100 Years in the Making
Nettleton’s Jewellery opened its doors in 1916—and, after 100 years in business, will celebrate this milestone all year long.
by Phill Feltham & Irina Lytchak photography by Jessica Deeks
Not many businesses survive a century. However, Nettleton’s Jewellery is an anomaly. A retailer based out of Ottawa, Ontario, operated by the third generation, is now celebrating an anniversary that will last an entire year.
“[Our] anniversary is in April,” says Geoffrey Nettleton, one of the three brothers who currently operate the store. “In a normal year, we actually have the anniversary sale all of April. [That] is when we’ll do the cake cutting with the mayor, with other long-standing customers in attendance.”
Behind the glamour and celebrations is a century of hard work. Two years before the end of the First World War, George Nettleton, Geoffrey’s grandfather, with partner William Haskett, opened up shop as Nettleton & Haskett Watchmakers.
The partnership lasted a couple of years while the business strived and survived the tumultuous times caused from the First World War. George relocated to Bank Street as the store’s sole owner in 1923.
“We’re not sure whether financially things were better off and he could afford to do it himself, or for some other reason,” says Nettleton.
A year later, George’s younger brother, Harold, began working for what now became a family business. The business continued to find success through the great depression and World War II.
Tragedy hit the business when George passed away in 1947. Douglas, George’s son and Geoffrey’s father, stepped in to help the family business get back on track. Douglas took over the store’s ownership in 1956.
Passing the torch
Between 1973 and 1978, Douglas’s three sons Richard, Cameron, and Geoffrey, began working at the store part time and then full time.
Douglas retired in the 1990s, and, at 88, would still work with his sons at the store if necessary. “He would still come in on occasion if there was only one of us who could work and we needed someone for a couple hours,” says Nettleton. “But to this day, if we asked him, he would still work, but we figured that at 88 he shouldn’t; he now enjoys his retirement at home with our mother.”
“We [the brothers] all thought we would be doing different things, but eventually, by the time we were in our twenties, we decided to work for our father,” says Nettleton. “He never said we were coming to work for the store, we were allowed to do whatever we wanted to.”
Once the brothers started working full time, they took a variety of different courses to increase their knowledge of the trade.
“We’ve all done the diamond grading courses,” says Nettleton. “Cameron and Richard did the coloured stone courses, and I took come courses through George Brown on casting and jewellery repair.” Collectively, the brothers took three or four different courses at Algonquin College that included diamond setting, jewellery manufacturing or fabrication.
Each brother plays a different role in the store. “Besides serving all of the customers that come in, Cameron does all of the appraisals, Richard does the finances, and I do the day-to-day things that go on in the store that need to be fixed,” says Nettleton.
Collectively, Nettleton’s Jewellery does over 200 watch and jewellery repairs (including a dozen or so customized jobs) a month. The repairs are outsourced to a privately held company.
Jewellery for all ages
Having survived for 100 years, Nettleton’s Jewellery has many generations of customers that need to be served with both jewellery and watches. From anniversaries for great grandparents to a baby’s first Sterling Cup, inventory has to cover it all.
“People will ask why we carry so many watches, but it’s amazing how many 20-year-olds like to wear watches,” says Nettleton. “Now, whether they actually look at them or if they just like them for decoration or the bling factor, that’s up to them, but they still buy them—certainly not as many as it used to be—but it’s a fashion statement.”
The downtown Ottawa location of Nettleton’s Jewellery, with three different street front locations, was open from 1916 until 2008 when slowing traffic and shrinking business forced the brothers to make a very difficult decision to close that particular store. Currently, the three brothers work at their Westgate Shopping Centre location, which opened in 1988.
“After working long hours for years, we’re fortunate that the three of us now work out of one store. We can now enjoy a shorter work hour week,” Nettleton says. “By setting up the schedule so that we always have two Nettleton family members in the store, we can keep the hair pulling to a minimum, and always have fresh insight for our customers.”
Despite years of success, Nettleton’s Jewellery still faces ongoing challenges. For example, e-commerce has affected Nettleton’s business. Customers find the same jewellery that Nettleton offers at a cheaper price online. Despite the impact on the bottom line, Nettleton is amazed how many people look at their website.
“Anything we put on the website, we like to keep in stock, and we like to put the price on it,” he says. “People who shop online obviously want to see the price. I’ve looked at a lot of other websites, not just local jewellery stores, and none of them have a listed price. Anyone shopping online wants to see the price right away and go from there.”
Nettleton launched a redesigned website in order to keep up with their competitors.
With the next generation of Nettletons working in their own fields, the brothers are always looking at ways to maintain the Nettleton’s Jewellery legacy. “If we can survive another 25 to 30 years, then maybe we can skip a generation.” CJ
AT A GLANCE
NAME: Nettleton’s Jewellery
OWNERS: Richard, Cameron, and Geoffrey Nettleton
LOCATION: Westgate Shopping Centre, 1309 Carling Avenue, Ottawa Ontario, K1Z 7L3
STORE SIZE: 1,100 square feet
KNOWN FOR: Friendly service, community support, and a wide variety of product
COOL FACTOR: We are 100 years old and there are always two of the owners around