Silver Cutlery Then and Now

The relationship between the silversmith and the cutler (or cutlery seller) is a very long one. To put that into perspective, let’s take a step back in time, and consider how this most ancient of things is undergoing a remarkable high-tech renaissance in the Grant Macdonald London workshops today.

Silversmithing is an ancient craft. The use of silver can be traced back into antiquity as far as the Babylonians and Egyptians in 4th millennium BCE, although the sort of tooled smithing we’d recognise today –  as opposed to simpler smelting and casting – didn’t really appear until around 600 BCE, in and around the Middle East and the Roman Empire. Which is where silver’s long relationship with tableware really began.

Cutlery traces its name back to the Latin word for knife, culter.  Interestingly, before the first references to tableware forks and knives 1st Century Rome, there’s very little evidence that anybody kept specialised knives and forks for eating, as opposed to a variety of utilitarian blades and pronged items which served multiple purposes. Spoons were most common throughout the ancient world, long before the Romans, but again, not in the neat tableware sizes we’ve come to expect today.

Where this silverware story really gets interesting is when people realised silver’s antibacterial and unreactive properties made it perfect for cutlery. Unlike other popular metals like copper, bronze and iron, silver doesn’t corrode and impart unpleasant tastes to food.  Silver has cult status in the kitchen and the dining room. Gold was also popular – because it’s even more unreactive than silver – however it was much more expensive and reserved for the rich and regal. So there’s a very practical reason why silver and gold became regularly used for cutlery.

The story doesn’t end there. Gold and silver were also highly decorative and used for ceremonial items, jewellery, and coins. This meant there was a natural tendency to make precious metal cutlery into decorative items, and so the notion of tableware was born. Not merely functional, but decorative. Not merely practical, but valuable. Beautiful objects that must be ergonomic, well balanced and robust enough for daily use.

Today, our range of exclusive gold and silver cutlery is designed in house and produced by master craftsmen using the same hand finishing skills as the great silversmiths of history. It’s only through hand finishing and expert polishing with an experienced eye for detail, that the mirror finishes and perfect balance of our cutlery can be achieved. However, our design concepts are perfected using the latest 3D-printing technology and engineering software, which we use to create beautiful, mathematically precise, openworked handles and decorations that simply couldn’t have been made by hand in decades past.

We use advanced design techniques to create the moulds from which we cast sterling silver, in the time honoured ways of the master craftsmen of antiquity. Then we finish by hand at a workbench where a Roman silversmith from the age of Diocletian (300 AD) would recognise the tools we were using, and the skills on display. It’s the perfect marriage of past, present and future, on a table.

We’re very proud to be writing a new chapter in the ancient saga of the humble knife and fork, and whether it is a banquet on your yacht,  or an intimate dinner party at home the tools in your hands should feel natural, work perfectly, and look beautiful now. Which we think ours do, and if the history of cutlery is anything to go by, they’ll look just as good in a couple of thousand years, too.