A family business that has served as a jeweller to six generations of British royalty are sponsoring an exhibition at one of London’s top museums to celebrate their 150th anniversary.
Luxury antique dealer Wartski was founded by a Polish refugee, Morris Wartski, in 1865 in the Welsh town of Bangor. Its clients have included everyone from Bing Crosby to Kate Middleton and Prince William, who exchanged wedding bands made by the company when they married in 2011.
The company does not disclose revenues, though the price tags on some of its wares are high. Last year, it facilitated the sale of a Faberge egg that Reuters estimated was sold for $20 million.
Last week, Wartski’s great-grandson Nicholas Snowman, who is chairman of the family business, was on hand to open Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Open until the end of March, it showcases significant jewels belonging to or inspired by the Indian subcontinent, including Mughal jade and a jeweled gold tiger head from a former royal throne.
It is the first exhibition the now London-based family business has sponsored; however, Snowman’s father curated a Faberge exhibition at the same museum in 1977.
In addition to the sponsorship of the V&A exhibition, the family business has also released a book to mark its anniversary, written by its long-serving managing director Geoffrey Munn, who is also an expert appraiser on popular UK television show Antiques Roadshow.
Snowman admits he had never been to Bangor before preparations began for the family business birthday, although he did know the luxury business had modest beginnings.
“Somebody my great-grandfather didn’t know offered him a lift and found him rather erudite so he said ‘look, go and see my business manager tomorrow, here’s my card’, and it was the Marquis of Anglesey,” Snowman says. “That set him up in business.”
Snowman says the book, Wartski: the first 150 years, proved a learning experience for the family. “I found that they’re rather revered, the Wartski family, in Bangor. It’s extraordinary what they’ve achieved.”
Family is central to a business like Wartski, says Munn. “It only survives because of that, I think it’s a great tribute to them, because it could have been sold and rebranded and all that silly nonsense, but it’s a heritage thing for them.”
Snowman credits his father with transforming the business into “a very erudite, almost academic business, with books and exhibitions.”
“He was chairman of the business and it was when he died, I’d already been brought on to the board, we had the choice of selling the business, which we could have done, or we could have kept going. My feelings – and that of my son, I’m pleased to say – is that we should keep it going.”
“It’s a family business, but not a family business in which family actually becomes executives,” Snowman adds.
The family business shares its 150th anniversary with several of the world’s largest family businesses, including French dairy group Groupe Bel and US grain company Cargill.