A RUFF HISTORY
Ruffs was founded in 1904 by Mark Henry Ruff whose father, Johann, had come over from the Black Forest in the 1880s. Johann is widely accredited with introducing the cuckoo clock to the UK, which puts me in mind of Orson Welles’s quip as Harry Lime in The Third Man about the Swiss and their contribution to the world!
The very first Ruffs shop was opened in a third-rate street in Gosport, Hampshire, which was then a thriving naval town immediately adjacent to the home of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
The reins were picked up by my grandfather, C.N.A. Ruff, who trained at a jewellers in the north of the county and who subsequently had a major falling-out with Mark Henry. The latter even emigrated to Canada and had a store in Toronto before finally settling in Ealing, London, where he traded very successfully until the late Forties.
Cyril Ruff moved to grander premises nearer the heart of the town and the business prospered. Then came the Great Crash and then the Second World War. Stock was scarce, customers scarcer and they diversified into photography and reckoned they could repair anything!
Kenneth Ruff, Cyril’s only son, was something of a war hero having been at and survived D-Day, Arnhem and the subsequent Rhine crossing as a Glider Pilot. He finished his war with the Parachute Regiment in charge of a lido in Palestine where the Paras went to recuperate from being shot at from all sides. He swopped his very reasonable Army pay for a meagre wage and a mountain of clocks to repair.
Kenneth and Eileen Ruff, my parents, took the opportunity to move to a prime site, in Gosport High Street, as things started to recover after the War and enjoyed the boom years of the Sixties and Seventies. It was a very good time indeed to be a jeweller.
After university I had a PhD lined up in Dublin on Samuel Beckett but my father wouldn’t wear it and, as the Eighties arrived, I found myself a part of a family business where different dynamics were at play. My parents were working down to retirement but my brother, Ian, who had joined straight from school and was a skilled craftsman, and I were looking to expand things way beyond Gosport. Pulling in opposite directions eventually told and Ian and I set up a partnership majoring in signet rings for customers all over the world.
Sadly, this partnership didn’t work and it fell to Caroline, my new wife, and I to pick up the pieces and run with it...
We were left with a small showroom in a little lane off Gosport High Street and the idea was to incorporate a display area at the front with a fully functional workshop to the rear. The workshop never took off but the showroom proved invaluable as the recession of the Nineties bit more and more deeply. It was combination of good local business and an exceptional series of orders for Horse Racing trophies from the Ruler of Abu Dhabi that saved and sustained us.
In 2004 Caroline and I were able to jettison the showroom, base all of our operations from outbuildings behind where we lived in Warsash and concentrate exclusively on mail order. We have gone from strength to strength and in 2009 added a designated cufflinks site to our armoury.
So here we are in 2018, working in specially designed offices in the outbuildings behind where we live. If you telephone us, either Caroline, Ali or myself are likely to pick up the telephone and we aim to answer all e-mails within a few hours, if not at once. You are always welcome to visit us in Hampshire, please contact us to make an appointment. Do call us or e-mail us therefore: we want to help you - professionally, politely and in a personable way - to choose the right signet ring for yourself or your family.