Few places in the country can rival Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter for such a rich heritage and a future as bright as the precious metals being polished at its many workshops and factories
Jewellery Quarter History
This world-famous urban village has been described as a national treasure by English Heritage. Indeed, Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter was known as the workshop of the world and toy shop of Europe when in the late 18th to early 19th centuries skilled craftsmen began moving their small workshops around beautiful St Paul’s Square.
Independent family businesses worked alongside each other to craft every stage of the jewellery manufacturing process. As a result, the Jewellery Quarter became Europe’s largest concentration of businesses involved in the trade. It still produces 40% of all the jewellery made in the UK today.
This is the place to go for the best choice of engagement and wedding rings in the country. (We have produced a guide to the perfect romantic weekend away if you’re interested…)
Assay Office, Pens… and Literacy
The Jewellery Quarter is also home to the world’s largest Assay Office, which hallmarks around 12 million items of jewellery a year. The Assay Office was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1773 when the silversmiths of Birmingham, led by pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton, lobbied Parliament for its establishment.
The Jewellery Quarter is a district that can lay claim to have helped spread the written word and improve literacy around the world, as skilled makers produced more than 20 million pen nibs every week in the 1870s. Astaggering achievement now recognised at the Pen Museum at the Argent Centre on Frederick Street.
It’s located in a former pen factory, built in 1863, where visitors experience writing with feather quills, reeds and steel nibs and can also make their own nib using traditional methods.
Home to Independent Makers
For most of its history, the Jewellery Quarter was a manufacturing hub only. There were no jewellery shops until the 1970s when the recession forced city craftspeople to open their doors to visiting customers. Soon, other retailers moved into the area and old buildings were restored rather than pulled down to support these changes.
The area continues to undergo sensitive regeneration to reflect changing times and many of the former factory buildings have been taken over by a mix of independent retailers, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and creative workshops or turned into quirky residential apartments. Read more in our Guide to Birmingham Independents.
The Jewellery Quarter now has one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in the UK, at over 200 listed structures in a square kilometre.
At the heart of the Quarter is the Chamberlain Clock at the junction between Warstone Lane, Vyse Street and Frederick Street.
Joseph Chamberlain is responsible for the fast-paced modernisation of Birmingham during his time as Mayor between 1873- 76.
First unveiled in 1903, the Clock commemorates Chamberlain’s visit to South Africa following the end of the Boer War.
A recent £150,000 restoration of the clock, which means it now chimes on the hour, connects visitors more with the local area and background on Chamberlain.
Places to visit in the Jewellery Quarter
On Fleet Street you will find one of Birmingham’s more unusual attractions – The Coffin Works, home of Newman Brothers Museum.
This is a unique museum about coffin making, with tours and stories of the funerals of famous people in history.
In 2014 the grade II* listed building, built in 1894, was taken off Historic England’s ‘Buildings at Risk Register’ after a successful 15-year campaign to save it.
At 75-79 Vyse Street, The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is one of the nine museums run by Birmingham Museums Trust.
Among the museum’s many fascinating attractions is the Smith & Pepper workshops. When the proprietors of the Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm retired in 1981 they simply ceased trading and locked the door, unaware they would be leaving a time capsule for future generations.
You can now explore this and watch demonstrations at the jewellers’ bench of the traditional skills, and discover what it was like to work there. You can also pop next door to Grain and Glass for a dram afterwards.
If you’re interested in the work of local artists, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists at Brook Street, near St Paul’s Square, is one of the oldest art societies in the UK and is made up of artists who are elected to be RBSA Members, Associates and Honorary Members
The RBSA Gallery Shop features contemporary craft by designer-makers based in the Midlands and beyond.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK IN THE JEWELLERY QUARTER
40 St Paul’s, St Paul’s Square
Sitting on the edge of stunning St Paul’s Square, 40 St Paul’s was crowned the world’s ‘best gin bar’ in 2019. Over 140 gins in an intimate setting with just 24 seats. Booking is highly recommended.
Restaurant Folium, Caroline Street
Opened in November 2017, Restaurant Folium is a modern British restaurant, situated just off St Paul’s Square, on Caroline Street.
With a menu featuring ingredients obtained that day, Restaurant Folium brings an innovative and exciting food style to the Jewellery Quarter.
Urban Café Bar & Kitchen, Warstone Lane
Part of the Big Peg building on Warstone Lane, Urban Café has floor-to-ceiling windows for JQ people watching, fantastic coffees and ‘Birmingham’s best bottomless brunch’. If you’re visiting for a bit of work, you can rely on decent WiFi.
The Wilderness, Warstone Lane
Described as rock-and-roll fine dining, The Wilderness, led by chef Alex Claridge, is irreverent, playful and always creative. A long-term friend of Staying Cool with food collaborations that wow guests, The Wilderness is Birmingham dining at its most unique.
Hive Café & Bakery, Vittoria Street
Managed by Ruskin Mill Trust, The Hive, on Vittoria Street, is a Visit England gold award-winning café and training bakery that provides valuable work experience and training opportunities to students at Ruskin Mill Trust’s Argent College.
It offers meals, coffee, cakes and bread to visitors to the area as well as the growing residential community within the Quarter.
Opheem, Summer Row
Brummies take pride in those chefs that hold Michelin stars and chef-owner Aktar Islam has, in the words of Michelin, ‘created something quite unique and his pride in having his name above the door is palpable’.
Opheem is a modern Indian restaurant that makes a statement with its food, presentation, service and décor. This is genuine special occasion stuff.
The Aktar @ Home curry boxes, perfect for a night (or two, or three) at Staying Cool, offer a fantastic value-packed dining experience.
1000 Trades, Frederick Street
This is a 19th century building built as a jewellery workshop and then badge factory. Expect the best craft beers, natural wines, creative food menus to the backdrop of artworks of local artists. 1000 Trades has space available for community and private events.
Damascena, Warstone Lane
Fresh falafel straight from the fryer? Homemade hummus still warm from the blender? Damascena’s magnificent Syrian-inspired menu offers this and more. The Damascena Breakfast Meze is fast-becoming the stuff of Birmingham legend.
Saint Kitchen, St Paul’s Square
It’s all about Location, Location, Location, for Saint Kitchen, an independent café in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter, directly opposite St Paul’s Square. Dine and drink inside or pick-up a takeout to sit in the Square and soak up the beautiful surroundings.
If you enjoyed our Guide to the Jewellery Quarter, check out our Guide to Digbeth too!