IN a room behind the scenes at James Porter & Son, black and white photographs from five generations of the family line the walls.

Current owner, Simon Porter, enjoys looking at the striking images, which show the early days of the jewellery business his great-great-grandfather brought to Glasgow’s Argyll Arcade more than 160 years ago.

Glasgow Times: The business is one of Scotland's oldest and still going strong in Glasgow after 160 yearsThe business is one of Scotland's oldest and still going strong in Glasgow after 160 years (Image: James Porter & Son)

“I’m really proud to have been here in the arcade as long as we have,” he explains. “We get customers telling us their parents and grandparents shopped here, which is lovely.”

James Porter & Son is the longest-established jeweller’s in Glasgow, and the fifth oldest business in Scotland.

The company opened a specialist watch boutique in the famous arcade just over a year ago, but its  expertise in timepieces stretches all the way back to its original owner, a 21-year-old clockmaker’s apprentice.

Glasgow Times: James Porter & Son has been run by the same Glasgow family for five generationsJames Porter & Son has been run by the same Glasgow family for five generations (Image: James Porter & Son)

James Porter served his apprenticeship with Breckenridge watch and clockmakers in Kilmarnock and worked in several locations on Gordon Street and Buchanan Street before opening his own store on Argyle Street.

In May 1887, he bought 25 Argyll Arcade, which remains at the heart of the business today.

Glasgow Times: The shop in the 1960sThe shop in the 1960s (Image: James Porter & Son)

Ten years later, James welcomed his son, Gabriel, on board, and in 1905, the name officially changed to James Porter & Son.

In 1963, Douglas Porter, took over the business and the following year, Simon’s father, also called Douglas, started his training, aged 17.

The Argyll Arcade is synonymous with the jewellery trade in Scotland, but that was not always the case. James Porter & Son helped to establish its worldwide reputation.

The company now owns three shops in the arcade, specialising in diamonds and jewellery as well as watches, and employs 21 staff.

Simon has been looking after the business for the last 10 years, since taking over from his father.

“I was quite arty at school, I did graphic design at Glasgow College of Building and Printing for a couple of years before I decided it wasn’t for me,” he explains.

READ NEXT: The story of the bakery loved by Glaswegians for almost 100 years

“Deep down, though, I always had a passion for watches, and I think that’s what got me interested in the family business. I was about 18 when I first joined.”

Simon’s son, Matthew, who is about to start third year of a business management degree at Glasgow University, and daughter Nina, who is in sixth year at high school, have both started working part-time in the shops.

“Working in retail has changed since I started in the business – shops are open seven days, and with social media enquiries, it’s really a 24/7 operation – you have to be really passionate about it,” says Simon.

“You can’t be half-hearted. I’m delighted the sixth generation of the family are interested in joining the business, but we want to make sure they understand that before they decide if this is really what they want to do.”

The lure of the family business is clearly strong – Simon’s wife Rachel, who has been a teacher for 29 years, will start in the shop in August.

“She decided it was time for a change,” says Simon, smiling. “I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic staff, all ages, all backgrounds with a range of experience.”

The jewellery business has changed considerably since his great-great-grandfather’s days, says Simon.

“The internet and social media have dramatically changed things,” he agrees. “Our website is our shop window.”

Some things, however, remain the same.

“The majority of our business still comes from young couples shopping for engagement rings and wedding bands,” he explains.

“It’s lovely to be able to help them at a special time in their lives.”

Simon adds: “I think my great-great-grandfather would be proud to see that we are still in the same Argyll Arcade location, and how we have evolved over time.

“He never stood still and neither do we. The business has survived two world wars, a global recession and a pandemic by embracing social media and the internet.

“Although traditional at heart, our approach is modern. I think my great-great-grandfather would be proud to see that.”

Do you work for one of Glasgow’s oldest shops or businesses? Get in touch to share your stories and photos. Email