Zoë Stevens: A day at the silversmith’s bench at Grant Macdonald London

Meet silversmith Zoë Stevens – as she takes us on a tour of the workshop and a day at the workbench – as she crafts a beautiful herd of Arabian Oryx for a customer in the Middle East.

Like a few other members of the Grant Macdonald London team, Zoë graduated in 2007 from UCA Rochester (formerly the famous design college KIAD) in Kent with a jewellery, silver and goldsmithing degree. She soon found a job at Elliot-Fitzpatrick, who like us are Royal Warrant holders, three years ago she joined the Grant Macdonald London team.

”When the opportunity came up to take a silversmith position here, learning from Masters in one of the largest workshops of its kind in Europe, and work with some of the leading silversmiths in the world, I took it.

Today, Zoë takes pieces end-to-end from the cast components (meet Andy our Master Caster here – link) through to finished masterpieces, and delighted customers. Right now, she is working on producing highly detailed and decorative silver Oryx sculptures.

The Oryx begins life as a body cast in halves, with separate legs and horns, all produced from an original hand sculpted version, a mould and a wax master. Then the complex process of assembling and finishing begins…

“You can’t press a button and mass produce this kind of high quality item, each piece needs finishing and adjusting by hand to ensure it is perfect, regardless of any minute variations in size or shape which happen naturally when the molten metal is in the mould.”

Once assembled, the pieces are soldered together.

“It’s not soldering with an iron like in an electronics shop, we call it soldering but it’s done at high temperatures in a forge, using an alloy of silver and zinc which actually melts the metal together. It’s actually closer to welding than soldering.”

The new one-piece Oryx is then hand textured at Zoë’s workbench, where she ensures the fine finish flawlessly covers any marks or joins from the assembly process. This re-texturing ensures the Oryx has perfect detailing, and then, Zoë gives it an acid bath.

“The acid cleans-up the surface, removes any unwanted oxidation from the welding and chasing, and gets the Oryx ready for coloured oxidation treatment. We seal the holes (it’s hollow remember) At this point, it’s essential to make sure it’s acid free and ready for the final stages.”

After plugging the holes and hand texturing to cover the seals (this kind of model needs air holes to let air out when it’s heated, otherwise they could explode when the heat of the solder process sealed the model) Zoë ensures the model can stand, as intended, and has no flaws on the fine detail. The finished item is then sent for electroplating in silver, to fill any microscopic imperfections in the surface, and ensure the textures are perfect.  Then, it is treated with an oxidising agent to give each model a unique variation on the signature colours of the Oryx.

“The Master Craftsmen here are some of the best in the world. They have taught me things you simply can’t learn anywhere else.

The finished Oryx is a beautiful, fine example of great silversmithing traditions. In her work, Zoë uses the same core skills that have remained unchanged for centuries, and defined London as the finest in the world for producing precious metal artworks.

“For a silversmith like me, on my way to being a Freeman of the Goldsmiths Company, Grant Macdonald London is one of the few workshops left in London where you can learn how to produce beautiful pieces of work that are amazing quality.