Arnaud de Montille and his wife Beatrice started making jewellery at home. When it became a go-to shop for the Royal Family, they ended up with a worldwide business and a special invitation. In their own words, they tell their story…
One day my wife Beatrice went to a little shop on our high street that does personalised presents. They didn’t have what she wanted, so the next day, when she decided to have a go at making it herself, our lives changed for ever.
Born in France, we moved to London in 2003. We were struggling to manage the work-life balance as I was in banking, a heavy-going job, and Beatrice had just had our second child. She wanted to go part-time in her office job, but the company refused. She was considering a career change, so when she made her first necklace, it got her thinking.
The day after that trip to the high street, she ordered a gold charm and chain from the internet as well as a handheld ‘graver’ (a sharp, pointed steel on a metal handle). By the end of the day she’d engraved the necklace with the names of our children and was proudly wearing it.
Initially, it was a bit of a hobby. She sat at the kitchen table and began engraving pieces to sell at Christmas fairs and local events. Word of mouth spread in the village and soon she was making jewellery for friends, family and anyone who needed something special to mark an occasion.
We decided to set up a website for her creations rather than open a shop and, after a few weeks, her orders slowly grew. She’d started buying the charms and chains and engraving them herself, but once we went online as a unique company, called Merci Maman, she had to design and make the charms herself.
I used to help out in evenings and at the weekends and knew we were on to a good thing. It was a slow, old-fashioned process though, and we did it all by hand.
As orders grew, we hired a few people to help and, in 2013, I left my job to join the company. At this point we had seven people working for us and opened a small office a stone’s throw from our house.
I too saw the benefits of this kind of work. We had four kids by then and I could take them to school and be home for supper, which was a whole new world for me. I was determined for Merci Maman to be a success.
Our USP became the personalisation angle. You can have absolutely anything. Children’s names, love notes, GPS coordinates of where people met or live, you name it, we can do it.
We were published in a few magazines and Pippa Middleton ended up buying something from us for a friend. She was so pleased with it, she sent us a thank you letter afterwards! She went on to buy a few more pieces from us for presents. We were thrilled, and it got us thinking of our dream customers.
When Kate Middleton was pregnant with her first child in 2014 my wife and I both said, ‘Wow, imagine if she had a necklace with the name of the future prince or princess on it?’.
She is an icon across the whole world and an inspiration to so many women. So, when George was born, we made her a necklace with his name on and a little ‘W’ charm on it also for William. We sent it to Pippa so she could gift it to her sister from herself.
Well, you can imagine how we felt when we saw a picture of Kate wearing it. The excitement was sky high! Sure enough, all over the newspapers were pictures of Kate wearing the necklace we’d made for her.
What happened next was a big article about Kate’s jewellery, which went viral. And there was our necklace. The effect was instant. We had 25,000 hits on the website in three days – equivalent to all of the traffic we normally get in December, our busiest month. We had to focus on production, getting stock in and we had to recruit to cope. It was very demanding, but extremely exciting!
We had to act fast to get the staff so we could meet the demands of the orders and within weeks we’d expanded to a team of 40. The necklace had created a buzz worldwide so we had to start shipping all over the world and make sure some of our staff were bilingual so we could translate the website into different languages.
What followed was three offices – in London, Paris and Berlin – to make sure we could reach everyone.
Business went insane and six months on we were a different company in terms of figures. We even gained a few more royal customers. Mike Tindall has bought a few pieces for his wife, the Queen’s granddaughter Zara, and whenever Royals order they use the website, just like normal customers.
After 2014, we had such a huge burst internationally that we applied for The Queens Award, which is an honour awarded to a few select UK businesses every year. We won for our contribution to exports and my wife and I were invited to Buckingham Palace.
After mingling with the guests someone asked us to head to a private room with them. We followed and there sat the Queen, who wanted to have a private chat with us. We were in the room for quite a long time and she asked us all sorts of questions.
When we’d moved to England, how the business started. She was interested in all the ins and outs! She didn’t even realise Kate had a necklace when we told her. It was amazing and I’ll never forget it.
An hour later we were drinking champagne in the Palace and a lady came up to us and said, ‘Oh you’re the French couple who set up the jewellery company – the Queen told me all about you!’ She had remembered all the details. Even that we have four children. It was incredible how she absorbed the information.
It’s 13 years since the company started and we now do rings, bracelets, earrings, accessories and a full men’s range. Working with my wife has been great – Beatrice is good at the designing side of things, and I stick to e-commerce. Plus we parent together well as we split work and family time evenly.
The kids are between seven and 15 so they’re too young to get involved, but they do love to help us package up parcels and to go on set at photoshoots.
The necklace Kate has is called the Duchess and it’s the same price it always was, £129. It’s important for us it’s affordable for everyone. We also practise our work-life balance ethos. Everyone who works for us can create their own schedule to make sure they have enough family time.
We’ll also always continue to engrave every single item by hand. It keeps it nice and intimate.
The opportunities we’ve had since my wife made her first necklace have been amazing. Our advice would be, don’t be afraid to give your own business a go. When it works out it is the best feeling in the world.
We’re so thankful for what the Royal Family have done for us as a small business. And yes, every time we see a picture of Kate we check to see if she’s wearing our necklace! It will never not be exciting.
– To shop the full collection click here. All engraving is complimentary and all orders are delivered within 24 hours (current Covid-19 restrictions may apply).