With the hit reality TV series Posh Pawn back on our screens, Hatton Garden pawnbroker James Constantinou reveals the secrets behind Richmond’s valuable treasure trove
A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon learning the ways of pawn. Think jewellery, cars, diamonds, artwork, wine, you name it and a pawnbroker will most probably take it into their safe hands. What was the biggest lesson taken away from the day? Well, apparently the poshest of pawn is found in our very own Richmond, according to James Constantinou, star of the hit Channel 4 show Posh Pawn as I walk into his Hatton Garden store.
It’s clear, however, that Constantinou does not take in any old thing to his pawnbroking business Prestige, and much like Richmond itself, everything in his business is focused around quality, history, value and luxury. It is this that set him apart from the masses and what helped the pilot of his TV show break viewing figure records.
As someone who knows little about the career of pawnbroking, I couldn’t help but wonder how he came to be taking in the rich stock of Richmond. Constantinou, at one point, thought exactly the same. ‘My background is property development, but then there was the crash and the markets tumbled,’ he explains. ‘I was thinking how terrible a time it was to be in business and to need some money. It seemed to me that there was a need for a service that would lend money that was secured against assets, but I didn’t know what vehicle to use to do that. Pawnbroking sprang to mind, but the sector was very stale – it was boring and there was no excitement or luxury marketing and it was often reserved for poorer areas. That was how the idea was born.
Constantinou stumbled across a little shop in Weybridge, Surrey, and having been shown around found that there was a big safe at the back. ‘The agent explained that it was a safe from the 80s last crash and that it was, in fact, a pawnbrokers,’ says Constantinou. ‘They focused on unusual stuff like cars and did so well that they eventually turned into a mini bank. So that was it for me, I was sold on the idea and Prestige was born.’ Now, Constantinou has four stores across the UK and a particularly successful one in Richmond, which stars heavily in the new series of Posh Pawn.
Apparently the poshest of pawn is found in our very own Richmond
This might be because it’s a store that seems to attract the strangest of items too. ‘Richmond was the store that we had the whale vomit in. I didn’t even know that whales vomited, let alone that it fossilised and people kept it. Apparently, however, it is also worth a small fortune. Some of the most incredible assets have been wine collections that are worth millions of pounds. People will love this one… we’ve got a piece of Lady Diana’s wedding cake at the moment.’
Traditionally, a pawnbroker would be in a less well-heeled location, but now Constantinou is showing that it works to have them in richer areas where a lot of the assets actually are. Having marketed Prestige at the high end of the spectrum – think more helicopters than gold chains – the Channel 4 show, based around a day in the life of the store, has started to change perceptions of the business nationwide. ‘The show has shown that we are taking it to another dimension, and it’s done the industry a world of good. I didn’t set out to make everybody else money, but I like that it has happened and that I’ve changed the face of the industry,’ he says. ‘For this series of the show, there’s always something wacky going on, so expect the unexpected. We like to mix it up a little bit for viewers.’
Constantinou is also passionate about the fact that other people can have the success that he found in an unexpected place. ‘There are rarely great opportunities in a stagnant market, but there is a lot of uncertainty in the market at the moment so it’s a great time to drill into a niche,’ he says. ‘Find something with a low level of direct competitors, but enough of an interest in the market. This is a good example of that working, so get thinking!’
Posh Pawn is on Sunday nights on Channel 4
Prestige Pawnbrokers, 55 Kew Road TW9 2NQ; 020 8948 4867; prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk