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Diary of a Silversmith

Tusk Silver Trophy

A local engraver to us, Steven Alexander, asked if I could fit an additional silver plate to the above mentioned trophy. Commissioned in the 1950's it had run out of space to engrave further winners names. Quite a bizarre object, it appears to be made from a hollowed out top end of an elephants tusk with the handle made of what looks like Rhinoceros horns. A glass bottom enabling it to be used as a mug. The making of an additional plate was quite tricky given that the only means I had of fixing it to the tusk was dress making pins which although good at driving into the wooden plinth. They really were reluctant to hammer into the ivory tusk. Pilot holes needed to be drilled but this in itself was problematic as the material was so hard and the drills so fragile being only 0.4mm in diameter. A three feet diameter arc had to be scribed onto the silver sheet prior to cutting it out. This enabled it to fit snugly onto the slightly tapered tusk. I got there eventually! It took just short of a day to do but I had only quoted one and a half hours C'est la vie!  

Silver Mine Visit

I was invited to visit a silver mine museum in France by a couple of German/Canadian friends a few weeks ago - how could I - a silversmith even think of refusing! The abandoned mine, of which there are many in the Vosges Mountain area of France, has been turned into a museum. This one is quite near to Strasburg. The excursion is split into different sections, above and below ground. It starts with a film about how a silver mine was bought and then all the different workers gathered together. The next part is to take a group of people into the old mine workings, through a series of tunnels - not down a mine shaft. We were all dressed in warm jackets and waterproof capes with hoods and all topped off by a miners helmet with a light on top.It was quite cold underground around 10C I would guess and very damp with puddles on the ground. Although the floor was surprisingly level apart from a few dips where water had gathered. Some of the passage ways were very narrow and some of the taller people struggled a little. It is hard to imagine the conditions that the workers had to endure for up to 8 hours a day in candle light and very cold and damp.  After just an hour and a half it was a joy to get back to the next part of the tour which involved interactive displays where you could listen to explanations of each scene and see some of the tools used. This was followed by a final film about the different types of workers, their backgrounds and lives. They were split into three main groups, carpenters, actual mine workers and women who processed the lumps of rock into smaller chippings. The only part I felt was a bit lacking was details of how the ore was extracted from the rock which would have been of particular interest to me as a silversmith All in all it was very well done and not an expensive visit for the time we spent there (approx three hours). But it was very nice to get back in the warm car that had been parked in the sunshine. If you get the chance to visit that area I would recommend it. The narration is done in several languages via headset http://www.massif-des-vosges.com/en/90/A228000847/tellure-silver-mine-sainte-marie-aux-mines.htm Remember to wear warm clothes!!

Precious Metals - Conservation

As a Silversmith I am, and always have been, careful not to waste any silver or gold which I handle on a daily basis. In common with others in the industry, we cut, file, saw, grind, turn and polish precious metals. All these processes could lose some of the precious metals never to be seen again. In our case the clean cutting we collect to use at a later date for our silver castings. The less clean (which could have some oil or dirt present) is collected and returned to our supplier for melt and assay. The fine silver element of this is then credited to our metal account with our supplier. Obviously there is a final very dirty category. Sweep. This is as it sounds floor sweep, contents of the hoover bag! and polishing residues. this bulky category is again returned to our supplier where it is first burnt to reduce its volume and the ash processed to remove the silver. There is no doubt a very tiny amount may escape our vigilance. A few grains walked out on the sole of the shoe, but by and large we trap the vast majority of what we buy in. Why? 1 It is expensive 2 I have my environmental head on I would like to see this done by every business and home globally. If all commodities were made valuable in money terms as well as resource terms nothing could or should be wasted. As once they are condemned to landfill sites they are almost impossible to recover. In my company and home every grain of so called waste has its own bin. Every orange pip, apple core or potato peeling goes onto the compost heap. Every tin, bottle and newspaper goes into the council recycling box and the remainder to landfill - not a lot I am pleased to say. However most of landfill is produced from unnecessary packaging. Society must return to the old days of less or no packaging.  When I was a lad all bottles and jars had deposits and were returned. Biscuits and eggs went into brown paper bags which went on the compost heap. Another of my gripes is the use of insecticides in agriculture - but I digress this maybe the subject for another blog!  

Britannia Silver

I needed to order a considerable amount of standard (sterling) 925 silver sheet recently. After I placed my order the supplier informed me that they had insufficient in stock to fulfill my request. An alternative was to take some of it in Britannia silver (958). It is many years since I have used Britannia but to use it on this occasion would solve the problem. I knew it was softer so it should be easier to spin – in theory. Well this was the case. It was nice to spin, it seemed to be a more “slippery” metal than standard (925 copper alloy) which can feel a bit “gritty” and need lubricant. The Britannia needed less. It also “laid down” on the chuck quicker. The down side was that because it “laid down” quicker it was stretching less meaning it came up shorter on height. Ooops! Now what? 20 bases all a bit short. Luckily I had spotted this on an interim spin (draft) and was able to put it onto another chuck where I was able to gain a little height. Phew! Nearly got into trouble there but otherwise a very nice alloy to work with. Britannia Silver 958.   Co-incidentally, this was the main English Standard between 1697 and 1720 and because of its softness (in relation to 925 standard) it had to be reinforced in areas of weight stress, for example on a tea pot where the fittings attach. Spout, handle,foot and knob. This reinforcing was often decorative and termed “cut card work” and is quite distinctive. The said reason for this change was thought to be that it would defer the clipping of silver coins for the subsequent use of a source of bullion as the metal stolen could not be used without the addition of pure silver which was in short supply at that time. Just a few interesting facts about the life of a silversmith I thought you may like to read.

Silver Bangles

A lady phoned a couple of weeks ago and said that she had found us on the internet. She had been going round the local shops in the Brentwood area trying to find someone who could make 2 silver bangles for her two daughter’s birthdays. Colin, who took the call, suggested that she bring in her example of what she wanted. She arrived. Not having been party to these telephone conversations I had to explain that I was a silversmith and what she needed was a jeweler. She said “what is the difference?” I tried to explain that that there can be big differences between jewelers and silversmiths, for example silversmiths do not normally work to such small sizes, neither do they know how to make settings for stones etc. She then showed me a bangle that she was wearing. Quite an ornate one, obviously from the Far East as it had elephants embossed around the outside. She said that what she wanted made for her daughters was something much simpler. I started warming to the idea and told her that I usually only make jewelry for friends and family. She was such a pleasant woman that I decided she fitted the criteria and yes I would make them for her. They are now made and have gone to the hand engraver to inscribe her personal message inside each one. From there they will pay a visit to the London Assay Office to be tested and hallmarked. Finally they need to come back to our studio to be polished and boxed. Another satisfied customer hopefully!      Since writing the above the first of the bangles has been presented. Mother and Daughter very happy!

Silversmith's Speaker Stands

My training and life as a Silversmith have also given me the basic skills and confidence to tackle other projects. For example, when we bought a new sound system and television. It came supplied with contemporary light wood speakers. Co-incidentally the same colour as our Ercol furniture. Unfortunately we could not find suitable wooden stands for these speakers that would also match our furniture. I though it would be quite an enjoyable experience to make a pair. First I did a scale drawing, then sourced some maple wood (which is nice to turn) from our stocks and cut out the necessary blanks, two circles and a long baton.  Next I turned the three component parts, top, base and stem as seen in the picture. I then sanded them on the lathe and Colin polished them in our polishing shop using two grades of compound until they were perfectly smooth. Lastly a coat of wax was added.     And no! I am not making any others in case anyone asks!  

Out of Silver Egg cups!

In the morning at work we usually sit down for breakfast before we start the days work. It normally consists of half a grapefruit or a freshly squeezed orange followed by an egg of some sort with fresh bread from the local bakers and some homemade jam.  As we have limited cooking facilities the eggs are fried, scrambled, poached or boiled. We like to have a bit of variety. On a boiled egg morning it is often quicker to find something from the workshop rather than search for a proper finished Silver Egg Cup. Today it is a decanter top with a test engraving on it. Works well! Looks quite good too!   

Silver Coaster - a new addition

When I had the Chalice Claret Jug re-shot a couple of years ago (both in the silver and in the gold version) I inserted a small coaster into the picture just as a prop, to get a bit of lifestyle. It had not occurred to me to that this shot may actually create a sale for the coaster. We have now had several requests for this particular coaster.     Unfortunately we did not make one of a suitable size! we have previously sold the middle size coaster from the "appetite" range which was not quite ideal, being a little too big and rather on the expensive side. Last week when a Claret Jug sold the lady requested the coaster to match but could not afford the above mentioned one so I bit the bullet and set about making one of exactly the correct size and thickness to come in at a suitable price. That evening when the workshop was quiet I prototyped one, did a quick costing £275 and put it to the lady the next morning. She said "yes" so the first one was produced and went off to the Assay Office for hallmarking. Not something I like to do too often as the minimum charge makes it quite expensive. However needs must on this occasion. The lady took delivery of her Claret Jug (which was to be presented to a retiring colleague) complete with prominent inscription and newly designed coaster. Delighted!!      

Diana's second visit to JA Campbell

Bronze figurines of Diana, Greek Goddess of Love. Just before Christmas 2015 my antique friend brought in another bronze figurine of Diana by a well known French sculptor. This one had lost her bow, as had the first one. For those who are not familiar with the piece, Diana is standing on one leg on a rock, shooting a bow up into the sky. The bow actually has no strings and is made in two parts which screw onto threads either side of her left hand. The bow although stylised is basically tapered from thick in the centre and thin at the ends. It is also slightly triangular in section. The first stage after doing a scale drawing is to select some brass rod and make the taper. On the first one this was done by rolling it in stages to get the rough taper and then grinding/filing it to a smooth taper and then grind into a triangular section. This worked well but was slow. On the second one all the tapering was done by grinding and filing and was indeed quite a bit quicker. The other slow stages were making the male and female threads and soldering the triangular bow section to the round boss section. Finally aligning the bow in relation to the figure and polishing. I personally would have left the bow polished bright as it made a beautiful contrast against the dull green/bronze of the figure. However the dealer did not want it bright and intends to "patinate" it himself. Job done. A bit of variety for a Silversmith!    

Summer Garden Produce

This may seem a strange title for a blog from a Silversmith workshop? By now if you have read my blogs before then you will not be suprised how my mind wanders from subject to subject and always finds a link with my work. It is at this time of year when the garden calls. It would be nice if it was a call just to sit and enjoy the summer weather - but we are in England! The weeds grow, the grass needs cutting, but if like me you enjoying growing your own produce then this is when things really start to happen. Picking the first tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse, runner bean plants at the top of the poles and the first boiling so tender and succulent. Digging up potatoes, picking fruits and that is a task that leads on to yet another. Loganberry jam from our garden, blackcurrant jam and cherry jam courtesy of next door's kind offering for us to pick from their plants and tree. All in exchange for a couple of jars. Later in the year of course we have still to come our own grapes from the vine in the greenhouse. Well I am sure I am not alone in gathering all the produce above and many of you also enjoy eating the fruits of your labour. After taking all that care and attention to detail I am sure you too will want to display all your produce in the best possible way. When you have company for dinner the talking point will be your gardening achievements and what better way to show off your jam, for instance, than in a Silver & Crystal Preserve Dish. How about your homegrown potatoes and runner beans in a Silver Vegetable Tureen with lid. If your tomatoes form part of a salad then the Silver & Crystal Salad Bowl and a set of Silver Salad Servers will be just perfect. Whilst the grapes in the greenhouse may not be ready yet (they are best for eating anyway) in the meantime a glass or two served from one of our Silver & Crystal Decanters is the best way to enjoy your chosen wine. JA Campbell Silversmiths have everything you need to set the perfect table to impress your guests or simply to enjoy yourself! Browse our website and order online or give me a call if you prefer the personal touch. John Campbell.