When Emmet Smith first bought shares in the respected Hatton Garden gold engravers/jewellers where he had served his apprenticeship in the 1980s, today’s obsession with bespoke and personalised items was a mere dot on the horizon. RH Wilkins engraved items for livery companies and sports clubs, with a sideline in signet rings and cufflinks. But by the time the founder retired and Smith bought the company, this part of the business was increasing fast.
Aware of the potential, Smith founded Rebus in 2006 – the name refers to pun-like puzzles in which words are represented by a combination of symbols and letters – in a modest studio above his Leather Lane workshop. With the signet ring currently in vogue for both men and women, Rebus has now opened a grand new salon and spacious workshop just a few doors away, offering engraved rings (from £1,300 in 18ct yellow gold, including engraving), as well as cufflinks, pendants and lockets. Smith says one of his aims is to keep the craft of hand-engraving flourishing in London, and his workshop houses about five engravers/jewellers and their apprentices.
Two rooms – one purple and panelled, the other deep blue with brushed-brass fittings – allow clients to view the existing range, peruse the Victorian heraldry books from the Rebus collection and consult with the team on design. There is also an engraver on hand to demonstrate the craft. Saturdays are kept for private consultations, with no appointment necessary on weekdays. “We have seen a big rise in demand for personal designs,” says Smith. “The family crest is traditional and still sought after but many people prefer to have their initials, monogram or a symbol that relates to a significant part of their life. Rebus also works with clients to create beautiful bespoke artworks, which can then be engraved.”
The ring shape (of which their several, but the Oxford oval is the most popular) is chosen first, then the metal (silver, yellow, rose or white gold or platinum), and each ring comes with a wax impression and wax taper to make the seals. New ring designs are added periodically – the latest has a ribbed shank with an elegant art deco look. There are also versions with semi-precious stones such as agates or carnelians. Once the style and design are agreed, each ring takes about two months to make in the workshop downstairs.