Collinson has lived in the city for four decades.
Without a quick decision at the tender age of 16, Harry Collinson Snr’s life would have taken a very different path.
He was about to leave what was then Southmoor School Technical College and had two possible careers in mind: a job as a Galvinizer or an apprenticeship as a watchmaker.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a Galvinizer, it was too dirty,” he said.
“So I somehow got into the jewelry trade.”
And Harry thinks the reputation is down to one thing – good, hard transplant.
He learned his watch repair trade while working for the now defunct catalog company Janet Frazer, which dealt with watches that were returned due to defects or breakages.
âWe were a whole group,â he recalls.
“And I knew from the moment I got there that I had made the right choice, although I think I got on everyone’s nerves because I just couldn’t stop asking questions.”
Harry was one of the few men to work in a factory of 2,000 women, and his enthusiasm and natural talent led his boss to find him a new job repairing clocks at Wittens City’s Jewelery.
The opportunity for a big raise led Harry to move on again – this time in the small watch workshop in Joplings, where he earned the princely sum of 50 pounds a week.
Always ambitious, he decided to take a job offer in London with his childhood sweetheart and wife Sandra and keep their home on the Town End Farm.
A lifelong supporter of Sunderland, Harry remembers the magical day Sunderland won the trophy in 1973.
“Our son Harry was born in June of this year, and if we hadn’t been in London he might have been called Jimmy, after Jimmy Montgomery,” he recalls.
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Although the family loved London, they decided to go home, where Harry started repairing clocks again, first at the Co-op in Newcastle and then at Sunderland’s Binns store.
âI felt this was the right time to start working for myself in the early 1980s,â he said.
âI received a map of Sunderland and drew a circle, including the Easington Colliery and Murton.
As an incentive, Harry offered the newsagents 10 percent of his job and soon found that he was off his feet and made the decision to quit his job and start his own business.
He and Sandra found space upstairs on Blandford Street, started “with four pounds in two pens that we had in a Tupperware box,” and opened their first store in June 1981.
Harry speaks kindly of the former city music store owner, the late Ivor Saville, who acted as a mentor and gave him business advice.
From its base above the Wimpy Bar, the watch repair shops began to grow, “even though we had to endure the smell of the fat from the burgers”.
Now that he was the man in charge, Harry admits he is “turning no business” from repairing pigeon clocks – which are used to check birds’ flight times – to visiting large houses to close grandfather clocks repair.
When battery clocks began to replace mechanical clocks, Harry set out on his own for training in repairing them so he could add another cord to his bow.
The company flourished so much that he decided to take over a second location at Waterloo Place.
“I went to Beamish and saw the windows in the Co-op building that looked like Charles Dickens’s, so I decided to have some of them made,” he said.
In 1993 the store opened its doors and for the first time started selling items along with the repairs.
Over the years and the growing family, Sandra and Harry planned to buy a villa on a Greek island – but then they attended a jewelry fair.
Here they found a new company that was causing a stir and Harry realized that this was a huge opportunity to open Pandora’s box – literally.
âThe money for the villa was invested in Pandora,â says Sandra.
It was a huge investment, but it turned out to be a wise choice, a huge success with Pandora in Sunderland.
It paved the way for another new brand, with Collinson’s now also offering the Italian jewelry favorite, Nomination.
It’s been a long and illustrious career, but despite vague promises to Sandra about her retirement, it looks less and less likely that Harry will give up Snr entirely.
If he does, he knows he is leaving the company in good hands, with daughters Vicki and Rachael both involved, while son Harry Jr. has inherited that entrepreneurial spirit as well.
The awards have also been honored again and again, with a highlight recently being included in Vogue’s âlittle black book of secretsâ.
“I don’t know where the time has gone,” Harry revealed.
âBut it’s fantastic that people have stayed with us for so long – we have second and third generation customers visiting us.
“It’s about good service and giving people what they want, and that’s why we managed to stay here for so long.”
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