Same Sex Marriages Are Golden Opportunity for Assay Office; City's First Female Assay Master Predicts Boost for Traditional Precious Metal Trade in City

The Birmingham Post (England), February 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Same Sex Marriages Are Golden Opportunity for Assay Office; City's First Female Assay Master Predicts Boost for Traditional Precious Metal Trade in City


Byline: Graeme Brown Head of Business graeme.brown@trinitymirror.com

BIRMINGHAM'S historic jewellery industry could be set for a golden age - boosted by same-sex marriages - according to the city's new Assay Master.

Industry veteran Stella Layton, who has become the first woman in the role's 240-year history, said civil ceremonies and a new vogue for gold has presented a boost for a manufacturing sector hit heavily by competition from India and China.

However, she said the focus will continue to be on diversification at Birmingham Assay Office, which has moved into new markets over the past two decades amid falling jewellery-making.

Mrs Layton will oversee an historic move for the Assay Office founded by legendary industrialist Matthew Boulton. Work starts on its new Pope Street home in April.

She is a well-known face in the city's precious metal industry after a 26-year career that saw her rise to the position of global divisional director at Cookson Precious Metals.

Mrs Layton said same-sex marriage legislation - which comes into force this month - represents an opportunity for city manufacturers.

She explained: "Because we have got gay couples getting married as well, it is generating more demand in the market - and bridal wear is more likely to be made in the UK.

"An awful lot of men leave it to the last two weeks - by which time they can't get it back from China in time."

She added: "Over the last 10 years there has been a paradigm shift - because of the high prices it has been about selling rather than buying gold.

"The prices are starting to drop now, which brings the price of jewellery lower for the common man, and means it is easier to sell.

"The fashion is also going more towards yellow gold.

"The biggest challenge for the jewellery industry is stopping people from wanting to spend their money on iPads and so on, rather than jewellery."

Mrs Layton, who is also a nonexecutive director of Birmingham Women's Hospital, headed up an international team of 1,100 people at Cookson.

She said the sector has seen tough times, but innovations like 3D printing offer new opportunities to manufacturers.

Speaking of her 26 years at Cookson, she said: "Over that time I had to change the shape of the business because jewellery manufacturing moved off shore. The volume of business changed, just like the Assay Office, so you have to look for other opportunities."

She added: "We still have a manufacturing operation that continues to make jewellery today. We have got the designers and the manufacturing industry, and some new technology like computer-aided design and 3D printing offers a major opportunity for the resurgence of manufacturing." The Assay Office has undergone radical changes in the last 15 years under the stewardship of outgoing Assay Master Michael Allchin, who is retiring. …

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