Jul 072012

There is a saying that I picked up as a young trainee;  ”Sometimes, your best efforts can be your worst failures”.  This little story definitely falls into this genre.

Dimmers of Southsea, the jeweller I worked for on the South coast of England, had close connections with the Admiralty, indeed we were the Official Supplier of Chronometers to the Admiralty at one time.  Anyway, I digress. What follows will make your hair stand on end!

One day, a representative from Vosper Thornycroft, a local ship builder, approached us to commission some pendants to be made for the wives of some foreign dignitaries. These pendants were to be given at the hand-over ceremony laid on for the new owners of a newly built ship.

The pendants were to be styled after the uniquely shaped anchor employed on this class of ship.  It was unusual in design, resembling a forked shovel pivoting on the end of a bar,  probably fantastic for keeping several thousand tons of metal from going AWOL but not what you would call stylish from a jewellery design perspective.  However, the customer is always right, so we agreed to make the items.

The chap from Vospers thoughtfully brought along a plastic model of the said anchor, taken from a scaled model of the ship that was also to be presented to the new owner’s delegation.

The plan was that we would send the model anchor to London for a mould to be made and then subsequently make castings in 18ct gold from the mould.  Simple and trouble-free …. or so we thought.  The model was duly dispatched to our workshops in Hatton Garden, London.

About a week later we telephoned to enquire on progress. “What anchor?” was the reply.  The package had mysteriously gone astray in the post! You can imagine the embarrassment that ensued when we had to contact Vospers to say “You know that unique anchor model you gave us? Well….. we’ve lost it“.  Luckily for us, there was another.  Either the model ship had two anchors or there were two model ships, I cannot remember now, either way, we were back in business. 🙂  Mr. “Vosper” was, understandably, at pains to point out that this was last one of its type, as he handed over this precious piece of plastic.

Understanding the gravity of our our now perilous position, we decided to personally deliver the anchor to the workshops, thus avoiding this model suffering the fate of the original.  I was packed off on the train bound for Waterloo Station safe in the knowledge that the job was now as good as done.

A few days later the workshops phoned to tell us that there had been an “accident” and the model anchor was the unfortunate casualty. Panic reigned!

Amazingly, Mr “Vosper” was remarkably cool and understanding.  He thought that the anchor was almost identical to one used on HMS Manchester and as luck would have it, there was a model in the ship’s land-bound Mess mounted on the wall.  He said he would arrange for the model to be personally delivered to us. Great!

The model anchor was duly delivered – there was no way this one was going to leave the shop.  We were blessed with a small in-house workshop where we handled everyday sizing of rings and urgent jobs.  I often worked in the workshop so decided to do the job myself using an ancient method called cuttlefish casting.  This involved binding together the two halves of a cuttlefish bone, the insides of which had the impression of the two sides of the model, then pouring in molten gold.

I prepared the cuttlefish bone and set aside the plastic model anchor on the bench. Fired up the large propane blow-torch and directed it at the crucible containing the gold to be melted.  The torch was roaring away nicely and the gold grains started to melt.  Hey, I was on the home straight!

Les, our Porter, looked around the corner of the door to the workshop to ask how things were going.  Being a polite sort of chap, I turned my head to him to reply. Unfortunately, as I did, my body turned too ….. so did my arm ….. so did my hand that was holding the torch……

Yes, you guessed it, the roaring blue flame of the torch blasted onto the model anchor reducing it within a split-second to a bubbling blob of grey plastic!  My blood ran cold. “Is this bloomin’ thing cursed or what?“, I shouted (well, that was the rough gist of it, in fact the air was as blue as that destructive torch flame).

Now what?

Like a General faced with an almost certain blood-bath,  I thought the first thing to do was to analyse our current situation …. it didn’t help.

  • We had successfully rendered two presentation model ships un-presentable
  • Ruined the display model in the Mess at HMS Manchester
  • Totally alienated one of our best Corporate clients
  • The presentation ceremony was now rapidly approaching
  • We were in a worse situation than at the outset as we no longer had a design to work to
  • We needed several 18ct gold uniquely designed pendants and three grey plastic anchors, a design for which, now doesn’t exist!

Other than all that, we were doing pretty well.

We could not risk proceeding with the gold casting because the heat of the molten gold would distress the interior surface of the cuttlefish bone, and this remnant of a deceased aquatic creature was the last remaining trace we had that this anchor had ever existed in the first place!

We worked late into the night, using the chalk coated impressions of the anchor in the cuttlefish mould, to make a new model from epoxy resin.  Finally, after the Araldite had set, we had a new model from which we could start the whole process again.

You will be pleased to know that the pendants were made and presented on time and further Araldite anchors were made and painted grey to be replaced on the model ships. I often wondered what happened to the ship that was launched. If it was as jinxed as its model anchor, it is probably lying at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.


Disclaimer – The AIJV blog is authored by a selection of AIJV members and guests specifically to be able present many different viewpoints on a large variety of subjects. The opinons expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of the AIJV.

Credits – HMS Manchester image – www.bbc.co.uk   All other images – Loyalty-paid stock images
Note – This article was previously published on Adrian Smith’s own blog in July 2010. It has now been moved  and is redirected to this location.
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Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith is the principal of Adrian S Smith FGA, an independent jewellery valuation practice in Perth, Scotland. He is also the Founder and Administrator of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers

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