in Taka­puna, Auck­land.

In 1997 Neil pur­chased the Vic­to­ria St store from Perry Frankham, a well-known Hamil­ton iden­tity. The store had been op­er­at­ing since the mid-1960s and was part of the Cen­tre­place shop­ping mall since its open­ing in 1986. Dur­ing that pe­riod it was known as Frankham Jew­ellers, then Gem­time Jew­ellers.

From 2007 the shop be­came Neil Thomas Gem­time Jew­ellers, then evolved to its cur­rent name, Neil Thomas Show­case Jew­ellers in 2011.

The Toko­roa and Hamil­ton stores both stock a wide range of jew­ellery, from ban­gles and bracelets to rings, ear­rings, neck­laces and chains in ev­ery­thing from rose gold to ster­ling sil­ver. There are pearls, emer­alds, sap­phire, di­a­monds and ru­bies, along­side lat­est brand jew­ellery from Karen Walker, Mead­owlark and Stolen Girl­friends Club.

While trends in jew­ellery have come and gone, Neil says three parts of the busi­ness have been con­sis­tently strong: watches, gold and di­a­mond jew­ellery.

One ma­jor change to the jew­ellery in­dus­try is the promi­nence of brand names, which “has be­come huge”, says Neil.

“Fash­ions and con­cepts come and go very fast now. Some­thing would be here for a cou­ple of years, but now it’s in for a cou­ple of months then out. That’s been in­flu­enced by the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, trends evolve much more quickly now.”

Per­son­al­i­sa­tion is also a big trend in jew­ellery. “The abil­ity to have some­thing be­spoke, cre­ated as a one-off, is pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially when it comes to some­thing like en­gage­ment rings,” says Neil.

To be a suc­cess­ful jeweller takes a lot of cre­ative flair, says Neil. “And you have to be a good lis­tener, so you spend time talk­ing to peo­ple and re­ally lis­ten­ing to what they want.”

Both fa­ther and son agree that the best part of be­ing in busi­ness is the con­nec­tions formed with peo­ple.

“I love help­ing peo­ple and over the years I must have fixed up hun­dreds of things — watches, jew­ellery — for peo­ple. I will miss the one-on-one re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers,” says Neil.

“Gen­er­a­tions of the same fam­ily have been our cus­tomers,” says Bob, who was in­volved in the South Waikato com­mu­nity as a coun­cil­lor, Ro­tary pres­i­dent, jus­tice of the peace and St John Am­bu­lance.

Adds Neil: “We are sell­ing hap­pi­ness and it’s been a happy busi­ness to be in. You are there for spe­cial mo­ments in peo­ple’s lives — en­gage­ment and wed­ding rings are items I par­tic­u­larly like help­ing cus­tomers with, be­cause they are such im­por­tant sym­bols in peo­ple’s lives, some­thing they will hope­fully wear for­ever.”

To mark the clos­ing down, ev­ery­thing in Thomas Jew­ellers in Toko­roa and Neil Thomas Show­case Jew­ellers in Hamil­ton will be sold at half price from Oc­to­ber 1.

It’s the end of an era, so it’s a happy-sad feel­ing. I’m happy to move on to a new chap­ter, but I’m sad for nos­tal­gic rea­sons.

Neil Thomas

Photo / Sup­plied

Neil Thomas out­side his Vic­to­ria St store.

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