In our digital age, we strive for a simpler life. We yearn for the old ways and value the skills of previous generations and trained craftsman. We appreciate those who use their expertise to create.
Through ‘handcrafted’, we aim to celebrate some of our smaller suppliers. Those who have been following time tested traditions and methods to create some of the individual and unique pieces we stock. In this series of blogs, we’ll focus on a brand per blog to highlight their manufacturing processes. Showing you how the traditional methods used have created the stunning pieces that reach our shelves.
In Part 1, we look at Yard-O-Led, manufacturers of fine writing instruments based in Birmingham, England.
Yard-O-Led is named for the yard of lead which is included in their mechanical pencils. Founded in 1934, they have firmly established themselves in the luxury pens sector with their exquisite sterling silver pens. The brand is built on the success and innovation of Sampson Mordan whom created and patented the first mechanical pencil. Handcrafted using 19th century tools and techniques, all Yard-O-Led writing instruments are truly unique.
"I’ve been here for more than 50 years…The production process hasn’t really changed since my first day here."
- Dennis Freeman, Yard-O-Led Artisan
Every writing instrument from Yard-O-Led starts its life as a sterling silver tube. This is then subjected to a number of processes to create the beautiful writing instruments which reach our shelves.
The silver tube is shaped using one of the few powered tools in the Yard-O-Led factory. Called swaging, this process is necessary to shape the end into a tip for both ballpoint pens and pencils.
"I spend some time swaging the pencil barrels, which means bending them to shape with a swage block and cutting the pieces to size. Other pieces of metal will be annealed – that’s heating them until they’re soft enough for you to work them."
- Steve Clarke, Yard-O-Led Artisan
Once shaped and given a quick polish, the barrel and cap need to be given their finish. Yard-O-Led have several patterns which they adorn their pens with, including the intricate ‘Victorian’ pattern which is hand hammered into the barrel.
"It takes about 2,000 blows of the hammer for each one"
- Girishbai Parekh, Yard-O-Led Artisan
As this pattern is applied completely by hand, each Yard-o-Led Artisan has their own unique take on the pattern. They can even identify their own and their colleagues work just by sight.
The Barley and lined finishes are created using a hand operated machine dating from the 1930’s which can etch two pens at once. However, it requires a highly skilled craftsman to use this machine and ensure the pattern is uniform.
The barrel and cap are then sent for hallmarking at the Birmingham Assay Office. This marks the writing instruments as sterling silver and made in the UK.
The signature Yard-O-Led clip is formed using no less than seven bending and shaping processes. It is attached to the body of the pen using a staple shaped rivet which is passed from the inside of the pen and hammered and soldered to form a secure attachment.
Now fully assembled, the pen is given a final inspection and polish.
The Yard-o-Led artisans understand the hard work that goes into all their pens and value the customers whom appreciate their skills.
"It’s very satisfying to see the final pen come together and to realise that you’ve been part of that process. I also like the fact that some of the machines and benches that we work on here are 150 years old and have been used by generations of people like me."
- Steve Clarke, Yard-O-Led Artisan
"I like the idea of each one of our pens or pencils going to someone who will appreciate the work that’s gone into making it and will look after it. People pop in every now and then to have a repair done – or just to look around and see where their pen or pencil was made."
- Bernard Sperring, Yard-O-Led Artisan