“Rather than just buying from a gallery, you’re engaging with an artist who will embellish and adapt the piece to celebrate your life and personality,” says David Harber of his signature-design sundials or sphères armillaires. Harber’s bespoke creations, which include water features and garden sculpture, grace homes from London to Moscow. Two of his pieces have been unveiled by the Queen, one by Prince Charles, and clients range from heads of state and their families in Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai, to Judi Dench and English Heritage – who commissioned a sphère for the late Queen Mother’s 100th birthday.
Twenty years ago, Harber was running a floating theatre from a coaster. He was down to his last £50 and the single parent of a two-year-old daughter, when an antiques dealer opened the back of his truck and showed him a sphère armillaire. “I can do that,” thought Harber, though his ironmongery skills had hitherto been limited to hacking into the coaster hulls. He spent that afternoon in Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science, and by the end of the day, had bought the steel for his first creation, which he hammered out on his cottage steps. He took his sphère to the Henley Festival, where Jeremy Irons bought it. He has never looked back. Starting prices for a 50cm-diameter design ring in at £4,800 in brass, rising to £7,000 in stainless steel, and £9,000 in bronze. The optimum aesthetic size is thought to be around 70cm in diameter, but Harber has created pieces as large as 2m. Commission times are around 16 weeks.
“The sphère armillaire represents the marriage of art and science and dates back to the Greek astronomer Ptolemy,” he says. “It derives inspiration and meaning from the heavens, bestowing oracle status.” Commissioning one of these bespoke heirlooms marks a moment in time and a place in history, as it will undoubtedly bring pleasure to future generations.