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In March 1996, the shop was carefully restored to reflect its image at the beginning of the 20th century. The iron columns, wall plaques and the names under each window are still present today, although the gas lanterns have been replaced with glass canopies. Internal renovations also brought surprises, with copies of the Manchester Evening News from 1906 and 1907 found inside some of the old cabinets.
A favourite of actors from the nearby theatre and a must for prosperous dealers from the long-disappeared Manchester Stock Exchange, it was not unusual for a wealthy trader to pass through on his way home for a little diamond extravagance for his wife.
Over the years fashions have changed, as have the requests of Arthur Kay’s customers. When the shop opened, the wrist watch was a mere dream and pocket watches kept time for Manchester’s elite, with intricate pocket timepieces and ornate chains being the company’s best selling line. Original ledgers still survive showing the purchase of yesteryear and a pocket watch detailed in the ledger and never sold now resides as part of the company’s archive.
Even more interesting is the pocket watch sold by the company in the 1920s and brought in for repair by one of the relatives of the original owner. That has now been bought by Arthur Kay as part of the company’s rich history.
Though manager Howard has not experienced all the company’s rich history, he has been part of the company for 50 years, starting as a tea boy in the swinging seventies. Free expression and relatively new found freedom gave customers a chance to express themselves through their jewellery – some with more avant-garde tastes than others “I always remember a lady coming in in the early seventies with her two poodles and buying gold chains and gold tags to go round their necks – she adored those dogs” said Howard.
Although gold chains for canine connoisseurs are a rare occurrence, Arthur Kay still retains its allure for the glamorous crowd. Celebrity presenter Michael Aspel, Dr Who: Christopher Eccleston, stars from TV’s Coronation Street and even the Spice Girls have all been charmed by this jewel of Manchester cityscape.
Howard, the manager, himself has had his own 15 minutes of fame, after chasing a robber who fled from the shop with a tray of rings. As Howard caught up with the man the police arrived – and his exploits were immortalised in print by the Manchester Evening News with the headline: Hawk Eye Howard Gets His Man.
Inside this treasure trove today customers will find a wide and eclectic range combining traditional and classic jewellery from the Victorian, Georgian and early Elizabethan eras, alongside the most exciting modern jewellery designs and watch names.
With such a proud and distinguished history, Arthur Kay is as popular for its collection of second hand rings, chains, bracelets and necklaces as it is for top watch brands. Personal service is still just as important now as it was when Queen Victoria reigned and although the gas lamps may no longer flicker, the glamour of days gone by still remains.