19. 1879 Henry Birks and Sons

Diamonds, especially of the wedding variety, watches, the finest of course, Wedgewood China, Waterford Crystal, Hallmarked Sterling Flatware, all wrapped up in the “Blue Box” – Henry Birks and Sons, of course.

This one has a personal hook for me; my first real job, 1972, washing the windows and polishing the double B solid brass doorknobs of the Birks store in the Oakridge Mall, in Vancouver. Birks was considered a store of great tradition, the only place in town with such select finery, and with impeccable service. I, in a short time, added part time shipper/receiver and box boy to my list of duties. Those blue boxes came in an amazing array of sizes; from one tiny enough to secure a single gold charm, to one large enough to hold a domed silver turkey platter swathed in miles of protective tissue. A box to hold almost anything they sold, they were part of the Birks prestige (and no, we would not, although ofter requested, sell just the box).

Next, just before High School Easter Break, they asked if I wanted to try the sales floor, to join the sales staff, and to meet the pubic both of whom I had been serving from my basement position. Yes, was the answer, and my first suit, bought just for the occasion. After that special week it became a steady pattern of Thursday and Friday after school, and all day Saturday, and full time for summer break. As staff we were consistently sent downtown to the “Main Store”,  the store at Seymour and Granville, with the 4 sided clock free standing out in front, a long standing meeting point and a Vancouver Icon, for training.

Both new and experienced staff went, as Birks believed above all, in customer service. Being able to properly assist a customer, and never to “sell”, impeccable manners and complete product knowledge were the keys. We were trained to speak on the telephone, properly, yes, 8 hours of learning and practice for that one, what was inside of a watch that made it tick, and of course, the 4Cs of diamonds, clairty, cut, carat, and colour, amongst many, many other days of individual makers, demonstrating the ins and outs out of their wares. The family owned Birks knew that an acknowledged and satisfied customer would come back again. I spent a year as a full time staff member before going on to college, at which point it was back to part time. The rest is my own history, no Birks included, so I will stop with me, at this point, except to say I will never forget the 5 amazing years I spent there. What a heady place to be!

A Family business; founded in Montreal, by Henry Birks on March 1, 1879, and by 1899 joined by three of his sons: John, William and Gerald. The eldest son, William, becomes head of the company in 1901. With his vision of Birks as a Canadian brand, he and expands across Canada with mergers and takeovers leading the way to store openings in Ottawa (1901), Winnipeg (1903), and Vancouver (1907). The Birks catalogue and the Blue Box, from 1909 and 1930 respectively, although perhaps changing shape and shade of blue over time, become iconic Canadian images of prestige.

The Royal Warrant of Appointment was granted in 1934. By 1954 Birks, while maintaining their flagship stores in town, joined the move to the suburbs, being the first to open a jewelry store within a shopping centre, at the first Canadian mall, in Dorval, Quebec. Jonathan Birks (Fifth generation) sold the company to the Regaluxe Investment Group in 1993. Today, featured as a proudly Canadian heritage brand, Birks continues to follow their original credo of exclusivity and service. Birks has won 12 of the most prized Canadian jewellery design awards, from 12 Diamonds Today Awards, as well as 6 prestigious Diamonds- International Awards, making them the leading award winning jeweller in Canada, today.