Loving Silver

Whilst I personally love silver I can see why others do not. Silver has been a large part of my life since I was a teenager ( I am now 73).

It is my hobby and my job. I enjoy making it, using it, reading about it and learning about it. I love most of the design periods, especially Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts and Art Deco.

The problem with new silver, just out of the polishing shop, is that it looks too precious, too shiny. So good you do not want to touch it, let alone use it.

I took in some scrap recently and amongst it was a 70’s style man’s silver articulated bracelet. I took a fancy to it. It looked too nice to melt down so I put it on my wrist. It had light surface scratches and a little tarnish. I thought it looked good on my wrist which was tanned from cycling. I sought some opinions “shall I re-polish it back up to new?” “No” was the answer, it looks better as it is.

bracelet

The moral of this story is that silver looks better when it has acquired its natural patina. When you see examples of silver and gold in museums it always looks great. One thing they all share is that they never look pristine.

Use and enjoy your silver.

 

Made up to a standard and not down to a price

The above statement while not unique has been coined by myself John Campbell to describe the principles applied when making our products. The intention of this statement is to try to appeal to the more discerning people in society, for these are our target market.

JA Campbell’s only retail outlet is its website and the studio workshop in Brentwood, England. With almost no other high street presence this makes it difficult for potential buyers to “touch and feel” Because of this we have to try and get our message across using the written word, photography and word of mouth backed up by the real comments on both the home page and individual product pages of our website.

We also get numerous phone calls (about one per sale) from people asking questions about the product and/or delivery. These calls I suspect are also being used to ascertain more about JA Campbell, such as do they actually answer the phone?, do they sound as if they know their subject?, can they answer technical questions?, can it be engraved on time and where is the best position?, could it be a bit taller/decorated?, could 50 be delivered in 3 weeks?. How well these questions are answered gives the questioner confidence – or not.

We all get caught occasionally buying something which turns out to be poor quality, often using the internet. Even me. A few weeks ago I thought I did not have time to go shopping for a new colander for the kitchen so I ordered one on the internet. Before even opening the packet I realised by the weight, or lack of it, that the article inside must be thinly made. Exactly right. It was so cheap it went straight to the charity shop. I did not want it in our kitchen.

Back to the JA Campbell case: my general business principal is to make an article as good as I can, one which will not break in use but last a lifetime or even many lifetimes. A product that will not cause me personally or my company any embarrassment. We then try to make a profit out of it.

The same cannot be said however for many other manufacturers. Modern house builders are a prime example. Most new houses and apartments today are made as cheaply as possible to maximise profit using the smart bathroom and kitchen to woo the potential buyer. Many are built on a flood plane or in a poor part of town or near a busy main road or railway. These builders or developers, as they prefer to be called, should use the moto “built poor in quality and high in price”

When making a batch of square decanters last week I realised they were taking far too long to make for several reasons and that profitability was probably suffering. So be it I thought! They had been made up to a standard. I am proud to have the name JA Campbell stamped on this item. It will not just please but will delight any recipient. A word of warning though, if you have a bad head the morning after it is probably the contents to blame – not my decanter!

A Different 21st Birthday Present

21st February 2016

A woman phoned yesterday saying that she was on the JA Campbell website and wanted to know the difference between our 2 Claret Jugs – the Chalice JC/137/F and the Grape and Vine JC/137/G

I explained that they were basically the same but with a different handle and different price points. She went on to say that it was her son’s 21st birthday present and asked about the delivery time of the chalice which was the one she preferred and also how to order on the website or over the phone. I said the latter method was the quickest and easiest.

At this stage of the conversation I said that I thought her choice of a Claret Jug was rather nice but unusual as a 21st. She agreed but said that her husband had been given one on his 21st and had enjoyed using it over the years and wanted the same for his son.

I went on  to tell her some of the details of this Claret Jug such as the option to replace the crystal body should anything untoward happen. The addition of a set of cleaning balls with each decanter and so on. Just a few extra touches that JA Campbell provide as a service to customers.

 

Ice Bucket or Claret Jug?????

The week after the Christmas break I decided to replace the ice bucket we had sold in December. Not having made one of these for a couple of years I had to stop and think how? The main difficulty with the making of this piece is the very long solder seam in the body which is about 10″ long and if it is to be perfect in every way including strong and invisible it will surely test the skills of any silversmith.One thing if you are doing this regularly, but another matter if not!

This ice bucket was no exception in that the solder seam failed miserably. It was weak (broke at every attempt to move it) and highly visable. After several attempts to repair it I decided not to proceed and to scrap it.

All was not lost however as most of the area was good it was only the seam area which was bad, mainly due to the thinness from subsequent repair attempts. After cutting out the seam area the ice bucket was returned once more to a flat sheet and 4 x 4″ diameter discs were cut from it. These discs became claret jug neck components therefore saving 80% of the ice bucket material.

Such a malleable metal silver, especially if purchased from a reliable source, in this case Cookson Precious metals.

Two Diana’s – Goddess of Love!

I have been a brasssmith this week. An antique dealer found me via an Internet search probably deciding that a silversmith was the best person to make some missing bits on two figurines that he had bought. In this case it was a bronze of the Greek goddess Diana who standing on one leg on a rock should have been holding a bow aloft. Unfortunately the bow was missing.

Enter the Silversmith. The bow should be in two parts, either side of her hand and held in place by screw threads. Apparently last week he bought another of the same at auction with, would you believe, her bow missing too.

In theory the second bow should be easier to make than the first but who knows I have not seen it yet.

I must say though I do enjoy a challenge!

Same Claret Jug broken twice

Last week I had a phone call from an Army officer saying that he had had an accident with one of our chalice Claret jugs – yet again! Could we repair it?

He and his wife had bought it from one of the London department stores in 2000 (millenium hallmark) when they were “flush” his wife quipped. Sometime after that she had accidentally knocked the crystal body with the stopper and broken the body. We fitted a new crystal body back on to the original silver mount.

The next and current occasion was when one of her children was laying the table. Somehow it had been broken again. This time it happened in Belgium and he hand delivered the silver mount minus most of the crystal to our Brentwood workshop.

The remains of the broken crystal body were removed from the mount along wit the fixing plaster. The mount was then cleaned, re-polished and fitted on to a new crystal body.

It is now like new again and winging its way back to Belgium to be reunited with the family. I hope for their sake that we do not see it again.

In theory though there is no limit to the amount of repair this Claret jug can take!

What to make next?

I am sure I have probably written about this before – forgive me if I have but it seems to happen every year. There comes a stage where I am up to date with the current order schedule and I have time to make some items for stock. The question always is what to make this time?

I do wish I had a crystal ball and could predict what customers are going to buy. I have tried many ways before to look at sales trends from previous years, to look at what seems to be popular out in the shops, what are other websites putting forward as special offers or even can I look at the weather forecast!!!!

Well here goes again. Nothing has seemed to work 100% in the past but I seem to be doing reasonably well and will go for the ever popular Salt & Pepper Mills from the JA Campbell “Appetite” range. These silver mills are part of the matching collection that I designed about 25 years ago now.How time flies.

It is a contemporary range  and sits well against the more traditional items in the “Classic” range.

They are quite time consuming to make which is why I tend to always ensure that I have some in stock as they would be difficult items to make in a rush. However complicated things are to produce, as long as I have the time, I enjoy creating beautiful silver tableware.

That is one of the reasons I became a Silversmith and I still enjoy my work today.

Summer Produce

It is at this time of year when the garden calls. Unfortunately not always just to sit and enjoy. 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 our next door neighbours plants and tree.

Still to come our own grapes from the vine in the greenhouse.

Of course you may be thinking what has all this to do with a blog from a Silversmith?

Well I am sure I am not alone in gathering all the produce above and to take the care and have the attention to detail to do that sort of thing I am sure you too will want to display all your produce in the best possible way.

When friends and family come to dinner the talking point will be your gardening endeavours 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 may not be ready yet (and then they will be for eating) but in the meantime a glass of wine or two served from one of our Silver & Crystal Decanters is the ideal accompaniment.

At JA Campbell we have everything you need to set the perfect table to impress!

Have a look now

John Campbell.

Nothing to do with Silver!

A few of the silversmiths I have worked with are extremely versatile possibly due to the many materials we encounter. The hand eye skills we possess seem to transcend many activities although I personally have to confess to being a lousy billiard/snooker player. This came as a great suprise to me as I thought I was pretty good at angles and details.

Once such multi skilled silversmith I worked with as an apprentice was Harry Birkitt. Not only an excellent silversmith he also made miniature steel armour and miniature working guns in his spare time. He would forge from steel all the tiny parts including the flintlock hammers. All the armour joints to move the visors lifted just like the full size ones.

Another such craftsman Lew Marlow is very good with ornamental plaster work. He replaced some of the intricate ceiling cornice in his town house in Kentish town.

Me, well I am quite versatile too, I re-made the run cornice in the master bedroom of our house in Dalston. The house (being corballed brickwork on to clay) was suffering from a little natural subsidence which had broken the cornice in many places. It would have been impossible to repair successfully.

The old ceiling and cornice basically had to come down and be replaced with new. An old plasterer I had met told me he could do the job. When I asked him to start the job he said he could not do it because of his neck. I did not fully understand. This was in the days before google so I set about making umpteen phone calls to plaster cornice makers in yellow pages. Non of whom could do the job. I then realised I had no option but to learn the technique and do it myself. I bought a book in Foyles which had 2 pages of how to make a run cornice. The straight lengths were all quite easy to do but the corners, internal and external were missing and had to be done free hand – not easy! Each corner took me a day! At the end of the job my neck had seized up completely because of being fixed in the same looking up position for so long. I then realised what the plasterer had meany about his neck.

The latest skill I need to learn is how to re-bristle a brush. Our Meile vacuum cleaner (Revolution 500) has an electrically driven carpet cleaning head containing a cylindrical brush within. Meile tell me they no longer supply this part. Image if the top motor manufacturer told you that they could not supply you with a new gear box for your 12 year old car.

There is nothing wrong with the brush other than that the bristles are worn down and no longer touch the carpet. All I need to do is find a source of new bristles, drill out the old ones and glue back the new longer  ones into the cylinder. Should be easy .

Anyone got the same problem? Contact john@jacampbell.co.uk

Just going outside to repair the lawnmower carburettor. What next?

Small Businesses

I was having an interesting conversation with the well known owner of a bike shop and national cycle racing team just the other day.

Condor Cycles, Grays Inn Road. London. WC1X 8PP. England

I had called at his bike shop in London to pick up a spare part for my bike.

The conversation was quite brief (as we are both busy people) probably no more than 10 minutes and centered around our two businesses. His cycle business and my silver tableware company. It seems Condor are doing well at present with their retail sales and also with a high placing in the recent tour of Yorkshire Cycle race. Condor specialise in top quality bikes and service. It is a joy to stop there. I use every excuse available to call in there at least once a week to buy something!

I told Grant that JA Campbell are also enjoying a recent improvement in sales and probably due to an increase in home entertaining/dining which is primarily what JA Campbell products are designed for. The fact that some items are sold as sports trophies is another matter.

We, both (Grant and I) agreed that it is so much nicer to dine at home with a small group of friends and or relations than going out to a restaurant. At home you can enjoy higher quality, and have a much better idea of where the ingredients came from. One can also buy the best food and wine without breaking the bank. Indeed the wine we tend to favour we bring back from the Alsace region of France. What we pay 8 Euros a bottle for over there, I am certain would cost £25-£35 in a restaurant in the UK.

Well, now back to work for us both after a pleasant interlude.

Good luck to Condor in the racing season this year!