Exacting standards have to be met before a company can enjoy the prestige of displaying the royal coat of arms
I t is one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. Members range from chimney sweeps to silversmiths, from bagpipe makers to luxury car suppliers.
The one thing they have in common is supplying goods and services “by appointment” to the royal family.
The 800 royal warrant holders from trade and industry can display the relevant coat of arms on letterheads, in adverts, on vehicles and outside their premises.
“It is highly prestigious, and companies granted warrants are hugely proud of the fact,” says Richard Peck, secretary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, part trade organisation, part guardian of the system.
Royal chimney sweep Kevin Giddings, whose company maintains around 1,000 chimneys at Buckingham Palace and other royal buildings, says that, when it comes to industry awards, nothing compares with a royal warrant. “It is the ultimate accolade and, because it is reviewed every few years, demonstrates holders have maintained the highest standards of service,” he says.
Three members of the royal family grant warrants, or are “grantors”: the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.
The Queen decides who those grantors should be. “I am always being asked when the Duke of Cambridge will be able to grant warrants,” says Peck. “The answer is, I haven’t the faintest idea. It is entirely in the gift of the Queen.”
Companies can apply for a warrant if they have supplied the royal household for five years. Applications are put forward by the association and approved by a committee chaired by the Lord Chamberlain, but need final approval from the relevant royal family member.
“The recommendation goes to the grantor who will sign it off. It is a very personal issue,” says Peck.
Coats of arms can be displayed by the warrant holders but references to royal connections must be discreet. “A company could not, for example, go on television or into print drawing attention to the warrant beyond carrying the coat of arms,” says Peck.
Discussing in detail what the particular member of the royal family buys is also off limits, he adds. “There is a huge amount of interest around the royal household – much of it is quite personal to them, so it is not allowed.”
A look at warrant holders through the ages shows changing tastes, not just among the royals but among UK consumers generally. In 1900 there were suppliers of wax, dairy utensils, and lamp oil. By 1946 there were purveyors of Ryvita, Thermos flasks and Ovaltine. Today, suppliers of mobile phones, broadband and computer software sit alongside those of wines, gourmet meats and fine clothes.
For 15 years Prince Charles’s warrant holders have had to explain how they reduce their carbon footprint, save energy, and recycle. The policy now extends to all new warrants and next year will be included in warrant holders’ five-yearly review.
“It is more than just an environmental audit, it also extends to corporate social responsibility,” says Peck. “They are keen to find out, for example, where companies source products and materials. The royal household is concerned that companies that supply them are using labour which is properly rewarded and fair.
“As far as environmental policy is concerned, they have to demonstrate they are fully considering the environmental implications of their business and their carbon footprint,” he adds.
Around 30 firms are approved each year. Many, but not all, are based near royal palaces and homes – Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Balmoral, Sandringham, Highgrove, and Holyrood. Whatever the size of the company, the warrant goes to an individual – an owner or managing director – who has personal responsibility to ensure best quality service.
Royal Warrant Association president Bob Hall, chairman of grain merchants James & Son, says: “The warrant holders are an unbelievably diverse group of companies, from jewellers to the man who cuts the grass at Balmoral. The one thing we all have in common is quality of service.”
And this level of service is recognised worldwide, adds Peck. “If you go to the Far East they have huge regard for [the royal warrant], particularly in China where they have had dynasties. They understand that the monarchy will only buy from the best.”
Interestingly, the warrant has greater value in the export markets of the Far East and, to a certain extent the Middle East, than in the home market. It also has a bigger impact in the US, says Peck.
“The Americans adore anything like that.”