George Made This
Hatton Garden isn't the same anymore. Jewellery workshops are fewer and further between, replaced by trendy new flats and trendier new offices. Times, they have changed, but nestled in between the newest coffee craze and the latest way to make yoga more difficult lies a little pillar of tradition. A piece of British manufacturing history.
Just Castings are the inspiration behind and the makers of the Alice Made This Investment Casting collection and, having celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, have a wealth of experience and a rich bank of stories to share (from Buckingham Palace to an erotica chess set). I met up with chief caster George to hear more about the business and the measures they are taking to survive in the midst of modernity.
So, how did this all start? How long have you been at Just Castings?
Well, last year was our 50th anniversary. My father started the business with my uncle and I personally came into it full-time in 1983. So since ’83 I have been right here!
Has Hatton Garden changed since you have been here?
It has been transformed. Before it was mainly jewellery workshops and businesses associated with jewellery. Now it has been transformed into offices. Two thirds of the area is offices and residential buildings so it has been completely turned on its head. The jewellery business has been completely turned on its head.
How has that drastic transformation impacted your business and the type of work that you get commissioned to do?
It’s quieter in terms of mass production and casting on a huge scale. We used to have customers come in and order 10 kilos in gold and 50 kilos in silver. Thousands and thousands of pieces! That was before imports started coming from Italy and then China and India. Our business has changed now. We specialise. We try to find a niche in the market and provide different services.
Have you had to modernise your processes in order to fulfill that niche?
Yes. Everything. All the machinery has been changed. All the design aspects have been changed. We are looking at new machinery as we speak. If you don’t upgrade it’s like taking ten steps backwards. You have to keep upgrading. Now people want everything to be perfection and to do that you have to have the best and newest machinery.
For our Alice Made This cufflinks we use Investment Casting. Can you take us through that process as it stands today?
It starts with Alice. She provides the master and the pattern and then we make rubber moulds. We wax them and then we use the loss wax process. We cast them in any metal that Alice requires and then we finish the products accordingly, plating everything accordingly. It is a very interesting project.
What other projects have been interesting to work on? What are the strangest or most memorable commissions that you have had?
For casting we have done so many things! I have just recently done a foot long key for a big door…you know the ones…this key weighs about three quarters of a kilo. I just finished it yesterday.
I mean the best thing we have done is the FA cup and the Europa cup, the ones that millions of people see at the games. They see them and I say ‘yes, I did that”.
And how long does that take to make?
It takes a few months to make because a lot of it is handmade and all the handles and finishing touches are castings. And then you get all the replicas that you have to give to the clubs who have won it.
So many things. I once made a large erotica chess set. All carved out by an artist and everything…that was interesting!
Always something different then! What kind of projects has your Royal Warrant lead you to complete?
A lot of restoration work and replacement pieces for anything they lose in the palace! Door handles, plates…anything in metal, we provide for them.
The biggest job that we had was when St. George’s chapel in Windsor burnt down and we restored everything there. All the metal works. I visited the chapel last year and looked around and said ‘we made this, we made that, we made that’. Just looking at it is just...
We do a lot of stuff for museums as well, the Natural History museum and the Science museum. We do a lot of replicas. We have to go into the museums and make the moulds there and then bring them back and do the work because they don’t allow you to take things away.
You obviously feel very proud about the projects you have completed and the ability to go and see the things you have made. A lot of people nowadays don’t have jobs where they can see something they have crafted. Do you think that more people should invest time in a skilled profession and become an apprentice?
Well, trying to get an apprentice who is willing to put in the right amount of work is very difficult. They think about how much money they are going to get, come in from 9-5 and then leave with a nice package. It doesn’t work like that. Before, apprentices had to really work. The only way to learn is by working and observing the person who really knows the job. We have tried to find a lot of apprentices, but it is difficult.
Does that make you worry that it will be harder to carry the business on?
It does worry me because there are less and less skilled workers to do a good job. The only way is to look outside Britain for people who are willing to work and put the hours in. Unfortunately it is very hard nowadays to find the right person to do the right job.
Would you like to try and keep Just Castings as a family business?
I have daughters and they are all in different fields. One is going to university to study chemistry, the other one wants to do fashion and the eldest one is a buyer for a fashion company. Nobody wants to come into the business. But we will see how it goes. We want to keep going for as long as we can.
And how long do you see yourself carrying on here?
As long as I am able to wake up in the morning and get up and walk, I will be here.
Interview by Amelia Ebdon