London Craft Week

London Craft Week is on at the beginning of May and some of the high-end producers open up their workshops for tours. I'd missed out on seeing the Hermes workshop in Paris a few years ago so I was very keen to visit Asprey's and Garrard during last May's Craft Week in London.  In addition to Garrard and Asprey I also visited a well know ceramicist in Shoreditch for a hands on artist-led  demonstration and discussion, what fun to get your hands right into the clay.

So, why blog about Craft Week when it was over months ago? Well, you need lots of time to prepare for Spring 2016! This really is a great week and there are lots of associated events, open studios, tours of shoemakers,  printers, jewelers, artists,  ceramicists, glass makers, etc. It's well worth the heads up. Hopefully something for everyone. Its the sort of stuff that will book out the minute it appears in the paper!

There's just something wonderful about going behind the scenes, seeing past the retail facade of luxury manufacturers like Garrard and Asprey. I was astonished to see that so much is still made right in the heart of the commercial West End. Who knew there were real crafts people working in the attics of New Bond Street? I was mesmerized watching designers, silversmiths, stone-setters, jewelers, engravers  and polishers working in the garrets above Asprey and Garrard. At Garrard I attended a talk by a silver designer followed by a discussion and tour of their design studio and workshops which was  fascinating.
What was wonderful was the opportunity to see artist at work and to have to opportunity to ask them about what they are doing. Look at the size of this ring, it was absolutely enormous!
Here you can see the stonecutter working on the ring in a large open studio. He was such a nice chap and happy to explain what he was doing. Most of these people served an apprenticeship before coming to work at Garrard.
Visiting Asprey was fascinating too. Their flagship store is enormous and while the renovated retail spaces are beautifully spacious with a gorgeous modern aesthetic, behind the scenes are a warren like series of offices and studios over several stories. It would be easy to get lost back here.
In Asprey I saw a lot of detailed silverware including these deer head silver decanter stops. 
They are originally carved in wax and then cast in metal. You can see a rams head in wax below. The detail is incredible and it was very interesting to see the artists working on these models. Asprey is well known for it's animal representations.
In addition to what is available commercially, Asprey also do a great deal of custom work including lavish objects for presentations or gifts. They can make anything you suggest, depending of course on your budget! They also maintain and engrave important trophies including this football trophy which was being polished below. Polishing is a specialized job and they have two full-time polishers on staff at Asprey.
Engraving is also an important option and they have a full time engraver. It was rather fun to see this  silver teddy bear which was being engraved with HRH CEDC for the new royal baby, "Her Royal Highness Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Cambridge". You can see the note below!
Asprey were extremely generous and gave us all a gift bag on the way out. I was expecting something modest, perhaps samples. But instead they gave us a lovely bottle of their "Purple Water " fragrance. The name is ghastly (summoning up images of lavender water) but the scent is great, fresh and clean with strong citrus elements, I love it!
As I mentioned above there are lots of events for Craft Week and between the tours at Asprey and Garrad I explored some of what was on in the area, stopping in the Burlington Arcade and at Vacheron Constantin to see a watch engraver at work. You can see the watch dials below. Vacheron Constantin  were one of the sponsors of Craft Week but it seemed rather ironic that the engraver they had demonstrating his craft had flown over from Switzerland for the week. It seems a rather weak showing given that this was (I thought) meant to be a celebration of craft in London!
Probably my favorite of these shop based visits was to the Italian fashion house Etro at 43 Old Bond Street. What a fantastic shop, this must be one of the loveliest commercial spaces imaginable. The Nineteenth century mahogany staircase is stunning and the whole place has a wonderful mix of the classical and the modern, it is seamlessly presented and all in incredibly good taste. I wouldn't normally fins myself there, but they were hosting an Italian artist designing one of the paisley shawls in the upstairs salon. You can see the design in the first picture at the top of the post.
What is great about Craft Week is that it gives you a reason to visit somewhere like Etro and they are incredibly welcoming and glad to see people who appreciate the craftsmanship. Here are some of their fashion pieces also featuring paisley designs. Incidentally this crafts person was also flown in for the week!
In addition to the behind-the-scene tours and in-shop demonstrations, I also signed up for a ceramics workshop at Standpoint Studios in Shoreditch. This was being given by two well known ceramicists, Nicola Tassi (whose group I joined) and Stuart Carey. It was a fun afternoon, first she discussed her work and gave a quick demonstration and then we tried our hand at moulding a small jug from clay. My effort went back into clay (due to a lack of any artistic ability) but others opted to have theirs fired. 

After admiring so much of other people's craftwork it was fun to have a chance to try something yourself, even if my effort was less than inspired. One thing Craft Week taught me is that while I don't have any talent, I do love and appreciate other people's work and artists always need a paying audience! Nicola Tassie in her studio below. You can find her work at the wonderful Margaret Howell store in Knightsbridge.
It was fun to visit the Standpoint Gallery which houses art gallery space, ceramics studios and a printing press.

This is the work of the other Standpoint ceramicist, Stuart Carey. His work has a fine, functional , modern minimalist feel, it's just lovely.
Overall I loved Craft Week and highly recommend having a look at their program of free events and/or the tours which are very reasonably priced. Next time I'd like to see the open studios which I missed this year. I enjoyed my visits to Asprey, Garrard and Etro but they skewed toward the highest end of the luxury craft market and tended to emphasis artists working in-house. Next time I'd like to see more crafts people working independently.

Practical Note: There was a nominal fee of £8:40 for the tours  of Asprey and Garrard and tickets were available through Eventbrite.