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Rowell of Oxford: A review

Rowell of Oxford: A review

In March my partner and I made a big life decision. In a lovely pub by the river in a town south of Oxford we spoke about the future and decided to get married. We’d been discussing it for a while, as jobs in the Middle East and further afield would have encouraged such behaviour, but eventually decided that this was something that felt right for us regardless of our address or careers.

The next day we set out with a pocket full of precious jewellery I had inherited from my mother and grandmother to speak with the team at Rowell of Oxford, a quaint little jewellers which has been tucked away on one of my favourite streets in Oxford since 1797. We were greeted by Stephen, who spent some time with us discussing options and designs which could work with the stones and metal I had. I wanted to use a solitaire diamond ring from my grandmother, and five-stone diamond ring given to my mother by my father on their engagement to create a new ring for Sven and myself. In addition I had a sapphire ring which I thought would work nicely as a pendant, so we asked for a quote for this. Finally there were three gold rings to be valued, then the value deducted from the final bill for the new ring. Design agreed Stephen assured us the ring would be ready in 2-3 weeks, allowing time for the Easter break.

The original rings

Nearly 4 weeks later I popped into Rowell of Oxford and spoke with Mary who, unfortunately, could find no reference of our visit; it was not in the official log book on or around the end of March, or on any notices or folders around the desk. I left my details, and the following day Mary called to say she had found our information, however could offer no update on the status of the order for the engagement ring at this stage. However she did have a quote for the redesign of the sapphire ring, which was unfortunately outside of our price range. After this Sven took over the reins of corresponding with Rowell planning to present the ring to me when it was ready.

In July we ventured back to Oxford, Sven had some errands to run (that was code for picking up the ring!) after which we bought ice-creams from G&D’s and enjoyed a sunny walk along the river to Iffley Lock. There a group of teenagers and a boat full of tourists witnessed a tall German get down on bended knee in front of a woman in a red dress. We both knew it was a yes, but it was a lovely moment on a beautifully sunny day in our happy place.

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Shortly afterward at the Isis Farmhouse Sven presented me with another envelope which I assumed was the sapphire ring returned but turned out to be the five-stone diamond ring from mum, whose stones should have been on my finger. We were both very perplexed, and disappointed. After waiting 3 months rather than the promised 3 weeks the last thing either of us wanted was a further delay in sharing our news with friends and family. Unfortunately Mary could offer no explanation or apology when we called, but promised to speak with the designer and call us on Monday with more details.

Thus began a series of calls back and forth as we tried to rectify the issue. Firstly I had to return the incorrect ring to Rowell; as we had moved to London this meant entrusting the Royal Mail, however I was assured by Mary that any costs for postage or couriers would be returned to me. This refund was never received. Two weeks after we had collected the first ring Rowell expressed concern that the shoulders on the new ring would be too wide with mums diamonds, and so created a wax which I had to travel back to Oxford to approve. At no point had we seen any drawings, wax’s or similar prior to this, or at any point did we speak with the Birmingham business designing the jewellery. Whilst now I see that we were incredibly naive and should have done more research, at the time we were trusting that Rowell of Oxford was a well established and trusted business who ultimately would guide us through this process as first-timers. We placed ourselves wholly in their hands.

The original ring with the wax

I also asked Mary for an update on the sapphire, and was presented with a ring in pieces. The sapphire had been removed from its casing, and two of the smaller diamonds were also dislodged. We had only asked for a quote so I was very surprised to see the state of a much loved ring I had inherited from my grandmother. Mary explained again the options for turning it into a pendant, pointing out the worn prongs which would need replacing in order to secure the precious stones. However, in the interim period I had had discussions with Sven and friends about it, and explained to Mary and Stephen that in the interest of preserving heirlooms for future generations we would prefer to keep it as a ring for now, so please could they ensure it was put back as they had received it.

Finally a week later again our design was ready. Mary called on the Saturday morning, and as we were passing through the city en route to a party we agreed to collect it that day. Oxford was incredibly busy with tour groups and graduating students so there was no room to park, leaving me just enough time for me to run in to the shop whilst Sven drove around the block. I dashed in, retrieved the ring, hugged Mary in relief and left. It was so rushed I didn’t inspect it closely, nor did I ask about the sapphire, or for the receipt detailing all the work carried out and value of the gold we had left with them back in March. Needless to say the idea of a refund for the postage was most definitely at the bottom of the priority pile! I would later discover Sven had paid the full cost for the work, meaning Rowell had failed to account for the value of the gold we had given them, essentially over charging us by more than £500.

It wasn’t until the next day that I sat down to properly look at the new ring. Rather than the clean design of the first ring this new one had embellished lines cut into the metal at the top, there were also indents under the shoulders where the drill had been inserted to hold the diamonds above and (I assume) slipped through. After everything we had been through this pushed us over the edge, and we decided to speak with the Citizens Advice Bureau on the next steps. The team at CAB were wonderfully helpful, recommending letter templates, timeframes and managing expectations.

It took three letters and over two months to receive any form of response from Rowell. The eventual letter we received was incorrectly addressed to Kate, with typos and poor grammar, far less than I’d expect from such an establishment.

They refund offered came to around 50% of what we had paid, an amount which would sadly not come close to paying for the additional alterations required to fix the design flaws on what could be called one of the most significant pieces of jewellery I would ever own. I was also dismayed to discover my grandmothers sapphire had been redesigned into a pendant, despite no authorisation for the work to be carried out and the conversations we had had with Rowell communicating our change of heart on the matter.

I do not usually write reviews like this, but in this season renowned for engagements and happy times I feel I would like to send out this message of our experience with Rowell as a warning. Whilst at every stage Mary and Stephen were polite and friendly we feel utterly let down and ultimately cheated by the business we entrusted with such a significant event and precious heirlooms. Their poor attention to detail, communication, professionalism and record keeping turned what should have been a swift and stress free process into a 6 month headache, and left us with a ring I don’t much care to look at and an engagement story I do not like to tell. Any engagement should be a happy and stress-free time, so I sincerely hope putting this story out there saves others the same heartache we have had to endure.