A range of hand-finished fine bone china commemorating the upcoming coronation of the King and Queen Consort has gone on sale.
The official chinaware, employing centuries-old manufacturing processes and made in the heart of The Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, is set to mark the May 6 ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London.
The range, from the Royal Collection Trust charity, features a bespoke design incorporating the royal coat of arms and a garland of laurel leaves symbolising peace.
Also featured is a decorative border of oak leaves signifying strength and longevity alongside the emblems of the four nations of the UK – the thistle, rose, shamrock and daffodil – while an entwined ribbon symbolises the partnership of King and Queen Consort.
Ian Grant, the trust’s head of product development and buying, said the process of designing and manufacturing thousands of pieces brought enormous pride to the staff working to produce the range.
The trust, part of the royal household, has been making commemorative china for 30 years.
But Mr Grant said: “This is probably the most momentous occasion we’ve developed a product for.”
Mr Grant, who started in the industry as an apprentice at Wedgwood in 1984, said designers and artisans needed to create a line of desirable products “very quickly” after the coronation date was announced.
The exact manufacturing location is kept under wraps, but workers there, some of whom started in the pottery-making industry as teenagers and are now in their 60s, spoke of their delight at being involved in marking such a historic event.
The drying clay pieces must then be removed at precisely the right moment, in a process requiring careful timing, from the plaster of Paris moulds.
More slip is used like a glue to attach individually moulded handles, if needed, by hand.
Before firing in a kiln, the dried clay goes through wet-sponging and fettling – where the seams from the casts are carefully removed by hand in a process which has gone unchanged for decades.
Mr Grant said each stage requires “years of training”, building to an “amazing process” which gives value to the Made in England stamp each item has applied on its base.
Once fettled, the china is fired in a biscuit kiln at 1,238C for 11 hours, baking the pottery to such an extent that, when emptied at 4am, it will have shrunk by 15% – a percentage of shrinkage indicating a fine quality bone china.
The items are then decorated with a hand-applied silkscreen litho print.
In their still unfinished state, the colours on the decorated items – featuring paint containing liquid gold – are mismatched.
But once fired for a third and final time at 810C, the heat and chemical processes turn the browns into golds and the green becomes a deep and vivid royal blue.
Even the boxes into which the pieces are packed are hand-made by another Stoke-on-Trent firm, where an experienced team can make 200 packages an hour.
Mr Grant said: “Our guests and visitors to the sites at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse always look for something a little bit special when they visit us.
The 55-year-old said the trust has been a keen supporter of china-making in The Potteries since Buckingham Palace opened to the public in 1993, having always bought its commemorative pottery from Staffordshire.
“We’re proud of our association with the area,” he said.
“So many hands, so much skill is involved in creating this wonderful product.
“Every single piece that we sell has gone through 50 separate pairs of highly-skilled hands, who’ve spent years in the industry – and every bit of skill, passion, love and care, goes into each piece.
“The industry is such a proud one; it has gone through some ups and downs over the years but seems to be in a very strong place now.
“Working with the great suppliers we work with, they do take an enormous pride in what they do – working on something like this, a product for such a momentous occasion.
“There’s a huge amount of pride.
The range comprises a coffee mug priced at £30, pillbox at £40, tankard at £50, an eight-inch dessert plate also at £50, and a tea cup and saucer at £75.
There are also several limited edition lines which will be hand-numbered, produced in smaller runs ranging from 150 up to 1,000 and be “a little bit more special”, Mr Grant said.
Profits go to the trust for the care and conservation of the Royal Collection.