For David Ilan and his son, Daniel, their family-run shop Delan Jewellery sells treasured memories and golden moments.
‘I am allergic to gold,’ Daniel Ilan says deadpan.
It’s the last thing you’d expect to be uttered by a jeweller.
Daniel points to his middle finger on his left-hand and motions a circle around it: ‘That’s where the rash occurred.’ It was on his 13th birthday when his finger wouldn’t stop itching. The culprit? A gold ring he’d received from his parents. He took it off, tried to wear it later. Still sore. And again. No improvement. Almost 20 years later, at the age of 31, he still hasn’t shaken off the allergy.
‘But dad’s the same,’ he says matter-of-factly, ‘we are both allergic to gold.’
Surrounded by the metal’s mesmerising glitz and a dazzling array of diamonds and coloured gems in the family-run jewellery shop, Daniel is now the third generation of Delan Jewellers.
The shop’s name is a contraction of David Ilan, Daniel’s dad, an avuncular 60-year-old man who moves around the shop as if it were his own front living room.
And, in some ways, it is. Not only has David worked in the shop since day one as a 13-year-old boy but, a few minutes into our conversation, peeping from just above the countertop, a tuft of white hair can be seen. Sitting quietly is David’s mother, Dalia. At 84 years old, she is still involved in the business, even if that means sitting with her knitting needles, crafting a new handbag while keeping watch of the family’s enormous German Shepherd guard dog, Zef.
Originally from Iraq, Delan was set up by Dalia and her husband Eli in 1975 after they moved to London. The shop was initially in Hatton Garden but moved to Roman Road 40 years ago.
The move to the west end of Roman Road market was strategic: cheaper rents didn’t hurt but it was the pull of the famous market, and its infinite footfall, that clinched it for the Ilans to move their business east.
Daniel grew up on the Roman and, while his family now lives further east, he’s moved back to the area. ‘I love the Roman.’
David remembers the market in the 80s and early 90s, a time when Delan’s ‘customers overflowed on the pavement’, and queues hugged the corner of what is now Butler and Stag.
He also recalls how macho pub culture even helped business: it was the twilight era of fousty pubs where specks of dust hung in the air as shafts of sun rays lit up pockets of the room, and a thick wall of molten tobacco fog (‘a meter high, maybe more’, recalls David), encircled the watering hole’s clientele. It was here that men would show off their gold chains and rings, swaying others to emulate.
While market footfall might have dwindled, Delan’s custom has not.
Over the course of the interview, at least ten customers come in. Most have come after an afternoon browsing the market. But others, they can come from further afield. Such is the loyalty Delan has built up David says that the East Enders who have moved to Essex, and Kent, others to Manchester, Birmingham, and even those in Spain, still pay Delan a visit.
Customers’ eyes glance over gold studs, baby bangles, confirmation crosses, chunky chains, and then onto second-hand Rolexes, and finally… boxing booty.
Delan specialises in boxing jewellery which ranges from cute little ear studs for kids, gold arm candy with boxing charms (some weighing almost 300g, the weight of a large iPhone), to hefty 18 karat chains carrying a solid gold boxing glove encrusted in diamonds. Forget about getting a black eye, a grazed cheek, and an impressive eyebrow scar in the boxing ring to make you look like the warrior champion, this medallion will give you that caché and more.
Demonstrating the enduring cultural influence that the sport has in the East End, Daniel says they get daily inquiries for boxing jewellery. Parents will buy it for their children after their first boxing match, and children will buy it for a parent or grandparent’s significant birthday as a reminder of their boxing glory days.
Alongside this, Delan’s next best sellers are gold crosses and St. Christopher’s pendants, the patron saint of travellers. The pendants are often sold to the Traveller community but it’s also a fitting reminder of the transient and peripatetic figures and faces who continue to weave in and out of the East End’s history.
Aside from traditional East End clientele, Delan also draws in the urban cool image-conscious 20-somethings. What are they after? Sovereign rings.
Gen Z love bling rings and this mafioso regalia, modelled by the East End’s old guard and usually spotted by the impressionable incoming generation at East End boozers, is the next ‘it’ item on their fashion list. Daniel says they’ll willingly spend up £150 for these items: ‘It’s for show,’ he adds but, as the saying goes, a classic never goes out of style.
Whether it’s a present, or a keepsake, for all pieces of jewellery, David’s eyes soften when he says, ‘What we sell is memories.’ Whether they are memories of the first win at a boxing match or memories of carefree youthful days spent in East London, they are bound up in a small gold or silver nugget and hold so much meaning to its keeper. And that’s the true treasure of jewellery.
Its worth means Delan does a healthy trade in repairing watches, bangles, broaches, rings… you name it, they’ll fix it or resize it all on-site at the cosy workshop at the back.
While selling memories continues to pay off, it is also helped by the father-son partnership and their breezy playful humour which, according to Daniel, the customers love to see. ‘We just have a laugh,’ says Daniel. David interjects with a grin, ‘But he can be a pain in the butt,’ ‘Oi,’ retorts Daniel laughing. It’s this natural familial interaction that keeps the heart in the business.
Both are happy to keep it running as is; there is no want or need to expand Delan. Having bought the premises where they are now (15 years ago you would have found them next door in the shop where the estate agent Alexander David is now located – it still has bullet-proof windows they installed after a big robbery that made the London news) they are settled and secure.
David’s dark eyebrows raise and he nonchalantly shrugs, ‘What you can do with £100, you can do with £10. But people now want more, more, more… it never ends, does it?’
The ubiquitous alluring glamour of gold and the gilded associations that come with it could make many people want more but, for David and Daniel, notwithstanding their physical aversion to the precious metal, their salt of the earth characters allow them to see gold for its actual worth: as a means to enjoy life with friends and family.
David sums it up: ‘I have a roof over my head, food on the table. What more do I need?’
If you enjoyed this article, read our piece on why people come to Roman Road for big beauty.
Please support local journalism.
As a not-for-profit media organisation using constructive journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or subscription fee as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
We are powered by members. Hundreds of members have already joined. Become a member to donate as little as £3 per month to support constructive journalism and the local community.