Class of 1982
Founder, Henry Birks & Sons
Henry Birks was born in Montreal in 1840, his parents having emigrated from England eight years earlier. Henry’s family had been engaged in the trade and workings of fine silver for centuries, dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First.
Henry was employed in the jewelry business at the age of 16. His first job was with the clockmaker and jewelry firm Savage & Lyman, upon graduating from Montreal High School in 1856. Birks was storage manager and partner by 1868, but the company’s financial difficulties prompted him to leave in 1877.
When Henry opened his own jewelry shop in 1879, he had only three staff: a watchmaker, a bookkeeper/salesman, and a messenger boy. His policy was unique to the trade at the time: he did not allow bargaining and accepted cash only. This strategy seemed to work for Birks, and he was soon reaping the rewards. The company was renamed Henry Birks & Sons in 1893, when sons William, John Henry, and Gerald became partners.
Despite his success, Henry continued on as humbly as ever – personally greeting customers even with a staff of two hundred, and saving every penny he could. He also taught Sunday school for over twenty years.
Following Henry’s death in 1928, his sons took over the business. Since its founding, five consecutive generations of Birks have contributed their talents to the growth and success of Henry’s dream. As of 2008, Birks possesses more international design awards for its work with diamonds than any other Canadian jeweler.
Birks’ inventive genius in retailing created one of the world’s largest and finest jewelry merchandising institutions, known today as Birks & Mayors. While its name may have changed and its size may have grown, the jewelry giant still embodies Henry’s core values: quality, exclusivity, and design innovation.