Cadby & Co: The facets of a family business

Read time: 11 minutes, 50 seconds

When antique dealer Jeff lent his daughter Deborah several antique diamonds to remake into a collection, a family business was born. Sarah Royce-Greensill spoke with the duo to find out what makes their dynamic so special.

Deborah Cadby never intended to go into business with her father, Jeff. Despite growing up in north London surrounded by vintage Cartier, Belperron and Fouquet, spending Saturdays at her parents’ Notting Hill market stall and after-school hours at their antiques shop in Piccadilly’s Princes Arcade, it never occurred to her to become an antique jewellery dealer. “I was always more into tools and craftsmanship – I was fascinated by how things were made,” she tells me over Zoom from her home in Bude, north Cornwall, where she relocated in 2016.

An artistic rather than classically academic student, Deborah completed a BTEC Diploma in Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where she excelled at 3D design. “I loved being in the workshop, and I always preferred working on a smaller scale.” This realisation led her to a three-year BA in Jewellery, Silversmithing and Allied Craft at London Guildhall University, where she and her classmates were encouraged to push the boundaries of contemporary design.

“We weren’t taught to set a stone in three years,” she recalls. “We worked a lot with plastic, glass, feathers and so on.” But those years spent flicking through her father’s jewellery auction catalogues had a lasting impact. “I felt drawn towards the more traditional ways of working. I wanted to set stones and create something more classical.”

During university, Deborah completed a work placement with pioneering British jeweller Wendy Ramshaw. She obviously impressed, and was offered a job in the run-up to the 1998 Picasso’s Ladies exhibition at the V&A. “I was unbelievably lucky to work with Wendy. To see her creative process in action, how her mind worked, was incredible,” says Deborah. Ramshaw’s work spanned contemporary jewellery, sculpture, ceramics and architecture, winning critical acclaim for her diverse use of materials and trailblazing designs.

“I learnt all my setting skills in Wendy’s workshop, but it wasn’t just sitting at the bench. We did so many exciting things. One day I’d be making a necklace for a dead bird, and the next crafting a piece out of piano keys. There were so many different skills and materials involved.” Deborah worked with Wendy for over 20 years, until the artist’s death in 2019. She still has clients who bring their Wendy Ramshaw pieces to her for repair or resizing.

Meanwhile, Jeff Cadby observed his daughter’s career from an interested distance. “My Dad wasn’t into contemporary jewellery other than Grima, but he was amazed by Wendy’s work,” says Deborah. For Jeff, nothing matched the thrill of uncovering the history behind an obscure antique. While jewellery wasn’t in his blood – his own parents were tailors – it became a lifelong passion.

i Deborah at the bench

A born-and-bred Londoner, Jeff left school at 16 to work in a Hatton Garden antiques shop. Throughout Deborah and her two sisters’ childhood, he travelled all over the UK and to French flea markets, buying antique jewellery and silver. “As a child Deborah was always interested in the things that I brought home,” Jeff recalls. “She’d come into my office and make little sketches of antique pieces, taking pictures of clasps and settings. She inspected lots of interesting things that most jewellers today would never see, and she picked it up from there.” A history buff, Jeff revelled in research: a skill that came to the fore when he discovered a 14th century signet ring that belonged to Guigues VIII, Dauphin of Viennois.

Set with an agate cameo carved with a dolphin and inscribed with heraldic crosses, the ring was the subject of an exhibition at the Musée de l’Ancien Évêché in Grenoble. “It was a heavy, solid-gold ring with an incredible history. The texture and feel of its curved back were amazing,” Deborah recalls. Having already created her own designs in silver alongside her work for Ramshaw, she asked her father if she could use a rose-cut diamond from his collection to set into a chunky gold piece inspired by the Dauphin ring. It sold almost immediately, and Jeff lent his daughter several antique cushion-cut diamonds and a ruby to develop into a collection. Cadby & Co was born.

i Ring of the Dolphin Guigues VIII

Deborah describes her designs as “the jewellery that I want to wear”. In contrast to Ramshaw’s extravagance, Cadby & Co’s aesthetic is pared-back and minimal, taking inspiration from Deborah’s mother Birgitta, a Swedish interior designer. “That Scandinavian influence – purity of design and finding the beauty in simplicity – has played a huge role.” Deborah crafts each piece herself in 22kt gold and platinum, using antique diamonds and gemstones sourced by Jeff. “What Deborah makes is unique,” says Jeff, proudly. “In my line of work quality is the number one factor, and Deborah uses the best metals available, the best stones available – because they come from me,” he adds jokingly, “and the quality of her craftsmanship is just amazing.”

Deborah is drawn to Old European, rose-cut and cushion-cut diamonds for their individuality and character. “They were cut by incredibly experienced craftspeople who placed each facet to get the best out of the diamond,” she says. “There was no computer-generated template. One might have a big chunky base, another might be slightly heavier on one side, but the overall aesthetic is beautiful.”

i Commission with diamond, platinum & 22ct gold

Her own crafting process echoes that of those age-old diamond cutters. She hand-carves wax models and creates her own setting tools, incorporating the setting into the ring before filing and papering to achieve a matte-satin finish. She doesn’t use CAD, preferring to build each ring around the individual stone. “There are no set dimensions; it’s all about touch and feel. It’s like a meditation, I’ll stop when it feels right,” she says. “I don’t mind if the result is slightly asymmetrical; I like the subtle imperfections. It’s like the stones themselves: each one was made by a human, like all antique jewellery, and that’s part of their charm. You can see the hand of the maker.”

There’s something special about recycling old stones, rescuing them from unloved settings and bringing them back to life. Tweet this

Using 22kt gold – softer and purer than 18kt – adds to the character. “It looks lovely when it’s been bashed around a bit. I never take my rings off, so all those little marks are a part of who I am and what I do.” She often complements the gold with steely platinum, which also develops a beautiful patina. The majority of Cadby & Co’s clients are women buying for themselves. Bespoke commissions and resetting family gems form a large part of the business. “There’s something special about recycling old stones, rescuing them from unloved settings and bringing them back to life.”

Deborah isn’t the only one beguiled by old stones. Interest in antiques and sustainability has made good quality old-cuts harder to find, not to mention more expensive. Online auctions mean competition is fiercer than ever. “There’s only a finite number of decent old-cuts out there. You have to sift through a lot to find the gems, and having relationships that go back decades definitely helps. I never studied gemmology, so everything I’ve learned about stones came from my dad.”

Cadby & Co is very much a family affair: Deborah’s husband, Maxim Garcha, a professional photographer who designed the website, branding, creates all the imagery, and is also learning to assess stones. Jeffrey and Birgitta recently relocated to Exeter, an hour away, so that he can still be involved. “We’re a very close family so it’s been great to work alongside each other,” says Jeff. “I worked in one end of the business and Deborah was in the other; it just made sense to combine our skills.” The father-daughter dynamic has never caused any tension, in part because of clear boundaries. “My dad has never been allowed any creative input. He tried to give feedback on a design once and I told him, you don’t need an opinion – just provide the stones,” Deborah says, laughing.

Deborah and Maxim’s move to Cornwall with their three children has afforded more time for creativity, working together in their new shop, and an enviable work-life balance. “It was a big decision, but we’re more in control of our lives now. We’re five minutes from the beach, we can do school pickups, go surfing with the kids, and work fits around that,” she says. Since the move they’ve added a husky, cat and chickens to their brood, and Deborah has continued to teach yoga from her home studio. They’ve also been busy turning a 19th century former dressmaker’s shop in a Georgian townhouse in Bude’s old village of Stratton into a gallery and studio. “The area used to be full of makers, but over the years all the shops shut down. The house suited the look of our jewellery – combining history and modernity. Everyone in the village was excited to see it turned back into a shop. We hope other businesses follow suit.”

i Jeff and Deborah

The gallery is proof that independent makers no longer need to be based on a traditional high street. “When I worked with Wendy it was all about getting into galleries, but now the internet affords you a much wider reach,” says Deborah. Cadby & Co is stocked at Dover Street Market, exposing her designs to an audience of contemporary aesthetes, and throughout the Covid-19 crisis she’s used Instagram to communicate with clients. But, she admits, the digital world has its limits. “People want to see and feel a piece in person before buying. You have to try it on, see how it works with your skin.” Physical events such as Goldsmiths’ Fair, which Cadby & Co has exhibited at since 2014, are invaluable in introducing her work to new customers.

Until events are back on the calendar, Deborah has been balancing home-schooling, while schools were closed due to Covid, with yoga and jewellery making, with half an eye on the future. “I have an extra workbench at the studio so I might bring somebody else on. It’s a difficult thing to teach when it’s so intuitive. But my 16-year-old son Theo is a natural. It’s a careful balance – expanding gradually, in the right way, without going too fast and ruining the beauty of it all.”

Author: Sarah Royce-Greensill | Photo Credit: Maxim Garcha