The art of silversmithing has never been truly appreciated by the general public. Unless you go behind the scenes and understand the process designers and silversmiths go through to create their unique pieces of art in their own studios, most look at a precious metal piece of art or jewellery and frown upon the price tag. Having attended silver jewellery making classes, I can understand how much time and effort goes into hammering, sawing, filing, etching, or any other silversmithing method, a wire or sheet to get to the end result. The Silversmith’s Art: Made in Britain Today exhibition does exactly that: give the general public an insight into The Goldsmiths’ Company’s collection of commissioned items over the last 15 years.
Close up image of featured silversmiths’ intricate designs and chasing skills
The above image shows details of the designs carefully ‘chased’ details on the surface of their pieces. The art of ‘chasing’ is a skill which requires the silversmith to draw (with a pencil or scribe) the design they wish to mark on their pieces after it has been shaped and then carefully using a hammer and blunt tools to chase the design – by hand. Contrary to popular belief that all items are mass produced by machines, all genuine silversmith pieces (whether in silver or gold) are produced by hand and no two items are the same. If you pay attention to the flawless appearance of the silver or gold piece you’ve purchased, you can appreciate the amount of time the silversmith has spent making sure no imperfections are seen to the naked eye.
This stunning exhibition, hosted at the National Museum of Scotland, celebrates the exceptional artistry and skill that make Britain a world leader in modern silver. The Silversmith’s Art: Made in Britain Today features over 150 masterpieces from the Goldsmiths’ Company’s collection, made by 66 acclaimed silversmiths between 2000 and 2015.
At the heart of the exhibition is The Goldsmiths’ Company’s role as patron of contemporary studio silver. This guild, situated in the City of London, has supported the craft of gold and silversmithing for more than 700 years. Today it has a world-renowned collection of British silver and commissions exceptional creative work each year.
The Silversmith’s Art website
Unless the brand is well known and has the means to employ skilled silversmiths and specialised machinery, almost all silver and gold pieces you purchase in independent and local shops are thoroughly made by hand. When you’re paying for a crafted piece made from precious metals, not only are you paying for the price of the materials themselves, but also for the time and effort the designer has put into creating your design.
I have tried to capture the beauty of the pieces created by the talented silversmiths, but to truly appreciate their masterpieces, you need to see them in person to truly see the detail of each one. There is no room for error when working with precious metal; once the piece is cut/etched/chased, if it’s too small, you’ve pressed too hard on your soldered piece and precious gemstones have already been set, too much etching/chasing of the design or deep scratches are made to the surface that can’t be polished off, you need to start from the beginning. Try to imagine: how much time, sweat and effort did each silversmith need to put into each piece to turn wires or a flat rectangular sheet of silver (and/or gold) into the work of art you see before you?
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, seeing the intricate detail silversmiths have paid to their beautifully crafted pieces made from silver and gold. It is also very much heartwarming to know that The Goldsmiths’ Company is so involved in supporting up and coming silversmiths and to preserve the art of silversmithing today.
The Silversmith’s Art: Made in Britain Today exhibition is in Exhibition Gallery 2, Level 3 of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street and is open to the public daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free and the exhibition will run until 4 January 2016. For further information, visit the National Museum of Scotland website.