“The jewellery trade has been in my family for more than a century”, says Robert Ogden, who runs Richard Ogden, the traditional English jewellers in the Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly. “As a consequence, I have quite simply lived, breathed and dreamed jewellery since childhood.”
Jewellery has been the lifeblood of the Ogden family for four generations. James R. Ogden opened the first Ogden family jewellery shop in 1893. A master jeweller and watch specialist, he soon established the Ogden tradition of expert customer relations and his “Little Diamond Shop” fast grew popular with illustrious clients (including Prince George, later Duke of Kent) who visited during the Harrogate Season. In his spare time, James corresponded with two of the then leading figures of international archaeology, Howard Carter and Sir Leonard Woolley. He helped restore various ancient gold objects, which now contribute to treasured collections in museums across Europe and America, and he became Advising Goldsmith to the British Museum. In 1925, James’s eldest son William opened a shop in King Street, St James’s, London. William had a taste for what he called “important pieces” – pieces with a family or dynastic history. Many of them came from royals or were sold to royals and included Queen Isabella of Spain’s black pearls and the emerald necklace of the Empress Eugenie. According to a 1930s portrait published by The Bystander, he was “more discreet than any banker” – the so-called important pieces mostly changed hands in the oak-panelled private rooms over his shop in King Street.
William had one son, Richard, who, after the war, continued the family tradition of dealing in fine antique jewellery. He was a pioneer in every sense and quickly gained international renown and a client list which included such legends as Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Ringo Starr, Ingrid Bergman and, more recently, Madonna. When he wasn’t travelling the world buying and selling antique jewellery, Richard Ogden was creating exciting new designs, such as his famous Twinset engagement ring and wedding ring, which earned him a De Beers International Award in the 1970s. Richard passed away in October 2005, aged 85.
His eldest son Robert is a trained designer craftsman and an expert in diamonds and unusual precious gems. Until recently, he frequently broadcast on LBC radio, dating and identifying the listeners’ jewellery from their description.
The current premises, which Richard Ogden moved to in the early 1950s, have their own colourful history. In Victorian times part of the building was occupied by a milliner whose “Guinea Bonnets” from Paris were the height of fashion. Mary Cathcart Borer in The Years of Grandeur: The Story of Mayfair (1975): “Madame Parsons sold her guinea bonnets at Numbers 26, 27 and 28. There was also a 'friendly bonnet shop' where the accommodating milliner allowed the rooms above to be used as a brothel and this rendezvous became as fashionable, in its way, as the shops, so that men of affairs, who wished to avoid any breath of scandal, took care to avoid the precincts of the arcade at certain times of the day.” For more elegant reasons, the premises rose to fame again in the 1960s, when Richard Ogden converted the lower ground floor into the famous Ring Room. This showroom has recently been refurbished to accommodate a series of fine jewellery exhibitions alongside its more traditional role