Birks Returns to Britain and Discovers its Colourful Past

Birks London launch party at Canada House
Photographer, Phillips Banks

One of the best things about a family reunion is that you often uncover something touching, surprising—and in some cases delightfully scandalous—about your relatives. That was the case for Birks when it was planning—as it happens—its return to the United Kingdom.

We think of it as a Canadian brand because it’s been around since 1879, but the original family heralded from Sheffield, England. Dating back to the time of Shakespeare, the Birks were creating fine silverware for the aristocracy. It turns out that the founder’s forefather left Sheffield under colourful circumstances.

“There are two stories,” revealed Birks president and CEO, Jean-Christophe Bédos, at the launch party held at Canada House in London last week. “One is that he loved a beautiful Yorkshire girl but his family did not approve of the relationship. In order to marry her, he migrated to Canada. That’s the beautiful side to the love story and hence reflects how Birks celebrates love with its jewelry.”

The second story, according to family lore, is that he was a gambler who lost money on the horses and had to flee town to avoid his debts. I had no idea about the love story or the gambling past,” laughs Caroline Issa, the fashion director at Tank and a proud Canadian ex-pat. “I’m glad there’s a little frisson.”

Issa was one of the few press in attendance at the event who was familiar with the brand. As a child growing up in Montreal,  she and other family members received gifts in Birks’ iconic blue boxes on special occasions. “Birks is our Tiffany,” she said. “I associate it with happy memories.”

Looking to the future, however, Issa says the Canadian brand is entering a competitive retail market, but has two distinct advantages. “People in London are always curious about the new,” she said, adding there’s also a heightened curiosity about all things Canadian. “On the world stage, where there is very little leadership coming from what used to be the American superpower, it’s time for Canada to step up with its incredible values. As a Canadian abroad, it makes me so proud to see our country having this moment.”

Bédos also spoke of Birks being a reflection of the Canadian character in his opening remarks. “The collections are fresh, young, creative, trustworthy and genuine. It’s very Canadian.”

Only a special edit of Birks collections will be sold at Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths stores in London. One collection—the Birks Bee Chic—caught the eye of model Arizona Muse. “I hadn’t heard about Birks before, but I am so excited to discover this beautiful brand.” Muse, who was wearing the ring, pendant and earrings from the collection, said she was thrilled to know that Birks supports the preservation and protection of honeybees. “I love that they have taken this initiative to support this important part of our environment,” she said. “It’s something that’s close to my heart because my mother has been educating me about the importance of bees my whole life.”

The stackable Iconic ring collection—which will be released November 1 in Canada—also had guests buzzing. The rings come from the brand’s signature collections: Bee Chic, Rock & Pearl, Snowflake, Muse, Splash, Rosée du Matin and Pebble. “They’re amazing,” gushed Sophia Charalambous, the features writer for Mayfair Times, a luxury magazine. “There are a lot of brands that do stackable rings, but these are particularly good because they don’t try to be too elaborate. They’re simple, but they make a dramatic impact when they are brought together.”

Virginia Bates, who is known for her own dramatic taste and style, was also in attendance. For 42 years Bates owned Virginia, a famous Notting Hill vintage emporium, and before that she played roles in Doctor Who and A Clockwork Orange. Not surprisingly, she was drawn to the one-of-a-kind Snowflake necklace. “This is a totally new brand for me and I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I love the Snowflake collection and I love that necklace. That can be in my goodie bag when I leave,” she laughed.

Mine too!