Assay office replacement silver plaque competition


Silver Birmingham Assay Office Sign

I’ve written a few posts about the recent problem of silver and bronze sculptures and artworks being stolen from public places. One of the pieces that I discussed this year was the stealing of the Assay Office sign in Birmingham. The sign pictured above is a solid silver sign with 18ct gold lettering. Below the lettering is stamped a large hallmark. This plaque was put up in 1977 to mark the 100th anniversary of the assay office opening in 1877. Birmingham Assay Office is based in the heart of the city’s jewellery quarter and is the largest hallmarking office in the UK.


Stolen Birmingham Assay Office Sign


Having walked past that sign on a number of occasions I never realised it was solid silver! No doubt the sign has been melted and sold for scrap at this stage, it’s such a pity that this little piece of local history should be forgotten like this.

But thankfully rather than lament the loss of their silver sign the Birmingham Assay Office have taken this opportunity to commission a new sign from a local maker. The jewellery quarter is packed with amazingly talented designers and makers and this is a great chance to recognise and reward this talent.

When I heard about this commission I thought there’s no way they are going to have the sign made in silver again but fair play to them they’ve gotten a local supplier The Bullion Room on board as a sponsor. They are going to manufacture the sign using silver and studded diamonds which they have gifted to the assay office, they will also provide extra security.

Since designers are being given free rein with their ideas for the silver plaque I’m really looking forward to seeing the results. It’s great to see an awful story of theft be turned into a good news story celebrating the wealth of designers and makers in the Jewellery Quarter. I wonder has anything like this happen in Ireland?

Here are the guidelines for the name plaque commission

  1. Designers must be operating from an address with a Birmingham postcode.
  2. The plaque must be a maximum of 19cm wide but could be deeper
  3. It must be suitable to be securely fixed to the stonework flanking the doorway
  1. It should be made from materials suitable for exterior signage. Increased Security will also be provided courtesy of the Bullion Room so designers should not be concerned about creating a high value item.
  2. The item must be suitable to be hallmarked sterling silver i.e. with a fineness of at least 925ppt.
  3. The item will also carry a Diamond Jubilee Hallmark. The last date for striking this is 1st October 2012.
  4. This is an official company sign; the words The Assay Office must be clearly legible
  5. The design should be appropriate to the status of the UK’s largest Assay Office whose mission is to champion high quality standards in the jewellery, precious metal, and gemstone industry. Further information about the work of The Assay Office can be found at
  6. The designer is not required to manufacture the final article, as this will be undertaken by The Bullion Room. However, the design must be accompanied by a clear technical specification as to its intended method of manufacture.
  7. Applications should include a full size drawing/impression/image of the finished item
  8. The technical specification should detail method of construction, type, and quantity of materials to be used and suitable points of fixing.

Hand Raised Vessels by Noleen Logue

Noleen Logue

I’ve been meaning to feature the work of Irish silversmith Noleen Logue for a few weeks now. Having graduated from NCAD this year she was just awarded The New Designers Goldsmiths’ Company Award for Silversmithing and ‘Design in Silver’ from the Contemporary British Silversmiths.

Noleen Logue

Her work is centred around the expression ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ and  features a series of hand raised bowls. The bowls which are made of nickel silver and gilding metal are double walled and have sections cut out. I love her use of materials, she really uses the nickel silver and gilding metal to great effect, contrasting the lovely warm tones beautifully.

Noleen Logue

I also love the way she uses her skills to really illustrate the concept of the work. The work deals with the idea of what lies beneath the surface which is captured perfectly by these vessels with sections removed. The little piece which has been cut out provides us with as much information as the bowl itself. The little touches of using techniques like mokume gane to hint at the make up of the bowl, the inner surface.

Noleen Logue

She makes these double walled vessels and then carefully extracts a section. From the missing section we get a sneak peek into the inner wall of the bowl, this section is embellished with not only mokumé gane and but also with hand made sections of spots and strips, incorporating other metals like brass and copper.

Noleen Logue

Noleen Logue


A silversmiths guide to the Olympic medals

Olympic Medals London 2012

Since everyone is talking about the Olympics, I thought I’d put my own silversmiths twist on the day!

Whether you are a fan of the Olympics or not you will know there are three types of medals awarded to the winners gold, silver or bronze. So I wanted to find out, who designs the medals, where are they made, and are they really made of gold, silver and bronze?

Firstly what metal is used to make the medals?

Unfortunately the gold medal is no longer made of solid gold. In fact the last solid gold medal was presented in 1912. Since then all the gold medals are in fact made of silver which is then gold plated to give it its gold colour. The silver medal is also made of silver, so the only difference between the silver and gold medal is a thin plating of gold! The bronze medal is made of bronze which is made up of 97% copper, 2.5% zinc and .5% tin.

Who designed the medal?

The design of the medal is left to the host city but certain standards must be maintain.

  • Gold and silver medals are to be made of 92.5% silver, which is hallmark quality sterling silver.
  • Gold medals must be plated with at least 6 grams of gold.
  • All Olympic medals must be at least 3 mm thick and at least 60 mm in diameter.

For the London Olympics the medal has been designed by British artist David Watkins. The front of all the Olympic medals carry the same imagery. The Greek goddess of victory, Nike stepping out of the Parthenon to arrive in the host city. For this years games the other side of the medal shows the logo of the games which sits on a grid style design with a square and a wave symbol representing the river Thames and a map?? Ya I don’t get it either!

Where are the medals made?

This year the medals have been made at the Royal Mint headquarters in Llantrisant, South Wales. They have produced 2,100 medals for the games. Each medal is engraved around the rim with the sport and discipline of its winner.

Here are some images of the Olympic silverware designed by Nick Munro.

Spoons, Nick Munro

 Olympic Silver Nick Munro