A couple of weeks ago I had the absolute privilege of photographing Jonathan David, one of the oldest shops in the arcade. The store has been at the site since 1896, and is still selling jewellery today.
It hasn’t always been called Jonathan David though. Originally named Kaiser and Sons, it changed to Kingston Brothers amid anti German sentiment just before the first world war. It remained with that name until the 1980s when it was taken over by the current owner, David Hughes-Lewis.
Now named after the current owner’s son, it was Jonathan David himself I spoke to as I spent some time in the shop chatting with him and the fascinating people that work there. I was recently asked “When was the last time you met a traditional watchmaker?” as if they don’t exist any more. It was with such joy that I was able to say “just the other day, in the Morgan Arcade.”
Jonny the watchmaker is 72 and has been working in his craft since he was 15, a true craftsman. He works in the shop repairing watches at his bench, in roughly the same area he has worked all his life (he started in another jewellery shop just up the street). I asked him if he still enjoys the job after all these years, to which the answer was simple; “it’s addictive.”
If you happen to visit Jonathan David you will notice the fantastic traditional exterior, reflecting the traditional values you’ll find on the interior. Well according to Jonathan, this was covered up until as recently as the 1980s until they set about uncovering the beautiful details. What was it about hiding all that stuff behind ugly wood panels – I don’t know what they were thinking…
Anyway, putting all that aside, Jonathan showed me some of the old photos of the original store as it was in the Morgan Arcade all those years ago – it was great to see them, and really brought to the life the history of these arcades and was really fascinating. I’m hoping I’ll get to see more photos like this as the project continues – so if you have any / know of any please, please let me know!
Also in the shop was Pip, who reckoned she was the first female goldsmith in Wales when she started nearly 30 years ago. Incredibly, she had made a teeny tiny set of gold scissors because she had a “spare 25 minutes”. They could cut paper and everything and were probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen crafted from gold!
Chatting with Jonathan it’s clear to see that the changing nature of the area around him is a concern. He’s heard that they’re about to convert one of the empty premises nearby into a strip club, which along with gambling shops and takeaway restaurants, isn’t exactly in-keeping with the atmosphere of a 100 year old jewellery store. Not only that but there’s something like 30 jewellery shops in Cardiff – that’s quite a high level of saturation, but, how many can actually boast a traditional watchmaker and goldsmith right there, on site, working away downstairs? Not many.
While I was here I also got to have a sneaky peek underneath the arcades. This was a fantastic insight into how it might have looked when it was first built. Here there’s a giant safe (no longer) in use and gorgeous green walls and old paraphenalia that looked almost like torture equipment. Jonathan also brought out a box of old watches that he said were found in the underground area, and this was perhaps the most fascinating thing of all. They all contained addresses on, written in that beautiful (if slightly unreadable) old-fashioned writing. Now that I think about it, I wonder why the watches never got returned to their rightful owners.
That’s probably a debate for another day – for now, enjoy the photos, and if you like them, there’s even more over on Flickr. As usual, comments and feedback very, very much appreciated!
Jonathan David Jewellery is open Monday – Saturday and can be found in the Morgan Arcade. Visit the Jonathan David website for more information about the shop.
Some of the original Kingston Brothers signage