How Henry Birks Found Wealth in Jewelry

On this day, November 30 in the year 1840, one of the pioneers in the jewelry retail industry was born in Montreal, Canada. His name was Henry Birks, the founder of Henry Birks and Sons, the forerunner of the Birks Group which is now one of the largest jewelry and timepiece manufacturers and retailers in Canada and the United States.

Henry Birks
Henry Birks (Credit: William Notman)

Henry Birks was the son of a pharmacist who migrated from England. After graduating from high school, he spent many months perfecting the French language which was and still is the lingua franca of Montreal City, then the biggest city in Canada at that time. Later, he went to work as a clerk in the most famous jewelry store in the city, Savage and Lyman. Due to his industry and leadership ability, he was promoted as a partner. However, the company went bankrupt due to the worldwide depression of the 1870s and he found himself out of job.

In 1879, Henry set up Henry Birks and Co. with a capital of C$4,000, $1,000 of which was borrowed from his uncle. After six prosperous years of operation as a single-store retailer of fine jewelry and timepieces, the company moved to a larger premise on the same street in Montreal.

In 1893, the company was renamed Henry Birks and Sons after his three grown-up sons joined the business. A new building was built as its headquarters in Philips Square the following year. That building still stands up to the present. In 1899, the company purchased Hendery & Leslie Co., a jewelry manufacturing firm. This was followed by the acquisition of Gorham’s manufacturing plant in Montreal. Having a vertically integrated operation, the company moved to open branches in other parts of the country.

Henry Birks died in 1928 at the age of 87.



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