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Badge of Honour: Local expert’s work is fit for a Queen

Lifestyle / Thu 4th Jul 2024 at 01:24pm

By Helen Miller

A LOCAL watch case maker is among a small team of brilliant artists and makers behind the creation of a new royal decoration, worn for the first time by Queen Camilla at the Japanese State banquet last week (Tuesday 25th June). 

The piece, known as the Royal Family Order of King Charles III, consists of a diamond-encased miniature portrait of the King suspended on a pale blue silk bow, with the monarch’s CR cypher and intricate geometric patterns engraved in gold on the reverse. 

It was worn by Queen Camilla when she and King Charles hosted Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako of Japan at the glittering event in Buckingham Palace three days after the imperial couple flew into Stansted Airport for a week-long visit to the UK. 

The back of the gold mount was decorated by Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust craft scholar, Seth Kennedy, in his workshop at Grandey’s Place Heritage & Craft Centre near Green Tye, Much Hadham. 

Seth, who’s an expert in antique pocket watches, is also a specialist in the all-but-forgotten craft of engine turning, in which ornamental patterns are scored onto metal using an extraordinary piece of hand-operated machinery called a rose engine lathe. 

“I was very surprised to receive a phone call from the Crown Jeweller enquiring if I could do some engine turning for him,” says Seth. “He had to be vague with the details to begin with but it definitely sounded like a project I couldn’t turn down!”

Typically, Seth uses the rose engine lathe to create patterns for replacement pocket watch cases made of silver. This time he was given a plain dome of solid 18ct gold to transform. Despite there being no margin for error in this highly prestigious project, Seth remained unfazed. 

“The pattern needed to be similar to historical examples so this took some planning,” says Seth. “You really can’t make a mistake in this work so it needs careful setting up and testing on brass before you’re ready to cut the real object.  Then, it becomes a matter of focussed concentration.”

Royal Family Order badges are worn at formal evening occasions by female members of the royal family and are personally bestowed by the sovereign. It’s a tradition that dates back two hundred years to King George IV and is a sign of the importance of the wearer within the royal household. 

Seth says it’s an honour to have worked on such a beautiful object and he’s not in the least bit bothered that his contribution is on the reverse of the piece. 

“A lot of what I do is unseen to some extent, whether I’m working on the internal mechanism of a pocket watch or, like recently, on parts of The Bowes Museum’s 18th century silver swan automaton,” says Seth. “I’m sure the King and Queen will both have had a really good look at the whole thing… not just the fantastic portrait by Elizabeth Meek but mine and the rest of the team’s contributions as well.” 

For more about Seth, visit www.sethkennedy.co.uk 

Regular tours of Grandey’s Place are also available. See www.grandeysplace.co.uk for more details.

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