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The Irish Claddagh Ring Shop

'How I revived our family business in the midst of a prolonged recession.'

Jonathan Margetts is the owner of T. Dillon and Sons Jewellers who hold the oldest license for making the Claddagh ring (since 1750).

In this article, Johnathan (seen below polishing a ring) talks to Susanna about the history of his family business and about how he salvaged the business and made it successful despite a bad recession.

The Irish Cladddagh ring, often misspelled as Claddaugh or Cladaugh, Cladagh, Claddah or Clada ring, is an Irish traditional ring. The oldest one still in existence was made in 1700 by Richard Joyce, a goldsmith in Galway who is credited with its' invention.

A Claddagh ring being polished at the original Claddagh ring shop, Galway, Ireland, by Johnathan Margetts, proprietor.

Thomas Dillon and Sons was originally a Waterford based goldsmiths, but part of the family moved to Galway in 1850, bringing their Claddagh ring business with them to premises at 1 William Street, Galway.

Jonathan Margetts family have owned this license since 1920.

Jonathan, tell us about the history of your Irish Claddagh Ring family business.

My grandparents bought the jewellery business from William Dillon in 1920. They ran the business quite successfully for years, and so did my parents after them. The Irish Claddagh ring was popular. People were buying. I started working in the family business when I was 16. I learned the trade from the bottom up as they say.

The Claddagh symbol in stained glass at Dillon's Jewellers Shop on Quay Street, Galway, Ireland, who are the oldest makers of the ring anywhere.

Stained glass Claddagh symbol on a door at the original Claddagh ring shop.

Then, in the late 1970ies, the recession hit, and the business went downhill. The price of silver and gold had gone up hugely. People stopped buying jewellery, a luxury they could not afford any longer. New business skills were required then, but my parents found it hard to adjust. They kept going for a while, in the same way they had known, but eventually decided to close.

Back then, my parents’ shop was located at 1 William Street. Dillon’s Irish Claddagh Ring shop had opened business in that same location in 1850. To this day, there is an ancient Claddagh Ring sign above the doorway of the building. Now the business was gone. My parents sold the premises.

I thought about what I wanted to do now. And what I wanted to do was continue to make and sell Claddagh rings. So I asked my parents for the license to the original Irish Claddagh Ring, the license that goes back to 1750 to Thomas Dillon. Mum and dad actually laughed at me. They were convinced the license wasn’t worth anything anymore! That's how bad things had become. But they did give me those rights.

Claddagh ring workshop items seen in the ring museum at Dillon's Jewellers on Quay Street, Galway, Ireland.

Workshop items in a display case at the shops' Claddagh Ring Museum at the back of the shop on Quay Street, Galway.

Next, I thought about how to change my approach in the business. I knew things had to be done differently. People weren’t buying, and there was a lot of competition now, all these companies that were now making Claddagh rings and often selling them very cheaply. I did not want to compete with them for the lowest prices.

My choice was to stick with tradition. Our Claddagh ring license is the oldest. I use traditional methods making the rings. My idea was to get that recognized. So the first thing I did was go to Dublin Castle to the Assay Office where I got the makers mark changed to get the ‘Original’ stamp put into my Claddagh rings. Nobody else who makes Claddagh rings is entitled to this stamp. The stamp shows that we go back to 1750 and are the oldest makers of the ring. With this gesture I got value put on the business. We started doing well after that.

My business is now the oldest jewellers in the country after West’s in Dublin closed down a few years ago. They had been in business since 1730, but could not adjust to the renewed recession.

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Many thanks!  Susanna and Colm.

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