The phone doesn’t stop ringing. That’s what I first notice after walking into Trotters, having been buzzed through two heavy security doors covered in thick steel mesh, past a framed picture of a winking Rich Uncle Pennybags, the phrase “Time is Money” printed in bold underneath the jaunty Monopoly man.
As soon as one call ends another begins, the sound of wheeling, as well as dealing, and on-the-spot quotes colliding with the steel drums and autotune of Afropop, ringing out from a wall-mounted TV. Fingers mash figures into well-worn calculators, knowingly gliding over each digit. “That’ll be £3,600 cash, does that work for you?” a staff member says, scurrying about behind a protective screen. The glare of spotlights reflects off a thousand gold and diamond chains, sparkling like the unbroken surface of a lake. Rolexes of every shape and size line the back wall: Datejusts, Oyster Perpetuals, GMT Master IIs and Daytonas placed in neat rows of stainless steel and Everose gold. It’s a lot to absorb for a Tuesday morning.
Sandwiched in between the Jannah Indian Grill cafe and takeaway and a clothes shop called Seasons Emporium on Bethnal Green Road, East London, Trotters, with its Kelly green façade and signage that declares it a “Small shop with a BIG name”, opened 28 years ago as a pawn shop and jewellers that mostly dealt with mid-range engagement rings and the odd nice watch. It has since evolved into an unlikely nexus of bling. A tiny cubbyhole of polarising luxury that now deals with diamond-encrusted Swiss Franken-watches and rapper-grade jewellery that can set a willing client back six figures if he or — less often — she is looking to get “iced-out”.
“It’s crazy in here!” says Judd Green, prepping his camera to shoot watches that will be posted to the shop’s Instagram page, which has 209,000 followers. “The most of any jeweller in the UK!” he declares. “It’s a shame you’re only here for today because it’s non-stop, you never know who’s going to walk through the door. We’ve had billionaires! It’s unbelievable.”
At 26, Green is the director of the shop, named after a certain comically illegitimate business from Only Fools and Horses, that his father founded in 1991. (Green’s dad likes to be referred to only as “Trotter” and remains behind the scenes, with Judd running the day-to-day operation.) With cropped sandy hair and a slight inflection of Essex in his accent, Green and his shop managers Kallum Brewer and Alex Osborn cater to a sparkling list of clients including Premier League footballers, professional boxers and a revolving cast of flash Harrys who discovered them through the grapevine or, most commonly, Instagram. A documentary series has just wrapped, set to air this autumn on Channel 4.
“Without sounding big-headed,” chimes Brewer, a childhood friend of Green’s, “we try to do everything first, we’re not interested in uploading something formal and boring. We try to take that approach of… ‘Let’s ice this watch up!’ ‘Let’s take a photo on the roof!’ ‘Let’s make it entertaining!’ It’s entertainment, Instagram, isn’t it?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” adds Green. “We know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. We know there are going to be some people who don’t understand it, who think it’s flash and will say we ruined that luxury piece. We’re just trying to keep up with the trends.”
“Have a look at this,” says Brewer, disappearing behind a door before returning with a tray stacked full of glistening Audemars Piguets. “This is a million pounds’ worth of watches!” he cackles, fastening two to his wrist before thrusting them up to the light, thousands of stones sparkling beneath the high voltage beam. There’s also a Patek Phillipe 5719 in white gold with a full diamond set, priced at £320,000, waiting for the right, deep-pocketed buyer.
Despite the wariness shown by the famously steadfast Swiss watch industry (your warranty is void as soon as you alter any luxury watch, so Trotters provides its own for customers), there is a growing taste for customisation and ostentation, both in luxury fashion and watches. A 2017 Deloitte study on luxury goods found that, increasingly, “personalisation of products is an opportunity for premium pricing”.
Even original watches from the big boys of horology are coming with more flash than their predecessors. Arguably the hottest piece of last year was the Rolex Daytona Rainbow Everose Gold, its bezel set with 36 baguette-cut sapphires in a rainbow gradation of all naturally occurring stones. It became a cult classic the moment it debuted and is now worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“A lot of the big trends start in the New York Diamond District, they’ve got so much money they’ll put diamonds on anything!” says Brewer. Increasingly, so will Trotters. The jewels for some watches are set in-house, but the more complex jobs will go to experts in Antwerp and Hong Kong, who specialise in “honeycomb” sets, smaller stones packed tightly together. Some pieces can feature up to 3,500 individual diamonds.
“We’re the people’s jeweller!” Brewer jokes. “If you want it, we can do it! Kids come in and want to try the pieces on, to show off on social media. I bring out the trays and let them go at it. It’s all free publicity for us.”
Recently, a woman wanted to have her breasts gold-plated but was eventually put off by the cost such a venture would incur, while a gentleman from Ghana flew over specifically to buy from the shop. He spent £49,000 on an 18-carat gold, diamond-encrusted, Cuban link necklace and matching bracelet. He threw £15,000 in cash at Brewer as a deposit. Business with footballers is growing, too. Green and Brewer will travel to training grounds across the country, hand-delivering watches dripping in diamonds to the rising stars of the Premier League.
“A few years ago, footballers tried to keep it a bit more low-key,” says Green. “But the younger guys, the England Under-21 players, are definitely following the trends from America. What do you do when you win a trophy? You treat yourself, you ice yourself out.”
The phone rings again. “It’s only 9.30am and it will be like this all day,” he says. “Like I said, this place is crazy.”
With that, Green disappears through a door into the back of the shop, where there’s a price to be haggled over, a new deal to be struck.