How are Worcestershire based Chamberlain & Co pieces made? We sat down with Operations Manager David Leader for an exclusive insight into the British brand’s fascinating production process.
Remaining quintessentially British is a fundamental aspect to the brand. This includes the sourcing of materials utilised in the production of their fine bone china all being sourced from various corners of the UK. The china clay is sourced from Cornwall, whilst a number of the other materials come from Stoke-on-Trent, a city synonymous throughout British history for its contributions to the industry being affectionately referred to as ‘The Potteries’. The gold richly adorned to Chamberlain & Co creations is sourced from Newent, in the nearby Forest of Dean.
Chamberlain & Co creations begin their illustrious adventure into the world of art as a master model, created from clay and plaster of Paris. When in the kiln, clay shrinks by up to 15%, meaning that the original model created is significantly larger than the final piece. The manufacturing process by which the model will be transformed into the finished item must be taken into consideration as well as the limitations and technical properties of the fine bone china body.
Working moulds are created from the original model, which requires the original model to be cut into pieces. Created from plaster of Paris, the moulds are then filled with slip or liquid clay. The excess is then poured away, leaving a skin of clay inside the mould. These clay pieces are then delicately removed from the mould; this process can often involve, in the case of our ornamental sculptures, in excess of 40 individual pieces including fragile slivers. They are dried, assembled, propped and fired for the first time, creating ‘biscuit’ pieces.
Following this, the biscuit pieces are de-seamed, sandblasted in preparation for glazing and fired again, metamorphosing into ‘glost’ pieces. From here, the number of times the pieces are fired depends on the decoration and the types of colours used. Some colours may require up to four firings, and then another for the addition of precious metals such as gold, silver or platinum. The piece is then burnished and polished.
The process described above appears quite straight forward. However, creating fine bone china vases in the proportions typical of a Chamberlain pieces is not that straight forward. When one considers the huge temperatures of a kiln and that it may enter the kiln up to 10 times before completion, combined with the natural fragile qualities of fine bone china means each piece is a challenge. The high temperatures of a kiln simply emphasise and exacerbate flaws such as cracks, body specks, formations of pin holes in the glaze and the glaze being too thick or too thin. Most of these flaws can be overcome, but some mean we simply have to start again.
So what makes a great porcelain piece?
The piece has to look impressive and make a statement– David believes beautiful porcelain lies in style and elegance blending effortlessly with functionality and fitness for purpose. In the case of Chamberlain & Co, the British brand has a vast heritage of artistry to live up to, with a timeless beauty. The piece’s hand created decoration must embody the right balance of boldness and restraint. Finally, and arguably most importantly, it must be well made – a perfectly smooth glazed surface, with immaculate skill and concentration from the hand painters and gilders. The piéce de résistance comes in the form of the burnishing the 23 Karat gold, which gives Chamberlain porcelain its stunning elegance and presence.
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