As masters in the art of vitreous enamelling, Deakin & Francis enamellers Elaine and Dawn talk to us about their rare skill and implementing new techniques.
In a narrow street in the heart of Birmingham’s jewellery quarter stands a Grade II-listed red-brick building with upper arched windows. From the outside it is wholly unassuming, but step inside and you will find a team of craftsmen and women honing ancient skills to create some of England’s finest jewellery. It is from here that Deakin & Francis has operated for more than 230 years.
From diesinkers and model makers (who create new designs from sketches and storyboards) to jewellers, enamellers, engravers and finishers, creating a pair of our famous cufflinks is a meticulous process. Not least the ancient technique of vitreous enamelling, which has remained unchanged for more than 2,000 years.
‘It’s a rare skill that must be done by hand,’ says Dawn, a Deakin & Francis enameller who has been with the company for 12 years, alongside her cousin Elaine who helped get her the job. ‘It dates back to the pharaohs. As far as we know, no one is really learning vitreous enamelling as a skill anymore. It’s more widely done as a hobby. The charm lies in the fact that Deakin & Francis still offers this form of enamelling.’
Before Dawn and Elaine can start applying the first coat of enamel, the cufflinks have to be cleaned with nitric acid, scratch brushed and left to air dry. ‘We have to build up the layers to just above the silver lines,’ says Elaine, who has been at Deakin & Francis for 16 years. ‘In between each fire (the furnace reaches temperatures of up to 800˚C), they are left to cool naturally before we file with a diagrit [a diamond-infused mesh] until the enamel is in line with the silver lines. If there are any holes or spots we have to reapply the enamel and file again to smooth and level. It can take up to four coats to achieve the perfect level and shine. After this we check for imperfections, then pickle and pumice the cufflinks to remove any lines on the silver.‘
It is this process that makes Deakin & Francis cufflinks unique, with a myriad of innovative designs all painstakingly crafted in our Birmingham workshop. ‘Depending on the design, it can take a few hours to complete the enamelling on one set of cufflinks,’ says Dawn. ‘More intricate patterns such as our flower cufflinks can take longer.‘
While their roles have not changed much since they started in the workshop, over the years Elaine and Dawn have witnessed the change in pattern and colour trends. In the latest Winter Haze collection, a swirling technique was implemented and worked on by Elaine, who also suggested the colour palette. ‘We are one big team and we can have input on the designs,‘ says Elaine, who particularly enjoys working with yellow gold. ‘The composition of the gold and the coloured enamels can be really rich and indulgent,’ she says. Dawn, on the other hand, finds working on trickier patterns particularly rewarding: ‘I like the flower design and it looks so pretty when finished’.
The pair like to listen to the radio while they work to help them concentrate – particularly the daily PopMaster quiz on Ken Bruce’s BBC Radio 2 show – and were both proud that Deakin & Francis has produced cufflinks for the Kingsman films. ‘Working as enamellers can be both stressful and relaxing,‘ says Dawn. ‘But it’s a good combination. It’s a nice, creative environment.‘ As well as creating a selection of exquisite and unique cufflinks, Dawn and Elaine’s role at Deakin & Francis is keeping the traditional artisan craft of vitreous enamelling alive, which is certainly something to shout about.
View our enamelled cufflinks HERE.