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Symposium on Precious Metal Skills

Symposium on Precious Metal Skills

When: Tuesday 25 July 2023, 10am to 3.30pm
Where: Somerset House, The Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Cost: Entry to this event is free and refreshments will be provided.

Heritage Crafts and the The Royal Mint are bringing together expert practitioners in precious metal crafts from a broad industry base to Somerset House to create a consensus across the industry of what is required to support at-risk skills.

The symposium will aim to raise awareness and drive support for at-risk skills within precious metal crafts such as gold and silversmithing, medal making, metal thread manufacture, gilding, hand engraving and many others.

The day is supported by the Royal Mint and The Pilgrim Trust and will be opened with a keynote address from Anne Jessopp, CEO of The Royal Mint. The remainder of the day will include talks from practitioners, a panel discussion and breakout discussions on issues affecting skills transmission.

Click here to book

 

Hand engraving

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Hand engraving

 

The embellishment of metal, precious stones and semi-precious stones using traditional hand tools.

 

Status Endangered

With clock and watch engraving critically endangered

Historic area of significance Mainly UK, with Europe having a tradition for engraving, gun engraving in Italy in particular.
Area currently practised Across the UK, but focus on London and the South.
Origin in the UK 14th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 21-50

The Hand Engravers Association of Great Britain know of 40 professionals and estimate that there may be a further 10.

There are none who specialise in watch engraving and only 1 who engraves die stamping full time.

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
11-20

Based on figures from the Hand Engravers Association of Great Britain. There will also be some silversmiths who do some engraving as a part of their work.

Current no. of trainees 5
Current total no. serious amateur makers
6-10
Current total no. of leisure makers
11-20

 

History

Historically hand engraving has been used in both practical and decorative applications ranging from hunting arms to royal seals, from coins and bank notes to jewellery.

The craft developed in the 14th Century, when it became common for swords and other arms to be embellished and decorated, and with the development of copper plate engraving for printing. Reddaway and Walker’s early history of the Goldsmiths’ Company says that ‘gravers and the cutters of seals’ were mentioned in the first hallmarking act of 1300, when they were ordered not to keep back an undue proportion of the gold and silver removed in the engraving process They also note that a Goldsmiths Company ordinance of around 1370 set down for rules for ‘work in which some of the craft were always involved but which they could not wholly control, the making and engraving of seals and the burnishing of plate’. (p.34, 247). Note 58 of this chapter records some 15th century engravers of silver seals.

Traditionally engravers were aligned with the print industry, so there were clusters of businesses in the City of London (Clerkenwell) and of course engraving sits with jewellery/silverware production so historically businesses might be based in Hatton Garden and Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

 

Techniques

Engraving is the cutting away of metal. This is done with the burin hand tool, also known as the graver. First introduced in the 16th Century, these tools are still in use today. Some professionals will use pneumatic gravers to save time and muscle strain but they are still controlled by hand

There are two types of hand engravers:

  • those who work engrave on other people’s items as a commercial engraver
  • those who engrave on one off objects as an artist/craftsperson

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

  • Gun engraving
  • Seal engraving
  • Clock and watch engraving
  • Engraving for enamel
  • Engraving for die stamping.
  • Copperplate engraving

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

Training and recruitment issues: Lack of master engravers able to take on apprentices, and lack of appropriate apprentices. Very few places offer training in Hand Engraving in its own right although some degree courses include it as a module.

Market issues: The professional engravers we speak to are very busy, in particular gun engravers often have waiting lists that go into years.

Supply of raw materials, allied materials and tools: The Association has experienced some problems in the last year of getting hold of tools when required for courses (in particular gravers for seal engraving which are slightly different to surface engraving). It has not prevented us from running the courses but has made more challenging.

Small business issues: There is support for craftspeople starting out in business selling a product (not specifically for engravers but useful nonetheless). However, there seems to be very little or no support for craftspeople starting out in business offering a service.

Ageing workforce: Potential masters are getting older, and there are not many obvious successors.

Training issues: There are very few hand engraving firms who have the capacity to take on trainees, the sector is now primarily sole traders

Global and geopolitical issues: British firms that use engravers (not necessarily but including engraving companies) have been using engravers from Europe, in particular gun makers using engravers from Italy; but Brexit and to some extent Covid-19 has prevented this and the British companies are struggling to find professional engravers in the UK to undertake their commissions.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

The Hand Engravers Association have a directory of members on their website

 Businesses employing two or more makers

 

Other information

 

 

References