Design

The word ’design’ has in one sense been hijacked by devotees of the twentieth century. Design, style and taste should not be confused. Good design is one of the components to look for when judging the quality of a piece. The word is used loosely to mean the best of any period: form and ornament that have lasting influence, that is innovative, technically demanding and visually exciting.

Silversmiths create their own designs, or employ draughtsmen, or work to the designs of sculptors, painters and architects. In the past many painters trained as goldsmiths or were the sons of goldsmiths. Printed sheets and books of ornament, and designs for metalwork, have circulated since at least the sixteenth century. Today craftsmen often use a computer, rather than a pencil, to formulate their ideas.

The work of leading designers is plagiarised and the word ’design’ is now often used to mean ’style’. For example, A. W. N. Pugin designed silver in gothic-revival style and during his lifetime numerous draughtsmen produced drawings for manufactured domestic wares that were derivative of his work but poorly executed and with little aesthetic merit - not objects that would feature in any book on ’design’ although Pugin’s originals would. Architects such as Robert Adam and James Stuart designed silver and furniture in order to make the contents of an interior accord with its overall design, and their work was imitated by their contemporaries.

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Photo: Christie’s.
Bowl, designed by Harald Nielsen, Georg Jensen, Copenhagen