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SEBASTIAN SHAKESPEARE: The last of the Aspreys leaves London after 240 years 

They are the family to whom generations of the Royal Family — as well as princelings from overseas — have turned whenever augmenting their jewellery collections.

But now, I can disclose, the unthinkable has happened: the Aspreys have vanished from London’s West End.

William Asprey, the seventh generation of the family to rule the roost, has taken the distressing decision to place his company into administration, even though it boasts a Royal Warrant from the Queen and, just four years ago, recorded an annual profit of £26 million.

That stupendous result appeared to vindicate Asprey’s boldness in striking out on his own in 1999, when he established William & Son just four years after his father, John Asprey, sold the eponymous family business (founded by a forebear in 1781) to Prince Jefri of Brunei for £243.5 million.

Within a decade, Asprey, 54, and his team of craftsmen created what the company described as ‘the finest jewellery and timepieces’, as well as a treasury of silver and glassware, while its gunsmiths made coveted trophy shotguns.

But since 2017 William & Son’s fortunes have turned south and racked up total losses of £21 million.

The company’s collapse dismays Naim Attallah, a longstanding friend and former chief executive of Asprey in its days under family ownership.

‘It makes you want to cry,’ Attallah tells me. ‘The people who work for William were working for me. Everybody’s feeling desperate. The economy is shrinking, so people with high overheads are now taking decisions they never thought they would have to take. It’s very depressing.’ The administrators, RSM Restructuring Advisory, declined to comment, while William Asprey could not be reached.

Perhaps he is already plotting a comeback. Nothing better reflected his ambition than his decision to call the firm William & Son — even though his son, Tom, was just a toddler — as he envisaged the company being passed down the generations for ‘another 200 years I hope’.

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