Evolving in step with consumer tastes, Nash Jewellers marks
100 years of luxury retail
Photo: Colin Nash
IT’S ALMOST THE only time Colin Nash pauses during a wide-ranging conversation. His normal demeanor is upbeat, staccato, direct—much the way his father talks a few days later answering questions for this story.
The question that trips him up ever so briefly? What makes a diamond valuable?
“It starts with being rare, something that comes from the earth’s crust and has been around for millions of years.”
True enough, but the same could be said of igneous rock.
“Really, it’s about the sentimental and emotional value. The thought of something that represents your love, something that fulfills that purpose and lasts lifetime after lifetime.”
And there you have it. We attach value to something that transcends generations and represents our better selves, from which we too often are parted by the hurrying world, to paraphrase William Wordsworth.
The same could be said of Nash Jewellers itself, celebrating its 100th anniversary: A century of creating the representations of people’s love, affection and appreciation. A business that has moved around the city, but never out of it. Run today by the fourth generation of Nashes, a continuity just as sentimental as diamonds themselves.
In November, when the business officially celebrates its anniversary, it will release a book detailing its history. John C. Nash is working with an archivist to write the full-length version. The short version goes like this:
John A. Nash opened in 1918 at 206 ½ Dundas Street. One of the nuggets discovered for the book is that he dropped the ½ from the address because he considered an upstairs address insufficiently classy. Two years later he moved to 182 Dundas Street, home base for decades to come.
Renowned golfer, curler and badminton player John B. Nash joined in 1934 before heading overseas during the Second World War.
“My father always said he’d rather none of his kids go into retail,” recalls John C. Nash today. “And none of us did.”
That changed in 1975 when John B. wanted to sell. John C. was an associate dean at the University of Waterloo, in the department now known as Human Kinetics and Recreation. “Margi and I thought it over and decided to come back. It wasn’t that tough a decision,” he says.
What was tough was the learning curve he faced. He had been an educator, unfamiliar with finance and budgets. “My father left me alone to make my own mistakes, and I made some.”
But he picked it up quickly enough to keep things on track and expand with a second store in Oakridge Mall. It operated for six years and presaged a north location next to Masonville Place.
The new location showcases the international brands so important to the business beginning in 2006. That was when Colin tacked in a new direction, starting to represent brands like Rolex, John Hardy, Gucci and Mikimoto
Colin Nash, one of John C.’s six sons, cut his teeth at the north store beginning in 2000 before moving downtown to the original location in 2006. He bought the business in 2010, the fourth generation to own it. He, too, had been advised against retail, but announced his interest by sending his father a portfolio of creative jewelry designs while living in Whistler, “living the ski bum lifestyle.”
As his father had done, he became a certified gemologist and later a master goldsmith. One of his brothers, Bryan, works at the store and is also a gemologist.
Two years ago, with the downtown store suffering and the north store targeted by the city as the location of a northern transit hub, Colin merged both, along with all 18 employees at the shiny, new location at Oxford and Wonderland.
Beyond the beauty of the design and the advantages of having everything under one roof, the new location showcases the international brands so important to the business beginning in 2006. That was when Colin tacked in a new direction, starting to represent brands like Rolex, John Hardy, Gucci and Mikimoto, among others.
“Rolex is a kingpin,” he says. There are only 30 Rolex dealers in Canada, the nearest in Windsor. There are even fewer Gucci or Hardy dealers, just a handful nationally. That kind of exclusivity is what Nash relies on in the age of the internet.
A surprise to many, Nash is not London’s oldest jeweler.
Sumner Jewellers has been downtown since 1902. And it has a Nash connection
“People know what they want. They come here to get it,” he says. “No matter where you are, the price is the same. There’s an integrity to the pricing, which means we differentiate ourselves with service.”
Nash original designs are still in demand, as is the service of those pieces, often held as family heirlooms. The store repairs jewelry and even fixes glasses, a surprise to many.
Another surprise is that Nash is not London’s oldest jeweler. Sumner Jewellers has been downtown since 1902. And it has a Nash connection.
“My father owned Lloyd’s Jewellers on Dundas. He knew the Nashes and Peggs and did trade work for them,” says Jeff Pease. He has owned Sumner since 1987, together with business partner, Bob Brown. “My father worked in jewelry in London beginning in 1942 and opened Lloyd’s in 1970.”
Pease worked there part-time while going to high school, learning the business first-hand. “Dad closed his shop in 1987 and came to work with me for a few years.”
Sumner operates on a smaller scale than Nash but has a niche that reaches worldwide. It specializes in vintage watches, estate jewelry and custom designs. Brown is the vintage watch expert. “We ship all over the world,” Pease says, primarily in the mid-price range of $750 to $5,000.
That’s a different market than Rolex, where buyers can spend six figures on a cherished watch.
Whatever they’re buying, Nash customers come from all over Southwestern Ontario, some even further. “Typically, it’s a 200-kilometre radius,” Colin says. “But we have people in B.C. and Quebec who come back and trust us. We often have people come in and say they are the fourth generation of their family buying their wedding rings here.”
The new store opened June 13, 2016, and received a fair amount of media attention. It got much more attention in December of that year when it was robbed twice. The first time, December 14, there were no customers in the store, only staff. The second time, December 28, there were nine customers and staff.
It was a crushing time for Colin and his employees. Insurance deductibles meant he took a significant hit, but even worse was the shock of being held up. The store closed for a week and reopened with heightened security measures, including a guard posted inside the front door at all times.
Among the staff is John C., 77, who likes to drop in around lunchtime most days, sharing an office with Colin and looking after some longtime, loyal customers. He has tried to improve on his own father’s hands-off succession policy without being too intrusive. He’s also been busy working on the commemorative book.
“My guess is the next owner will be a woman. There are 10 nieces and four nephews right now. The odds are with the women”
The November celebration will not only celebrate the Nash legacy, but also raise money for charity. In the course of a typical year, Nash Jewellers helps a staggering 150 or more charities with a variety of donations.
At 40, Colin Nash is in no need of a succession plan. Now that the string of John A, B and C has been broken, all bets are off for the fifth generation. “My guess is the next owner will be a woman,” he says. “There are 10 nieces and four nephews right now. The odds are with the women.”
In the meantime, he has hit his stride in the new location. “I’ve learned to breathe, to sleep on things before reacting. I tend to react quickly, but that’s not always the best approach.”
Like his forefathers, he’s put his own mark on the business with the new location and embrace of international brands. It is set up for the next 100 years, barely a blip in the life of natural diamonds, most of which are at least one billion years old.
What would William Wordsworth say about that? Christopher Clark
To read more about a century of retailing at Nash Jewellers, check out Christopher Clark’s blog at