A diamond time for half century jeweller

RETIRING jeweller Valerie Howkins twinkles and sparkles like the many gems that surround her in her renowned Kings Street shop.

Brimming with amazing tales, she has lived a life that seems to have leapt straight from the pages of an incredible novel, the plot strands tied together with sparkly strings of opulent objects and treasures.

At 78 and after a “nice neat” 50 years at Howkins Jewellers she is bringing down the shutters for good to concentrate on her charity work, four unfinished novels and museum project in memory of her son David.

Over the years customers had become friends and today she is serving the grandchildren of the first people who bought antique pieces from her. Not being very technically minded there was little prospect of embracing the web era, she said, and with two daughters both happy doing their thing it was the right time to call it a day.

The daughter of an unlikely union between a circus clown and wealthy American Mrs Howkins came to Yarmouth aged 18 and immediately thought it the “prettiest little town” she had ever seen.

Her love of jewellery stemmed from an impoverished childhood travelling from circus to circus. Her mother sold her glittery bits and pieces to make ends meet, having been disowned by her New York family, and advised her to always buy good jewellery. Having trained as a jeweller at Yarmouth Art College she met Peter Howkins, the second generation to have the Kings Street shop started by his father William.

A temporary stint working there shortly after having three children in four years somehow turned into 50 years she said – although she doesn’t regret a moment.

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In Great Yarmouth’s holiday heyday she served all the great comedians who came to the resort for their big summer season including Tommy Steele, Russ Abbott, Ernie Wise, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, Billy Fury, John Inman and Sid James. They were all lovely people, she recalled, although Sid James was more keen than some to shun the limelight.

His wife had a tiny 19ins waist and she was happy to find a Victorian silver belt that fitted perfectly – but was stolen in South Africa. At her request the shop made a replica which was “quite exciting,” Mrs Howkins said.

Over the years the ratio of antique versus new items for sale in the shop has turned on its head, with 90pc of it now new and 10pc antique, mainly because of the rocketing cost and increasing rarity of delicate items.

Mrs Howkins’ expertise has been much in demand. She has lectured at the Victoria and Albert Museum, appeared on Radio Norfolk and edited the industry tome Millers Guide.

The highlight of her career was being the only professional jeweller at the late Duchess of Windsor’s jewellery sale in Geneva in 1987.

She said: “I came to this town 60 years ago this month, homeless and penniless, and it has given me a home, a family, a career and the opportunity to lead a rich, full life and I can never give enough back to say thank you for the wonderful time I have had here.”

n The closing down sale starts on Friday, June 17 when everything in the shop will be half price.