The millions who watched the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III in Westminster Abbey on 6 May 2023 will have seen two contemporary silver commissions by the Goldsmiths’ Company in action. In addition to Michael Lloyd’s superb Cross of Wales, which led the procession into the Abbey, the Company also commissioned, in collaboration with a Royal Warrant holder, a pair of silver-gilt buckles for presentation to His Majesty for wear on his Coronation Slippers. These were particularly noticeable during the most solemn part of the ceremony, when the King was stripped of his royal regalia for his anointing as part of the ancient ritual of kingship.
The Coronation buckles were made by master-craftsman silversmith Clive Burr, a Liveryman of the Goldsmiths’ Company. They were closely modelled on the pair worn by King Charles III’s grandfather, George VI, at his Coronation in the Abbey on 12 May 1937 as shown in his Coronation Portrait by Sir Gerald Kelly (fig.1). Today, George VI’s buckles (fig.2), decorated on their borders with a neo-Georgian design of three of the national flowers of the United Kingdom, along with his Coronation portrait, are held in the Royal Collection.
Burr’s buckles (fig.3) reinterpret this design in a contemporary idiom which complements the style used by the illuminator, Andrew Jamieson, on the printed Coronation Invitation card. Whilst the George VI buckles provided the artistic inspiration, Burr had to adapt the model in terms of size and fixings to enable it to be used for the new King’s Coronation Slippers. This micro-engineering was done in close consultation with the Royal Warrant holding bootmaker who was to fit the buckles.
Several specialists collaborated on this unique and fascinating project, working in collaboration to Burr’s design and combining traditional hand techniques with digital technology. He provided the master drawings, which David Valle translated into 3D printed wax models using CAD. Each wax model was then cast in silver using the lost-wax method by West 1 Castings Ltd. in Hatton Garden. They were then worked on by specialist engraver Samantha Marsden at Sam James Ltd., in operation at the Goldsmiths’ Centre since it opened its doors in 2012. She and her fellow founding director, James Neville, have combined expertise of over 50 years and were also involved in engraving the ferrule on the Cross of Wales. Finally, the buckles were gilded by Royal Warrant Holder Reg Elliot of Elliot-Fitzpatrick, also based at the Goldsmiths’ Centre.
In placing the commission, the Goldsmiths’ Company retained a duplicate pair for its Collection at Goldsmiths’ Hall. This followed the precedent set by the splendid Platinum Jubilee Brooch which was commissioned from David Marshall London for presentation to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She wore the brooch to light the Jubilee Beacons, as watched by millions around the world; the duplicate has been seen by thousands of visitors during its display in Goldsmiths’ Hall in 2022-23.
In compliance with the Hallmarking Act, both sets of buckles bear a full sets of hallmarks on their reverses (fig.4) including, from top to bottom: the sponsor’s mark of Clive Burr; the lion passant for sterling silver; the 925 mark proving that the silver used is at least 92.5 % pure; the leopard’s head for the Assay Office of the Goldsmiths’ Company which has been operating on the same site in Goldsmiths’ Hall since 1478; the letter “y” as the date letter for 2023; and the Coronation Mark devised by the Assay Office of the Goldsmiths’ Company to mark this celebratory year. The Goldsmiths’ Company’s duplicate pair of buckles are also marked `No.2’ on their reverses, to distinguish them from the King’s buckles.
The Coronation commissions celebrate both the skill and artistry of master craftspeople, and the value of a flourishing trade where artisans work together to achieve spectacular results. They demonstrate the Company’s commitment to supporting the trade and craft and provide encouragement and inspiration to the next generation of silversmiths and fine jewellers.
In the words of Joanna Hardy, “The King is a great supporter of keeping skills and the craft alive, and wearing these buckles, at one of the biggest events in the world, is a great nod in recognition of the skills required of silversmiths and goldsmiths.”
Dr Dora Thornton, Goldsmiths’ Company Curator