Wednesday, November 6, 2019

And the story goes on

This porcelain dial pocket watch is that of Fairfax & Roberts LTD, Sydney & London: a jeweller which has not only survived, but prospered right up until to today.

The history of Fairfax & Roberts began in 1836, when London based optician and jeweller Richard Lamb emigrated to Sydney and established his watchmaking business. In 1842, he was joined by fellow business partner, Alfred Fairfax of the Fairfax newspaper house.

The discovery of gold in Australia in the 1850s brought with it a new style of jewellery and watches. Lamb, an artisan from England, combined his skills in the craft with the era defining discovery of gold to create pieces and designs that were unseen before in the colony. By 1858, Fairfax and Lamb had garnered a reputation as Sydney’s most exquisite craftsmen.

Lamb & Fairfax made their mark on Sydney in 1873, when they were commissioned to design and manufacture the timepiece for the city’s Central railway station clock tower in 1873. Tragically, Richard Lamb, founder of the original Lamb & Fairfax, died in a sailing accident just three years later. Although designed by both men in the 1870s, construction of the famous clock tower was completed almost 50 years later, in 1921. The tower still stands today at a height of 85.6 metres.

Having recognised the company's potential, Oscar Roberts invested in Alfred Fairfax, and in 1886, the company was officially known as Fairfax & Roberts. Fairfax & Roberts designed and created jewellery for some of Australia’s wealthiest families. In 1888, Fairfax & Roberts were described as specialising “… in the setting to order of diamonds and other gems in rings, brooches, tiaras and other ornaments. For this purpose a large stock of stones on hand”.

Some special pieces combined gemstones with precious metals; unique, one-of-a kind heirlooms which have been passed down from generation to generation. One of Fairfax & Roberts' most noble customer was Edward, Prince of Wales, who acquired a custom-made sterling silver kangaroo pin whilst in Australia in 1927.

Alfred Fairfax died in 1901, and both an obituary and a longer article dedicated to his life, published in The Sydney Morning Herald highlight how respected Mr Fairfax was in society:

“Mr Alfred Fairfax died at his residence, McMahon's Point, North Sydney about half-past 7 o'clock on Monday morning, aged 77 years. The deceased gentleman was one of the fast-disappearing old-pioneers of Sydney, and first arrived in New South Wales in 1837, being only 13 years old.”
The Sydney Morning Herald, 28th November 1901
In the longer article, special mention is given to Fairfax’s involvement in many different aspects of the Sydney community, in particular, his passion for steamers, his love of yachts and yachting, and the multiple positions he held such as journalist, merchant, commercial broker and founder of Fairfax & Roberts:

“The deceased arrived in Sydney in 1841, and shortly after landing he joined the literary staff of the "Sydney Morning Herald." Sometime afterwards he opened in business under the style of Messrs Alfred Fairfax and Co, in George street and subsequently in Wynyard street. The establishment occupied in George Street stood next to the Royal Hotel, and the work of demolition has just been completed. Later on he became a commercial broker. His connection with mercantile pursuits extended over 50 years. The late Mr. Fairfax was one of the original supporters of the first line of steamers which ran between Sydney and Melbourne. The service was owned by the Sydney and Melbourne Steamship Company.

[…] Talking of leading yachtsmen of the past and present in Sydney, Mr Thornton said the other day: “Mr Alfred Fairfax from the outset, took a very active and successful interest in yachting, and in building, owning, and sailing yachts he was most successful, having had some of the best boats that were ever in the colony.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, 27th November 1901
Over 100 years after Fairfax’s death, Fairfax & Roberts to this day remains a brand synonymous with authenticity and quality. They are the oldest established jeweller in Australia and are currently situated on Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find much regarding the London branch except that in 1902, the English buying office was located at 36 Basinghall-street, London, E.C. I have contacted Fairfax & Roberts directly and I am waiting for the opportunity to ask for the full story. I will keep you informed.

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