Avanti jewellers opens stunning new premises in Ashbourne
- Credit: Ashley Franklin
Ashley Franklin visits jewellers Avanti, which has marked its 31st year in business with a stunning refurbishment of one of Ashbourne’s landmark listed properties
The name Avanti, adopted by Alan Matkin when he opened his jewellery shop in Dig Street, Ashbourne in 1986, became even more appropriate in 2017.
Inspired by the high quality and fine design of Italian jewellery, a young Alan decided an Italian name for his business would sound both stylish and romantic. Flicking through an Italian phrase book, Alan paused when he saw just the right English words next to their translation: ‘avanti’. Those words were ‘go forward, advance.’ What made Avanti perfect was then discovering that it also meant ‘welcome’ or ‘come in’.
On 31st March, Avanti went forward and advanced… a few hundred yards up the street. You are now welcome to come in and view their new premises occupying a prime corner of the town where Dig Street meets Ashbourne’s main thoroughfare, Church Street.
Avanti’s move represents a significant and exciting transformation to the town as this property had been the site of the Corner House electrical store for 60 years. When the owner, Ian Gibbs, retired in the summer of 2016, the store was, he admits, in a worn-out condition. In fact, when Alan’s workforce – ‘all local’ he stresses – went in, they ended up gutting the whole three-storey building, re-doing all the electrics and renovating from top to bottom. ‘Alan has done a wonderful job,’ says Ian. ‘He’s put some life back into the building.’
Visiting Avanti’s Dig Street store in 2009, I enthused about its ‘bright, elegant shop with its smart maple and glass interior.’ What I omitted to mention was its size. I would probably have diplomatically referred to it as ‘cosy’ though, to be frank, there was barely enough room to swing a matinee necklace.
In the new Avanti, one could swing an opera necklace with room to spare. It’s even brighter as a result of 20 metres of window; and the elegance of the wood (oak instead of maple) and glass showroom is set off by a pair of classy, contemporary oval chandelier-like lights cleverly designed by Advance Lighting in Hilton to appear like giant pieces of jewellery.
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Avanti has increased not only its shop space but also its consultation area with three sit-down desks (as opposed to two in the Dig Street shop) and plenty of room for a complimentary drinks stand. Furthermore, the workshop space – previously closeted in the backyard of the old building – is now an integral part of the new shop, verified by a glazed door which, as Alan points out, ‘allows our customers to see the goldsmiths at their benches and confirm that the design and manufacture of jewellery is taking place in this very building.’
The gleam of the jewellery sits well with the plain white walls, pleasingly complemented by a stylish Farrow & Ball Ammonite grey. It says much about Avanti’s customer relations that a regular shopper, painter and decorator Derek Wilde, freely offered advice on the colour harmony of the interior. As for the exterior, the bluey-grey paintwork – Farrow & Ball Downpipe – really catches the eye: when the day is bright, its shiny finish glows as it subtly reflects the colours of the buildings opposite.
Dating back to the 1700s, this Grade II listed building has a noted heritage in being the site of one of the two Derbyshire banks opened by Sir Richard Arkwright’s son, Richard Arkwright Junior. The other bank was in Wirksworth, which is where we pick up the story of Alan Matkin. Growing up in the 1970s surrounded by the day-to-day running of a ladies’ fashion and accessories store run by his mother Hazel and his Auntie Marion, Alan felt destined for the retail trade. The sparkle of jewellery in a small corner of the shop brought a glint to Alan’s eye.
‘It wasn’t so much the attractiveness of the jewellery as the fact that I saw a business which was very convenient in the sense that you could literally carry it around in a suitcase,’ admits Alan. ‘It looked so much easier than lugging clothes around!’
‘However, what I initially deemed practical soon turned into a passion and it wasn’t long before I had fallen in love with the idea of serving customers with something that was beautiful, intimate and personal – and I still get a buzz from that.’
In 1982, still only 21, Alan founded a jewellery business, trading from the Elite shopping centre in Ashbourne’s old cinema before moving to Dig Street in 1986.
Over the subsequent 30 years, Alan and his team have advanced their appeal and standing, not least in investing in CAD (computer aided design) which extended and refined their bespoke service – ‘though we still continue to make handmade pieces,’ emphasises Alan – and in establishing a special reputation for customised diamond jewellery.
‘I recognised early on that diamonds are a core part of a jeweller’s sale,’ affirms Alan. ‘If you can achieve the right cut, colour and clarity, then for refraction, dispersion and lustre, a diamond has no equal – as well as being a girl’s best friend, of course.’
Two key personnel in Avanti’s movement forward have been Alan’s chief gold and silversmith Ron Fairweather who has been with the business for 25 years; and shop manager Karen Hancock who came to Avanti in 2004, stayed for ten years and, after two years away, returned. ‘It wasn’t until I left that I realised just how passionate I had become about jewellery,’ admits Karen, ‘and I now appreciate even more the beauty of this job which is dealing with our customers, because purchasing jewellery – especially if it’s a ring – is one of the most joyous moments of their life.’
Karen’s words epitomise another vital aspect of Avanti’s popularity, as Alan points out: ‘I know it’s an old cliché but we pride ourselves on our personal service. My staff have always cared about the business. You have to not just meet but surpass customers’ expectations because jewellery is meaningful and invested with great sentimental value. If you’ve gone to the trouble of having a gemstone designed, it’s special for the giver and unforgettable to the receiver.’
Alan is also keen to point out that Avanti continues to improve and refresh the business. For example, they have increased their repair service, now sell pre-owned luxury brand watches like Rolex and have begun to embrace other branded names. As Alan points out: ‘Although we have stuck with tradition while many jewellers have gone down the branded route, we now have a few brands in stock without slavishly following that line.’
I got a keen sense of Avanti’s popularity in seeing shoppers constantly popping in to voice their congratulations and heap praise on Alan and his team. ‘They have always had a gem of jewellery store,’ says Barbara Burnside. ‘With this new store, they have now added the “wow” factor. As for the staff, they have always been the epitome of warmth, courtesy and trust.’
Barrie and Julie hail Avanti’s service as ‘honest, friendly and knowledgeable within a family atmosphere’, adding that it can only get better in the new shop which they describe as ‘light, airy and modern.’
As Barrie and Julie say further: ‘We love it that Alan has continually committed to the future of Ashbourne,’ a point emphasised by Derbyshire Dales Councillor Philip Chell. ‘Alan has his heart in Ashbourne and, because of him, the town is a better looking place. The difference is overwhelming.’
‘A corner site in any town is coveted, and this one is perfect,’ says Alan. ‘We are visible from two corners, and cars stop continually on both sides because of the traffic lights which means we are a shop window literally and figuratively!’
As a regular customer, Jo Mcmurty, comments: ‘They have enhanced this corner and given us a building which is much more in keeping with the architecture of the town. What I also love about this very attractive shop is that there is such a fine eye to detail – as you would expect from a jeweller.’
Something else one might have expected from Alan Matkin is an expansion of the Avanti brand especially as he has increased his staff over the last 30 years from three to seven, with five more working part-time. However, Alan says he is content to focus on the Ashbourne store: ‘I have never desired more shops. I might have if I had started off in another town but my family always saw Ashbourne as “the golden town”. Also, I think it would be difficult to replicate what we have here which we feel is very special. I am just happy to maintain the essence of the business. As we move forward – staying true to our name Avanti – we will simply strive to abide by our mantra which is “Service. Quality. Design.”’