Fountain of knowledge: Yard-O-Led’s silver pen and pencil designs flow with a rich history

Perennially modern, Yard-O-Led’s pen and pencil designs pay proud homage to Birmingham’s silversmithing design heritage

 Yard-O-Led’s pen and pencil designs
Left, Diplomat Hexagonal pencil and right, the Diplomat Barley ballpen
(Image credit: Yard-O-Led)

Now based in the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter, Yard-O-Led is steeped in a picaresque history of jewellery craftsmanship that includes early makers of silver buttons, medals, cutlery and trinkets. And, though the name has also been traded along the way, Yard-O-Led has been creating intricate silver writing instruments in Birmingham for over 200 years.

The engine turning machine, operated manually, finely works designs into the silver pieces

The engine turning machine, operated manually, finely works designs into the silver pieces

(Image credit: Yard-O-Led)

Today, the workshop comprises a small team of five silversmiths, who craft each part of every pen or pencil design between them, with three people working on one pencil from the start of the process to the finished product. ‘We have used the same traditional skills for the past 90 years,’ says workshop manager Alex Roden. ‘This means we can still repair pencils that are nearly 80 years old, as we still have the parts and the skills to return them back to full working order.’ The brand’s signature subtle engraving points directly to each craftsman’s artistic touch, so that the work is easily identified upon return for refurbishment.

We have used the same traditional skills for the past 90 years. We can still repair pencils that are nearly 80 years old.

Alex Roden

These intricate etchings – a Yard-O-Led design signifier – are made using antique chasing-punchers, which emboss the patterns into the silver. It is a laborious process, and not easily learned, as apprentices who have trained how to chase on a round barrel tool, practising on scrap silver for a year, have learned.

‘They practise until the master craftsman is happy with the pattern formation, depth of marks and development of the individuals’ decorative style,’ explains Roden. ‘We encourage each chaser to develop their own version of original Victorian patterns, whether it be an elaborate design or a change to the way the pattern echoes through the form.’ When approved, the craftsman carefully layers the pattern on to the pen barrel using different shapes while, with the lightest touch, the maker manipulates the chasing hammer to make his or her marks. 

Yard-O-Led’s factory in Birmingham

All parts of the making process take place in Yard-O-Led’s factory in Birmingham, from creating etchings, left, to polishing

(Image credit: Yard-O-Led)

INFORMATION

yard-o-led.com

Hannah Silver joined Wallpaper* in 2019 to work on watches and jewellery. Now, as well as her role as watches and jewellery editor, she writes widely across all areas including on art, architecture, fashion and design. As well as offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, Hannah is interested in the quirks of what makes for a digital success story.