Mappin & Webb is one of those grand old British firms that has occasionally seemed to have forgotten its all-important heritage in the rush to compete as a luxury business in the modern world. Recently, however, it has been scoring hits with elegant fine jewellery and by returning to its roots as one of the country’s best silversmiths that, in this context, has been a Royal Warrant holder since 1897, served military and other institutions, and created top sporting trophies. This new focus could well have something to do with creative director Elizabeth Galton, who first came to prominence as a jewellery designer with beautiful creations, such as naturalistic flowers, in silver.
The firm’s venerability is clear in this year’s 240th anniversary celebrations. Jonathan Mappin set up his silversmith’s workshop in Sheffield, Britain’s silverware capital, in 1775; one of his four great grandsons teamed with George Webb to bring it to London in 1860 and founded a forerunner of the modern stores on Oxford Street, which was soon serving the aristocrats and personalities of the day. In reference to this, not only has Galton designed a contemporary silver jewellery range to be launched later this year, but he has also offered a showcase to some of Britain’s best individual silverware craftsmen and women.
Celebrating Silver opens at Mappin & Webb’s Regent Street store on June 29 (until July 25) and is a selling exhibition featuring the work of 14 of the 168 silverware makers who will show at this October’s annual Goldsmiths’ Fair – the first time that the brand has teamed with one of London’s most ancient livery companies, which received its royal charter in 1327. Their current work is adventurously modern, however, with pieces from well-known designers such as Adi Toch (including the double-layered Little Beak oil drizzler, £1,350) and award-winning Kyosun Jung (such as the waterlily vase, £15,200, first picture) sitting alongside the work of debutants. Pieces also range from the grand – Abigail Brown’s hammered silver bowl, £18,000 (second picture) – to the modest, such as Benjamin James Ryan’s Silver Sail letter opener with a diamond-set edge – great value at £380.
Imaginative and poetic designs like Rauni Higson’s torn-looking silver lovespoon (£540, third picture) or Juliette Bigley’s “conversational” wine and water carafes (£7,500 per pair, fourth picture) also have great appeal. This exhibition sets down a real marker for the firm’s quarter- millennium celebrations in 10 years’ time.