Faces of Alice Made This. A conversation with James

Here at Alice Made This we are proud to work with some of the most interesting British industrial processes and factories. Without the skill, graft and dedication of the people behind them, we would not have the quality and attention to detail that we have to pass on to you through our collections. These people are part of our story, part of our products’ story and therefore part of your story – as our customer. They are the Faces of AMT and this series is to celebrate them, their stories and the incredible work they do.

Photos: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_manportrait_faces_journal_James-Neville

Meet James Neville, the first in our Faces of AMT series and one of the founders of Sam James Ltd. - our ever precise and highly skilled team of engravers based in The Goldsmiths’ Centre in London. Fundamental in our collaboration with McLaren, James is a true artisan and our go to engraver for any personalisation projects. Today we talk to him about his role at Sam James Ltd. and how he began his trade.


“I’m the boss. Client liaison. Accounts. Paperwork. General business manager. Apprentice teacher. Problem solver,” James tells me, “but my main job is still on the bench.”

“Everyone here has specific disciplines. We’re all good at most things, but there will be one thing that each of us particularly slips into or enjoys. Sam’s is intricate pictures as she has a very fine artistic style. Mine is awkward and fiddly jobs.”

“We’ve been going for five years”, he continues. “I did a BA joint honour in silversmithing and metalwork. My father was an antiques dealer and he introduced me to his engraver. I liked it and enjoyed it and incorporated it into my work. Then, I spent a year freelancing for Duncan [he points to the other side of the studio] and had a bench to work on. I kept in contact with Sam from way back and then we moved in here and started. A couple of years later Duncan came and joined us.”

“Today 99% of our business is through word of mouth. I love working with people and I still enjoy the trade in general. I love the pleasure of completing something and for 10 seconds thinking ‘that’s good’. Every day I work with interesting and like-minded people who appreciate beautiful things. There’s not been one week where I haven’t been surprised or seen something that I’ve never seen before. Different tools, jewellery, stones, designs, people. If you’re interested it’s great.”


“Hand engraving as an industry has become a bit of a science and there are new techniques for doing it, but I just think it’s a bit stale. It’s well executed and intricate, but it’s taken some of the life out of it. I prefer passing on a trade and a passion. We’ve got a concentration of exceptional engravers in this country and in our studio. John is 78 and still engraving whereas Louise is just 20. We have people of all ages and are passing on and sharing our knowledge.”

“Britain has always been held in high regard for engraving”, he concludes, “especially with metal. We have excelled as a nation throughout history as brilliant engravers. We’re just good at what we do”.