It is hard not to stop in your tracks when passing by Harpur’s window on West Street with its changing display of glittering gems.
Harpur’s has provided Oundle with great quality jewellery since 2002. The shop is run by Nigel Hill on the premises where, coincidently, his father originally had another business, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, which also sold jewellery and antiques.
Harpur’s was established in 1950 by Nigel’s father, Peter, and his brother Ron. The first shop was in Bedford and they expanded in 1974, setting up another shop in Aspley Guise. Nigel took over the business in 1988, and came to Oundle in 2002.
From the age of eight Nigel was brought into the family business and learned about gems, jewellery and antiques. “I remember being a kid and staring at a black opal and I couldn’t understand how this happened. It’s so beautiful, having millions of colours in it, and it being millions of years old, and I had it in my hand. How? That fascinated me. I love it and I’ve never lost that.”
His father had a friend who was the chairman of the National Association of Goldsmiths who put him in touch with the top people at Hatton Gardens to learn the jewellery trade.
“As a kid I was taken to Hatton Gardens, which is the world centre for jewellery, so I became very familiar early on with jewellery,” he said. These connections helped him to train properly as a jeweller and gemologist.
At the same time, Nigel was taught to play the drums by another friend of his father’s. When he left school he went into music as a professional drummer in rock bands and as a session player, while at the same time maintaining an active role in the jewellery business.
He kept both careers going side-by-side, working with his father when not on tour, which worked well, and he loved both equally. But Nigel said the touring was exhausting, especially as he was a “heavy-duty drummer”.
“The music business is a young man’s game. I don’t think I’d want to go on tour now as it’s gruelling”, he said.
Nigel no longer tours with his music, but he still manages bands and performs the odd gig, mostly for charity. Jewellery remains his passion, “I love what I do. My particular love is stones. I love to match stones, I enjoy that process. I have collections of stones that will make your eyes pop.”
Although he works with traditional pieces such as pearl strings and diamond settings, he takes pride in his independent streak.
“I cater for those who want to be a little bit different. What is fun for me is being able to recreate jewellery for people into something they love,” he said.
“If you wanted to sum me up – if everybody comes out of a door and turns one way, even as a young kid, I would always go the other way. That’s just me, I’ve always been a rebel. So, I appeal to people who have a little bit of that in them, too.
“In fact one magazine called me the most eccentric jeweller in the Midlands. I was a bit disappointed with that, because it’s far, far wider.”
Harpur’s stocks a dazzling collection of jewellery by a variety of independent designers. Nigel also does valuations, repairs and takes private design commissions. Harpur’s is a proper treasure trove for gifts and indulgences that give life-long pleasure. It may just be that jewel in the crown of Oundle.