It was a beaker by the Japanese silversmith Hiroshi Suzuki that first inspired Helen Hood, a former interior designer and researcher at Bath’s Holburne Museum, to start collecting silver drinking vessels. “He takes the metal right to the edge of what is possible,” she says. The highly textured, almost boulder-like beaker was beautiful to look at but also wonderful to hold. “It is a very soothing, contemplative piece – the frosted interior feels slightly magical,” she explains. “And it’s a wonderful size for a G&T!”
Over the next six years, Hood acquired pieces from leading contemporary silversmiths including Malcolm Appleby, Rauni Higson and Yusuke Yamamoto. As her collection grew, the fragility of the industry began to dawn on her. “Some of these techniques go back to the Bronze Age, yet many are now endangered,” she says.
Hood’s answer was to launch Craftmasters, an online gallery and social enterprise platform to showcase and support the work of some of Britain’s most exciting silversmiths: “My aim is to generate funds to support training, bursaries and scholarships that will help preserve these amazing heritage skills.”
One of the most mesmerising pieces is the Solace Beaker by Cornwall-based silversmith Alex O’Connor (£1,400), an orb-shaped silver vessel covered in thousands of tiny punches – an ancient technique known as “chasing”. “I created it during lockdown last year, almost as a piece of therapy,” says O’Connor. “It’s designed to give you comfort as you hold it.” Quite different, but equally beautiful, is a beaker by Rauni Higson inspired by rivulets of water. Elsewhere in the gallery you can find “molten” champagne cups by Elizabeth Auriol Peers (£1,300), Herringbone beakers by Rebecca de Quin (from £1,100) and satin-y Tulip beakers by Jessica Jue (from £2,070).
Despite their preciousness, these cups are all to be used and enjoyed, rather than stuck on a sideboard, says Hood. “At home, my beakers live in the kitchen cupboard and come out every night for water or a G&T,” she says. “I love wine and champagne in them too.” O’Connor agrees with her: “In a way, if people use one of my pieces, they are contributing to it.”
Hood and her husband are whisky fans and they often take a little tumble cup by her silversmith daughter, Annabel Hood (who’s also in the Craftmasters portfolio), on their whisky-tasting trips to Scotland. “It’s the perfect size for a generous dram cut with a little water – and it fits neatly in my husband’s jacket pocket!”
Craftmasters launched in November, and so far does not have a physical gallery – if you’re serious about buying, Hood and the collection will come to you (restrictions permitting). In the long term, though, Hood hopes to take more clients to see silversmiths in situ. “Seeing how makers work, you gain a far greater understanding of all the thoughts that informed the design, and admiration for their technical brilliance. Not only that: they are the most delightful group of people. It’s not the easiest career path, so they are all completely passionate about what they do... and it definitely rubs off!”