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Within the archives of the London jewellers Hancocks, there exists the most extraordinary book. Large, heavy and showing distinct signs of age it is filled with page after page of diary entries documenting almost one hundred and twenty years of not only company history but social history as well.
By the time it was started in 1866 the company had already been thriving for sixteen years under the entrepreneurial guidance of its founder, Mr Charles Frederick Hancock. Within months of opening his eponymous store on the corner of Bruton Street and New Bond Street, C.F. Hancock had been granted the first of several Royal Warrants that the company would hold. As their reputation strengthened and grew, Royalty from across Europe became patrons of the firm and their prize winning presence at many of the Great World Fairs, both at home and abroad, only served to cement their position as one of the most prominent jewellers and silversmiths of the period.
This was attested to with the 1856 commission from the Duke of Devonshire for a suite of exceptional jewels to be worn by his niece, the Countess Granville, to the coronation of Tsar Alexander II. The Earl and Countess were to represent the Queen at this grand occasion and so jewellery of the utmost splendour was required for the many formal occasions that this month long celebration would involve. The Devonshire Parure consisted of seven pieces and was designed and built around eighty eight engraved gemstones of varying sizes and colours from the Dukes’ personal collection. These bold gems were set within an elaborate, richly coloured and highly decorative enamel openwork frame (a style subsequently referred to as Holbeinesque) which was further set with diamonds to catch the light and add sparkle. It was widely admired with the Illustrated London News reporting that every piece was in itself “matchless” but that combined “they display a concentration of elegance the superiority of which will be apparent to everybody”. The following year saw another hugely prestigious commission awarded to the company when Lord Panmure, acting on behalf of Queen Victoria, entrusted them with the manufacture of the newly created Victoria Cross medal. This medal was to be awarded for “conspicuous bravery” regardless of rank and cast from the bronze of two canons confiscated during the Crimean War. This was a huge honour for Hancocks and the company is proud to continue to supply these medals, still regarded as the highest military honour, to this day.
By the early 1870’s Mr C.F. Hancock had retired leaving the company in the capable hands of his two sons as well as his business partners Mr H. Stewart and Mr H.J. Dore. In particular, it was the latter of these men and the two successive generations of his family who guided Hancocks through the last decades of the 19th Century and into the 20th. Much of this is documented in the record book, from details of clients, commissions and sales, through attempted thefts and windows broken by the bombs of war to the marriages, births and deaths relating to members of staff.
Amongst the countless notable pieces which have passed through the company’s hands over the years is a ruby and diamond necklace which was part of the French crown jewels; a ruby and an emerald suite from the Seringapatam jewels and a Cartier diamond rose brooch worn by Princess Margaret to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
In recent years Hancocks has been under the directorship of Mr Stephen Burton who moved it into its current location in the historic Burlington Arcade in 1997. It thrives today much in the spirit it always has, as a family run firm exhibiting at prestigious fairs around the world, undertaking bespoke commissions and dealing in the very finest of jewels.