The Glittering Gem on Prospect Street
I T’S HARD TO imagine walking along Prospect Street without seeing the familiar green awning and stylish shop window which marks the entrance to Waltons. Goldsmith and jeweller Chris Walton first opened his shop on 8 December 1986, having taken over the premises which had previously been a launderette.
Chris grew up at the Bird in Hand pub in Sonning Common and went to Grove Road Primary School, then on to Chiltern Edge, where two of his best subjects were art and metalwork – “I’ve always been very creative”, he remembered.
He had considered going on to art school, but a five-year apprenticeship came up at Jobins, a jeweller in Henley, so he chose that to combine both his talents. Within a year he was already working with gold, platinum and various gemstones. Students at university and art colleges only get to work with silver and cubic zirconia, as the cost of more precious materials is too high. So Chris felt he had a far better experience and training, as learning to work with gold or platinum is totally different.
Having completed his five-year apprenticeship with Jobins, by the age of 26 Chris had the confidence to start up his own business. He looked at premises in various locations, then one in Caversham came up – an old launderette that had closed. He had to borrow what seemed a huge amount of money to take on the premises but, after a lot of work, he managed to open by December. It was fascinating to watch the video Chris has put together of the transformation of the derelict launderette into the premises which is now Waltons.
Chris was always determined that Waltons would be a distinctive type of jeweller – “The majority of jewellers around are ‘off the shelf’ stores with no bespoke service”, he remarked. “However, as we have a workshop, we are able to manufacture handmade items customised as required”. Customers can be directly involved in a commissioned piece and even choose their own stones. Chris and his team offer all aspects of the jewellery trade. Apart from the range of his own stunning designs, Waltons offers a full repair service, watches, engraving, restringing, and valuations, as well as buying old jewellery.
Chris has worked hard to nurture a loyal following from Caversham and the surrounding area, and includes many TV celebrities among his clientele. “The majority of those who come into the shop are repeat customers”, he said. “Once they know what we can do, they come back because we help to educate the public while serving them, which makes our job easier.
“My standards are very high, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist!”
Because of his knowledge and expertise, Chris often gives talks on the jewellery trade to local organisations and is frequently interviewed on radio. And, as well as creating video footage of his own shop’s transformation in 1986, Chris takes a keen interest in the local area and its history and has produced a fascinating YouTube video of old photographs of Caversham with the same scenes today, called Caversham 100 Years of History.
He is also passionate about helping his fellow traders prosper, despite the challenges which all small businesses have been facing in recent times. Chris is Chair of the Caversham Traders’ Association, and during the lockdown, apart from carrying on making incredible pieces of jewellery in his workshop, he worked hard to ensure the association kept in touch with fellow traders through Zoom meetings, advising traders on government help schemes, for example. Due to this mutual support, Chris believes that Caversham appears to have been less affected by the pandemic than other local areas. The newly revamped Choose Caversham website is another initiative which he feels offers traders a chance to promote their businesses to a wider audience.
With his infectious enthusiasm for his craft and well-deserved pride in the exclusive and stunning pieces which he makes, Chris proves the point that nurturing an artistic streak can, with hard work, result in a thriving business model, as well as providing an inspiration for others. “My vision for Waltons has always been to be a traditional jeweller, with a modern twist”, he told me.