Britain has a long and proud history of siversmithing. “There used to be 4,000 silversmiths in the early 1980s and now there’s perhaps 200,” says Thomas Lyte Chief Executive Kevin Baker. However, despite fewer apprentices in the trade in recent years, the material is now being rediscovered, as new generations delight in its myriad qualities.
From humble beginnings in the West End to its current prestigious location in Mayfair, A. Pash and Sons has established itself as one of the most respected names dealing in both silver and Old Sheffield Plate (a layered combination of silver and copper). With over 125 years of combined experience spanning three generations, the name Pash has become synonymous with quality.
“In recent years, we have seen a return to the appreciation of the outwardly magnificent. Within the oeuvre of the revivalist styles of the 19th century, we see representations of nature, history, the classics and Shakespeare,” says James Raymond, Gallery Manager at A. Pash and Sons.
Thomas Lyte is a modern English luxury brand renowned for its ability to turn an original design into a luxury trophy (such as the FA Cup), a homeware piece, or indeed any bespoke object. Based in London, the company’s six silversmiths have over 140 years of experience between them, with each team member specialising in a certain aspect of the craft.
A variety of traditional techniques are used at Thomas Lyte, including hand-spinning, chasing and forging. All the company’s silver homeware and barware products are handcrafted. Made from a single sheet of metal, the lines of each product are first engraved, before bending the metal and securing into the final shape.
In 2015, the company became a Royal Warrant Holder as silversmith to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Thomas Lyte has been a direct supplier and restorer of silverware to the Royal Household since 2010.
Until July 2017, the V&A Museum in London is hosting ‘Silver Speaks’, an exhibition celebrating the work of Contemporary British Silversmiths (the re-branded title for the Association of British Designer Silversmiths). Shown in the Silver Galleries where the National Collection of English Silver is exhibited, this display highlights some of the best practising silversmiths today. The show focuses on table silver, and every object included has been made with this exhibition in mind.
One of the featured craftspeople is Rauni Higson. A former trapeze artist, she is now based in a converted chapel in Snowdonia, where the dramatic scenery informs her highly sculptural, yet functional work. Of the material, she comments: “Silver is magical, flowing like liquid under the hammer, albeit very slowly. It’s so malleable and responsive, that given enough time and application, any form imaginable is possible.”
Another exhibiting designer, Angela Cork, is an award-winning silversmith located in London. She specialises in creating usable, sculptural objects designed to complement any setting – whether that is an 18th-century mantelpiece or a restaurant table.
“Britain is the centre of contemporary silversmithing in so many ways,” remarks Cork. “We have some of the best courses, a wealth of suppliers for buying materials and equipment, [and] a strong network of supportive makers. We also have the heritage and patronage of the Goldsmiths’ Company and the great tradition of hallmarking.”
With a surge of interest in reviving the industry (one silversmith workshop recently received £300,000 worth of government grants), long may the sterling tradition continue.