, British, 1863 - 1944
Material and Medium: Sterling silver
Dimensions: Overall: 80 x 135mm (3 1/8 x 5 5/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2007.168
This object is a handcrafted Sterling silver belt buckle. The buckle has been made in two separate pieces that would have originally been attached to the ends of a belt. The two sections of the buckle can be fastened together using the clasp. This type of two-piece belt buckle is often called a nurse's buckle as they were included as part of their uniform. Similar buckles are used by nurses today.
Both parts of the buckle are decorated with a bird in flight against a background of fretwork and scrolls. The decoration has been achieved using a handcraft technique called saw piercing. This is a labour intensive, highly skilled traditional method of working.
A similar effect can be achieved using a mass production technique called punch piercing. This relies on the use of punches and a fly press. The technique is cheaper and less labour intensive than hand piercing, but the effect is usually simpler and more standardised.
Revealing the object's Hidden History…
As part of the DCF funded Living Metal project, we visited Ken Hawley and Joan Unwin at the Hawley Collection Trust to find out more about how the buckle was made. The Hawley Collection is an internationally important collection of edge-tools and cutlery, primarily made in Sheffield.
Hidden History: how was it made?
"This is known as pierced work…fretwork in metal" (Ken Hawley).
The outline of the buckle is first marked out as two parts on sheet silver. The two edges are soldered to lock the two halves together. The buckle then goes to the saw piercer.
Joan informed us that template designs (called scales) for saw piercing were made from brass sheet. Inked paper rubbings are made from the original and transferred to the object to be worked on so that the pattern can be repeated easily.
Ken described how a 'tache' (a forward extension to the front of the bench, as can be seen in the above image) is bolted into place and used to support the work as it is pierced. A drilled or punched hole is made into each section of silver in the design that needs to be sawn out. The fine saw blade is threaded through the hole and fixed into the piercing frame.
The saw is usually held in position and the object is moved around until the piece of silver is sawn out. The blade is then unscrewed and moved into the next hole until the design is complete.
Engraving or chasing then completed the decorative effect. When all the silversmithing has been completed the buckle would be sent to the Assay Office for hallmarking. A worker named a buffer then polished the now completed buckle before it went to the warehouse where it would be wiped then wrapped in acid free tissue paper, ready to be sent to the customer.
This object is part of the George Ellis Collection.