Dimitra Nikolakopoulou
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Foundation Programme alumna Oscar Saurin on becoming a trained silversmith

Oscar Saurin was a Foundation Programme student from 2013 to 2014. He is now working as an apprentice at Fox Silver Ltd learning the art of silversmithing. Oscar's favourite subject as a student was silversmithing, but initially he thought that it would not be possible to pursue a career as a silversmith. “You can’t really do in reality; it’s never going to happen” he says. Oscar is now in the second year of his apprenticeship working as a silversmith in a professional workshop. He describes how the professional training team as well as the tutors guided him and helped him to secure an apprenticeship in the specialty that he preferred. “They are key in that you end up in a happy workshop where you want to be“ he says.

The first question is when did you decide that you want to become a silversmith and why?

I first decided that I wanted to become a silversmith in the last month of the Foundation Programme. The tipping point for me was when a silversmith called Brett Payne came in and did a day’s hot forging with us.

At that point I was teetering on whether I should or shouldn’t do silversmithing or jewellery. Silversmithing was always more of like “You can’t really do in reality; it’s never going to happen”. But then because of the teaching of Ray Walton, Clive Burr, Brett Payne they all influenced me into thinking that silversmithing was actually a reality and I could do it and at that point I decided to go for silversmithing instead.

Is there a piece that you either designed or created as a student that you are particularly proud of?

I think we’ve made a couple of really interesting pieces in silversmithing specifically. There was a box, a round silver box that we then enameled. That was great because that was the second silversmithing project that we did. It was teaching you the fundamental things about silversmithing; about how metal moves and all those kind of things. The design side of it was like a scrolled tulip on the top that we then enamelled and I really really liked that piece. I thought it was fantastic.

Then there was a raising that we did and that was also very interesting. Then the last bit that we designed and made was a salt shaker which was a rectangular box and what was nice about it was that we designed it while we were making it, so we made a box and then we adapted it to our own designs afterwards, which was really rewarding in the end.

What is the most enjoyable memory from the year you spent here as a student at the Goldsmiths’ Centre?

That’s quite tricky; probably the teaching because you are learning something that isn’t widely available; the friendships that you get and the general experience of when you are in the workshop together with 8 to 10 other people is really really fantastic. So I couldn’t specify on one point, but lunchtimes are great, hearing workshop stories from people in the trade like Wayne Parrott. He is a really good engraver. So probably the stories and general atmosphere…

How did the Goldsmiths Centre help you find an apprenticeship?

The Goldsmiths Centre was key in finding an apprenticeship because they have a database and they are so well known within trade. They arranged for masters to come in and you then have to speak to the masters. They will come around and have a look at your work and you go from there. So then they will arrange a meeting for you with someone.

They are great because they are very specific as you go to the workshop and have a look around and it’s your decision to take it or not. The Centre is very good, if you go to a place and you are not sure they will take you to another one and show you around. They are key in that you end up in a happy workshop where you want to be.

What kind of practical skills, that you learnt, are you are now using as an apprentice?

Every practical skill that I’ve learnt here in terms of fundamental skills, like filing, hammering, suring, all of them they were learnt here and they become more refined when you go to the actual workshop. So basic hand skills.

There are some skills that you don’t use, but they are really useful to know, like engraving, setting or chasing. These techniques that aren’t really used, but they are really important to know because there is going to be one job that will come in and you will need to use them.

How long does it take on average to make a piece?

For silversmithing it really depends on the piece. If you are raising a tumbler or something you are looking at 4 days of hammering, half a day of filing and half a day of polishing, so about five days for one piece. Silversmithing is really labour intensive. You work really hard. But you continue until the piece is finished and you know. You can’t tell beforehand.

And now is it the second year of your apprenticeship?

Third year - into the third year. I did my Foundation Programme, just completed my first year of my apprenticeship, so this is my third year of apprenticeship and second year in my workshop.

And are you enjoying this experience?

Yes, I absolutely love it. I can promise that anyone leaving college, going into a workshop you will have a huge reality bite because it’s not college anymore it’s work. You've got to do work but it is fantastic. It took me about 6 months to settle into my workshop and once you got that base you can really go forward and keep on moving so that’s good.


To find out more about our Foundation Programme and apply, please visit our Foundation Programme page.