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Diary of a Silversmith

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!

Broken Restaurant Decanter

The silver decanter collar in the picture below has been in daily use at a well known Notting Hill restaurant for over 7 years. It is one of several in use there and they do occasionally get broken.   At JA Campbell we keep adequate stock of all decanter bodies in our range and can fit a new body onto an existing silver collar or Claret Jug. This is providing the silver is not damaged substantially. Minor damage to the silver can be rectified prior to fitting to the new crystal body.It will look like a new decanter again.   Most of the decanters in our range are highly suitable for use in a demanding restaurant environment being thick enough to withstand minor knocks. However the Admiral and the Chalice decanter and Claret Jug are the exceptions.   What looks really smart and elevates the restaurant image is to have the name or logo engraved onto the crystal body. This is just one of the many services provided by JA Campbell.  

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!!      

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.


Christmas is here once again - well nearly - and yet again the most popular items in our range are Silver & Crystal Decanters.  We have a large selection to choose from and hopefully something to suit everyone's tastes. White wine, Red wine, Port, Spirits - all look so much better when served from an elegant decanter. Have a look on our website now as there is still time to order and have one delivered for Christmas. It can be for a present or simply for your own use to enhance your Christmas table. There is even one that holds two bottles of wine - the Magnum - if you are having a large gathering. See the sparkle of Silver and Crystal together!!!!!

Sterling Silver Flower Vase

On return from a recent European sales trip I decided to leave a sample sterling silver flower vase at home. I have recently started making this vase after many years and thought it would be a good idea to do some testing. This is always a good policy as it gets the product used in a real day to day environment and any minor issues can be sorted out before a customer uses it. Some years ago the same was done with one of our pepper grinders and guess what?? It did not work properly.Despite containing the best Peugeot mechanism it would not perform as it should have done. A small spacer was added as a temporary measure until a permanent solution was added to the tooling. This vase is performing perfectly and looks good with some simple flowers from the garden, roses, sweet peas and a small hydrangea head. The combinations are endless and can be whatever looks good on the day. Pop it next to you while working away on your keyboard or it will grace any diner party table.                                                              

Silver Feast or Famine

How many times do you hear this phrase - Feast or Famine? Twice yesterday and if I count JA Campbell - three times. The first was our crystal engraver Monica who quoted one very busy week and then several quiet ones. The second was a fellow passenger on a train journey (someone in the "city") He said pretty much the same and then at JA Campbell. We have gone from having insufficient production during the early part of July to overdrive in the second half. An interesting order for tennis competition trophies sponsored by a national newspaper and an order for some Campbell dishes for ununknown presentation. No complaints however!!! The changing situation with the daily fix by the LME is an interesting one with no one knowing what if anything will replace it. This is an historic piece of financial theatre whereby a group of people (representatives) of banks and traders would gather together at noon each day and depending whether their firm had more buyers than sellers would raise a little flag. If the majority were raised the daily fix price would go up and the reverse if not. With the volume of silver traders now being lower there is a reduction in the number of traders being prepared to partake in the ceremony. For more information on this topic see The Times Newspaper 17 July 2014 Business section page 36 Watch this space. In the meantime JA Campbell are producing a range of silver tableware that needs to be seen to be appreciated. Have a look on my website and I am sure there is something that will catch your eye John Campbell Master Silversmith 

Can't do is "CAN DO" at JA Campbell Silversmiths

A customer buying one of the JA Campbell Sterling Silver birthday cake candle holders asked for the baby's name, Mathilda, to be engraved on it. I remembered from the last time this happened that it caused a problem at the engravers that we normally use. They say "it can't be done by the machine engraving method" but it is possible to do it by hand. Unfortunately being small and difficult to hold in the fingers the result is that the engraving text can be a little crude. Not taking "no for an answer" I took it to another other engravers to check this out. I arrived at their premises at 9.30am and waited until 10.30am and when they still had not opened I left in a huff! I started a search for machine engravers in London having ruled out the first two options. The third one looked at the job and said it couldn't be done by machine - only by hand. He said he knew all the other engravers in London and all the machines they used and was certain it was not possible. On arrival back at our Brentwood studio I measured the revised engraving area and found it to be 7.5mm x 3mm and the circumference to be 21mm. This seemed adequate for the name "Mathilda" a name of 8 characters which would occupy 12 mm and still be readable. I went back to my first option of engraver who then said "yes it could be done, bring it back in". It transpired, after trying it in the readjusted machine that they didn't have a back centre to support the pointed end of the candle holder. I suggested they give me the dimensions and I would make one from nylon on my lathe in Brentwood. Next day I delivered the sterling silver candle holder together with the newly made nylon back centre and waited every bit of five minutes while Dave did the actual engraving. Job done! The moral of the story is do not take no for an answer!!!!!!  John Campbell

Want to buy a surprise SILVER present?

I took a call from a lady yesterday who was initially checking stock and availability of a product and then asking if we would take the order over the phone using her credit card. The reason she gave was that if she ordered on the website confirmation emails would be sent and she wanted to keep the purchase as a surprise wedding anniversary present for her husband. She obviously did not want him to see any evidence on their home computer. She also asked for it to be delivered to a relatives address for the same reason. I was also asked not to phone and check any details!!! and so give the game away. This senario is not unusual, it often happens with quite a lot of purchases. Anyone preferring not to order via the website please just give a call to John or Colin. We like to talk to people!!! We take great pride in our work and everything we make we do with enthusiasm and care. 

London Assay Office Visit

After a recent visit to the London Assay Office it has become clear that techniques have moved on in recent years since I last had a guided tour. However some things are still done in a traditional way. Hallmark related sayings that have kept going until the present day include “up to scratch” and “the acid test”. “Up to scratch” was assay office jargon for a positive result following scraping and testing. “The acid test” again jargon for the application of a tiny amount of nitric acid to a rubbing of the edge of an article onto a special small block of stone, known as the touchstone. This is from the slate family of sedimentary rock and is slightly abrasive. From the rubbing on the touchstone an experienced sampler can get a reasonably accurate idea, visually as to whether the article is what it is claimed to be. A drip of nitric acid on to the rubbing will confirm this. Some of these ancient methods are still in use today and still have a place in the assaying of precious metals. For example, although the London Assay Office is bristling with the latest technology the x-ray machine is not capable of seeing through thick deposits of silver plate, or articles with heavy subsurface contamination by other metals.  This is where the acid test comes into its own. X-ray is used much more now than ever before, especially for small articles. The readings are very accurate and show all metals identified and in what percentage. More details of how the Assay Office fits into my daily production can be found on each product page on my website. An example is shown here. Enjoy reading about how your particular pieces of silver have been handmade by John and his team in our Brentwood studio.   A new service we can offer is to actually see your item being tested and hallmarked. Please contact John on 01277 217829 if you would like to discuss this service.