Famous North American Silversmiths
Some of the best and most famous silversmiths in the world, past and present.
HENRY BIRKS & SONS
Birks was by far the largest and most influential Canadian silversmith in the 20th century. Henry Birks & Company was established in Montreal in 1879 as a retail jeweller. It became Henry Birks & Sons in 1893 when his three sons joined the business. In 1897 Birks bought out Hendery & Leslie, their largest supplier of silverware, and began manufacturing their own products. Birks manufactured flatware and some hollowware in their Montreal factory until the early 1990s when the factory was closed and production was moved offshore. Birks is one of only a handful of Canadian companies to have held a Royal Warrant, which was granted in 1935 by Edward VII, then Prince of Wales.
GORHAM MANUFACTURING CO
Established in 1831 in Rhode Island, as a coin-silver flatware and jewellery manufacturer, Gorham eventually became one of the largest silversmiths in the world. By the late 1860s, they grossed $1 million in sales per year. Gorham was tremendously successful with flatware patterns like Chantilly, patented in 1895 and it remains one of the most popular flatware patterns today. Their crowning achievement may be their line of handmade Art Nouveau style silver known as Martele. Some of Gorham’s notable commissions include the Lincoln White House Tea and Coffee Service (1861), the Davis Cup tennis tournament trophy and the Nixon White House Table Service (1974).
Carl Poul PETERSEN (1895-1977)
According to his family history, Carl Poul Petersen apprenticed at Georg Jensen in Denmark before emigrating to Canada in 1929. He worked at Henry Birks and Sons in Montreal but he also set up a studio for commission work in the late thirties. Petersen left Birks and opened his permanent studio in 1944 and registered his company, C.P. Petersen & Sons two years later. Unlike Birks, Petersen’s production was largely by hand and his designs were inspired by the naturalistic forms of Danish silver. He was commissioned to reproduce the NHL’s Stanley Cup (1962) which is still used today. C.P. Petersen & Sons remained in business until 1979. To see our stock of silver by Petersen click here.
TIFFANY & Co
America’s most famous silversmith from the mid 19th to early 20th century. The company began in 1837 when Charles Lewis Tiffany and John Young opened Tiffany & Young. In 1851, Tiffany became the first American firm to introduce the .925 English Sterling Standard in American-made silver. The name changed to Tiffany & Company in 1853 when Charles Tiffany took over management. Renowned American silversmith Edward C. Moore, Jr. joined Tiffany and introduced flatware to its range of products. In 1867, Tiffany became the first American firm to win the grand prize for silver craftsmanship at the Paris Exposition Universelle. Along with other World’s Fair prizes and awards, Tiffany was also appointed silver and goldsmith and jeweller to many of the European royal families.
Notable English Silversmiths
George ADAMS (1840-83)
William Chawner II’s son-in-law who took over Chawner & Co. with his mother-in-law Mary Chawner. He took over the firm and registered his first mark in 1840. He was an exhibitor at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the company became one of the largest producers of quality silver flatware in Victorian England. (See also Chawner & Co)
Hester BATEMAN (1708- 1794)
The most famous woman silversmith, Bateman was the widow of John Bateman. After his death in 1760, she took over his London-based metalwork business and transformed it into one of the most successful and prolific silversmithing workshops in London. Hester and her sons were known for their bright-cut engraving, thin-line beading and piercing.
CHAWNER & Co.
Flatware-making is one of the sub-specialties of silversmithing. In the 18th and 19th century the vast majority of spoons and forks were made by specialist “spoon makers” (knives were made by an entirely different tradesman called a cutler). The Chawner family was one of England’s dominant producers of silver flatware in the 19th century. William Chawner II began a seven-year spoon-making apprenticeship with the prolific flatware makers William Eley and William Fearn in 1797. He became the third partner of this company in 1808. Seven years later, he set up Chawner & Co. which would become one of the largest producers of silver flatware through the 19th century. When Chawner died in 1834, his widow Mary Chawner registered her own marks and took over with her son-in-law George Adams. Chawner & Co were suppliers to the retail houses of Hunt & Roskell, R.& S. Garrard & Co, and Elkington & Co. Chawner & Co is renowned not only for quality but the breadth of patterns they offered. Their pattern book from the mid 19th century included 47 patterns, far more than was typical at the time. The company was eventually sold in 1883 to Holland, Aldwinckle & Slater.
ELKINGTON & CO. LTD
Brothers George Richards and Henry started G. R. Elkington & Co in the 1830s. The firm then operated independently as Elkington & Co. for over 100 years. In 1840 Elkington & Co. patented the electrolytic process for silver plating that is still in use today and they expanded at an incredible rate. By 1865 Elkington had over 1000 employees. Elkington & Co employed top designers and won many awards and held various royal warrants and appointments, they also supplied flatware to the Titanic and the Royal Yacht Britannia.
GARRARD & CO
Originally founded in 1735 by royal silversmith George Wickes, the firm was eventually taken over by Robert Garrard in partnership with John Wakelin in 1792. Garrard had many aristocratic patrons and was represented at numerous international exhibitions including the Great Exhibition of 1851. Garrard was the Crown Jeweller for six successive monarchs from 1843 to 2007. Their commissions have included jewellery and silverware for royalty around the world as well as the Premier League Trophy, Ascot Trophy and the America’s Cup.
Robert HENNELL & Sons
Hennell of Bond Street is one of London’s oldest silversmiths and jewellers. It was founded by David Hennell and originally made fashionable silverware for the nobility and landed gentry. David’s son, Robert I, is known for his fine neoclassical silver, often with bright cut engraving. His son, grandson and great-grandson (Roberts all) carried on the business throughout the 19th century.
MAPPIN & WEBB
In 1775, teenager Jonathan Mappin started a small cutlery workshop in Sheffield. Within a year the first Mappin hallmark was recorded at the assay office. But it was under his four great-grandsons who incorporated the business as Mappin Brothers Ltd in the middle of the 19th century. In 1963 Mappin & Webb amalgamated with British Silverware Ltd together with Elkington & Co Ltd and Walker & Hall Ltd.. Mappin & Webb has held a royal warrant as silversmiths to each of the five subsequent sovereigns and today holds a Royal Warrant as Silversmiths to HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
Nathaniel MILLS (1784-1843)
Nathaniel Mills I, registered his mark in 1803 when he was a partner in jewellers Mills & Langston in Birmingham. When he died in 1840, he was succeeded by his sons Nathaniel II, William and Thomas; it was under their direction that business flourished, and the firm’s most collectable boxes, vinaigrettes, and card cases were produced. William and Thomas designed many of the pieces made after the death of their father; Nathaniel II, meanwhile, introduced several new techniques, such as engine-turning, stamping and casting, and became known for successfully adapting them to this industry. William died in 1853 and with him the family trade.
PAUL STORR (1771 – 1844)
Known for his excellent technique and mastery of the Neo-Classical and Regency styles, Storr is England’s most famous and sought after silversmith. Not much is known for certain about Storr’s apprenticeship other than the fact that he was formally apprenticed to vintner William Rock and possibly informally apprenticed to silversmith Andrew Fogelberg (whom, as a foreigner was not a member of the guild). He opened his workshop in 1796, and eventually joined Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, the royal goldsmiths to King George III. Rundell Bridge & Rundell also made pieces for Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and King George IV. In 1819 Storr left the firm to open his own shop, focusing on more naturalistic designs. In 1822 Storr formed a partnership with John Mortimer and later John Hunt. Storr retired in 1839.
HUNT & ROSKELL
A manufacturing firm, retail jewellers and silversmiths founded by Paul Storr in 1819 as Storr & Co. John Samuel Hunt, who had assisted Storr from the start, continued as a partner until his death in 1865 when he was succeeded by his son, John Hunt. Robert Roskell joined in 1844 and remained in the firm until his death in 1888. Hunt & Roskell were silversmiths and jewellers to Queen Victoria.
Notable European Silversmiths
Georg JENSEN (1866 – 1935)
The son of a blacksmith, Jensen was born in 1866 in a small town north of Copenhagen. He was apprenticed to a goldsmith at age 14 then focused briefly on sculpture, but he returned to metalwork and opened his workshop in Copenhagen in 1904. Jensen exhibited his works at several major foreign exhibitions and quickly gained a reputation for being an outstanding and original silversmith. He moved to a larger workshop in 1912 and acquired his first factory building in 1919. Jensen hired many talented designers including Johan Rohde and Gundolph Albertus who were allowed the freedom to design as they saw fit. After his death the business was carried on by his son. Of those currently in business, George Jensen is widely considered to be the best silversmith in the world.
Founded in Paris in 1820 by Louis-Victor and Emile Puiforcat and their cousin, Puiforcat rose to fame as one of the great French silversmiths. The Puiforcat collection features outstanding designs ranging from classical through Art Deco to modern design. Many of the works were recreated from Louis-Victor’s own 18th-century collection of hollowware and flatware pieces. It was Jean E. Puiforcat, however, who was a visionary for the Parisian workshop. During this time, Puiforcat’s contributions would establish them in high-end modern silver-work particularly in the Art-Deco movement. It is in this style that they are best known: clean and contemporary architectural lines combined exotic woods and semi-precious stones. Owned by Hermès since the 1990s, the company’s workshop now consists of 15 craftsmen.
The House of Odiot was founded in 1690 by Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Odiot but rose to prominence under Jean-Baptiste Claude, Gaspard’s grandson. Jean-Baptiste Claude was influenced by classical Greek and Egyptian motifs as expressed in the Directoire and Empire styles.
Odiot purchased many of Henry Auguste’s models and designs following the 1809 bankruptcy of the neoclassical silversmith. Along with Martin-Guillaume Biennais, they soon replaced Auguste as Napoleon’s silversmiths. Court commissions furthered the reputation of Maison Odiot, as it provided vermeil services to courts across Europe as well as commissions including Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation sword, sceptre and dinner service.
Upon his retirement in 1823, Jean-Baptiste Claude passed the business to his son Charles-Nicolas. He experimented with electroplating and worked in the revived rocaille style and by 1825 he was the purveyor of silverware by appointment to His Majesty King Louis-Philippe and the Royal Family of Orleans. He was later succeeded by his son Gustave who received a large commission of 3,000 pieces of solid gold flatware for Saïd Pacha, the Viceroy of Egypt. Gustave was the last member of the Odiot family to preside over the company.
Drawing from its impressive archives of designs, patterns and moulds, Odiot’s collection today is identical or close to the ones originally produced for European nobility and royal families.
Maison Christofle officially opened as a jeweller in Paris in 1830 as a partnership between Charles Christofle and his brother-in-law, Joseph Albert Bouilhet. In 1840, Charles acquired the rights to electroplating. Traditional silver- and gold-plating methods were expensive and time consuming so this timed perfectly with the French bourgeoisie’s hunger for the luxuries already enjoyed by the aristocracy. Suddenly, the arts de la table had become an indispensable part of dining room decoration. In 1845 Christofle expanded to include silversmithing and quickly became one of the largest firms in the world, employing 1500 people by 1907.
Since then, Christofle would participate in all international expositions and supply fine table services to many royals and European heads of state including Emperor Napoleon III. The firm expanded in the second half of the 19th century and supplied silverware not only restaurants, ocean liners and hotels like the Ritz, but also the Orient Express and Charles de Gaulle’s presidential jet.
Founded in 1919 when Mario Buccellati took over Milan’s Beltrami & Beltrami, Buccellati is known for its richly textured pieces that are influenced by Renaissance motifs and nature. He was the first famous for the technique of texture-engraving where pieces look like silk, damask, tulle, lace, or linen. Use of mixed metals and unusual gemstones is also typical.
Buccellati quickly gained international recognition and developed an aristocratic clientele that included film stars and royalty. In 1949 Pope Pius XII commissioned Buccellati to create an icon for Princess Margaret to commemorate the first visit of a British Royal to Vatican City in hundreds of years. In 1951, he became the first Italian jewelry designer to open shop on Fifth Avenue. After Buccellati’s death 1965, the business split when Buccellati’s son Gianmaria started a new brand called Gianmaria Buccellati. In 2011 the firms merged to form Buccellati Holding Italia.