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Silver Epergne or Centrepiece

The sophistication of this contemporary sterling silver epergne or centrepiece shows the inherent qualities of handmade hallmarked silver at its best. Plain surfaces and curvaceous, clean lines create that elegant simplicity that will delight. In fact 'To delight a customer' is something Designer John Campbell aims to do with every item that leaves his workshop. Silver and crystal centerpieces, often known as epergnes, seem to have originated from France as the word derives from the the French 'epargne' meaning 'saving'. The idea being that guests were saved the inconvenience of passing the dishes around. An epergne is typically a large item, often approximately 16" high and consisting of a large centre bowl or basket with additional smaller baskets or bowls either hanging or supported on arms rising from the base. The bowls would typically be used for fruit or sweetmeats. Silver has become a sutble status symbol in recent years.

Being the largest item in the Campbell 'Appetite' collection some people may be interested in how we make it. The silver work and the crystal blowing are very different skills.

First the crystal bowls (which are replaceable) are blown for us by Dartington Crystal in the traditional way, by collecting 'gob' of molten crystal onto the end of the blowing iron and beginning with blowing by mouth. Once a bubble has begun to form, it is placed into a carbon mould which is being sprayed with water whilst rotating. The water creates steam which forms a cushion or layer between the molten crystal and the mould, minimizing moulding marks. Occasionally the item will need a reheat to make it malleable again. The furnace used for this is called a 'glory hole'. After completion, checking and subsequent cooling, it is placed in a 'lair' which is a furnace with a conveyor belt where the items just blown are reheated for several hours and allowed to cool slowly. Without this reheating process, the item would be brittle and shatter on the first impact. Following this stage, the item still has the top of its bubble 'moil' intact. This is now cut off, the edge polished and it is now complete.

The silver stand itsels is made of 11 main components (3 arm version), the spun parts of which are the central stem, the small bowl holders and the candle sconces. The cast components are the bowl support arms which are made using the 'lost wax' method. First 'spinning', this is an ancient method of making round hollow objects from sheet metal -in this case silver- on a lathe and in relatively small quantites. This process is not unique to the silversmith; lampshades and kitchen utensils are often made this way. The process involves taking a metal disc and while it is spinning, coaxing or wrapping it around a pre-formed (usually) male former using a polished steel 'burnisher'. This is highly skillful as the flat disc tries to buckle when it comes off the flat plane and becomes a hollow object. The spinner has to stop this buckling occurring.

Lost wax casting. from a handmade brass master pattern, a rubber mould is made, and into this mould, molten wax is injected. Once the wax has cooled and solidified, the wax arms are removed. They are placed together onto a central wax stem to become a wax tree, covered with an open-ended steel tube known as a flask and filled with liquid Plaster of Paris. Once the plaster has set, the assembly is heated and the wax melted out. The assembly is then heated to around 1200 degrees C to completely burn out any remaining wax. Silver is then poured into the recess, aided by a centrifuge. Once cooled down to around 200 degrees C, the flask is plunged into cold water making the plaster disintegrate and allowing the removal of the castings. Once the castings have been cut from their central feeder stem, they are pickled, fettled, polished and soldered onto the spun, small bowl holder. This sub-assembly is again pre-polished to check for any defects. Lastly the arm assemblies are soldered onto the central stem, this is no mean feat and requires 2 silversmiths with one soldering torch each.

At this stage in the making, the item is punched with the maker' mark, JAC in a triangle, the initials of John Campbell. It is then sent to the London Assay Office for testing of each and every component. Only if all the components prove to be better than 92.5% pure silver are the remaining hallmarks punched into the surface while being supported on a steel stake. The English hallmarking system is one of the oldest and best forms of consumer protection and dates back to the 1400s. The item is then returned to the silversmith's workshop, where the punched marks are set, then it is polished using 4 grades of compound, to remove all the spinning lines, file marks, blemishes and scrape marks caused by the Assay Office tests. The epergne is then ultrasonically cleaned and punched with the JA Campbell name mark. 

This the JA Campbell version of an epergne also has the dual facility of being able to convert to a candelabra by inserting candles and sconces into the arms. This works as well today as it did nearly 300 years ago.Remember, the soft glow of candlelight will create a special ambiance for that special meal. Silver has become a subtle satus symbol in recent years and now could be the time to buy. This hallmarked, sterling silver epergne is part of the 'Appetite' collection from JA Campbell Silversmiths. It has the double line motif which is part of the signature design theme of this contemporary collection. One more thing you can be sure of, a silver epergne from JA Campbell is made up to a standard and not down to a price. A full repair/replacement service is available. Whatever the occasion, a table set with a sterling silver epergne from JA Campbell will show your guests that you appreciate quality.

This sterling silver epergne is available in 3, 4 or 5 arm options. 

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