Silversmithing has a rich and robust history that stretches back to around 600 BC. Its history is truly global. Cultures on most continents have always refined silver in their own unique ways to create beautiful practical and decorative items. However, it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that silversmithing reached its pinnacle as the true value of precious metals were realised through the introduction of a guild and assay offices, whose series of hallmarks continue to be a guarantee of quality to this day.
A booming industry ensued, which, over time, witnessed trends from the ornate Rococo style of the early 18th century to the later more understated and elegant Neoclassical designs. British Huguenot artists, designers and craftspeople shaped and manipulated silver and other precious metals into decorative or practical objects such as tableware and flatware, mirrors and candlesticks, teapots and tureens, jewellery for celebrations and socialites, ecclesiastical pieces for ceremonies, trophies and medals for outstanding achievements, acts of kindness and bravery.
After the industrial revolution, silver found widespread popularity across Europe. England emerged as a beacon for silversmiths and goldsmiths, as modern society sought decorative and functional serving ware and other everyday household goods. It’s capital city, London, has a long and distinguished heritage as the global centre of learning for design and craft in precious metals. Aspiring silversmiths from across the globe travel to London to develop their skills and learn their trade. Talent is incubated through initiatives such as Bishopsland Educational Trust and the Goldsmiths’ Centre; organisations that we continue to aid and advocate for with the Thomas Lyte Foundation.
Traditional silversmithing in the UK fell into decline during much of the 20th century due to less demand for domestic silverware. While the value of luxury goods, craftsmanship and artistry never waned, the overall demand for mass production led to products instead being sourced from distant corners of the world. This resulted in a skills shortage that hinders the industry to this day. However, by the new millennium, there was a new generation of designers and craftspeople with a renewed interest in design and individuality. A new contemporary British style was born and took the world by storm.
Thomas Lyte, among other modern exponents, disrupt and rejuvenate the industry. If you watch our master silversmiths and apprentices in action at their workbenches, you will see them use a mixture of modern technology, such as 3D printers and scanners, and a range of tools and techniques with origins that date back to Roman times – hot forging, chasing, hand-engraving, planishing hammers, anvils and vices. The introduction of modern methods truly transforms the crafting process, acting as a catalyst for innovation across both design and creation.