7 January 2013
Last updated at 02:20
Winners of major sports tournaments, such as tennis' ATP World Tour, are invariably rewarded with enormous silver trophies. But although everyone has seen the trophies, it seems no one knows where they are made, according to Kevin Baker, chief executive of silversmiths Thomas Lyte.
The answer is: they are often made in small workshops such as this one on an industrial site in Essex. "Craft matters," says Mr Baker, whose company's turnover has soared from about £100,000 to more than £1m in a decade. "It is about creating beautiful things, and it is not always related to price."
Mr Baker's company produces other goods too - such as hand crafted, bespoke leather and silver goods - but it is the making and designing of silverware such as the ATP trophy that offers the greatest potential. "Sport touches everyone's lives," he says. "The market is enormous and the potential within sport is only growing."
“Within silver, we work for royal households or for superyachts, but 40-50% of the silver market is sports," says Mr Baker. The customers are sports clubs or sports marketing firms, and trophies are not always large. Replicas are sometimes made and there is a great market for souvenirs that are given as corporate gifts.
Revenue also comes from restoring trophies such as the FA Cup. "The FA cup has become a powerful symbol of what the event is about," says Mr Baker. "You play for the Cup, but silver is very soft so when a trophy is uplifted it is often damaged. Fortunately, the beauty of silver is that it can be re-sculpted."
The silver work is done by Thomas Lyte's 10 skilled craftsmen and apprentices. “With silver, we have the finest skills in the world here in the UK,” says Mr Baker. “But honestly, the competition is sadly not strengthening. We’ve seen major competitors closing or downsizing."
Consequently, working with traditional tools and methods is a dying art. "If you look at luxury, there are so many workshops being closed," says Mr Baker. "All those skills will be lost - there’s so much not written down. There are probably fewer than 100 craftsmen left, and many of them don’t work for the major companies."
Thomas Lyte employs two apprentices, though Mr Baker would like to recruit more. “We have a great need to add new talent," he says. And as craftsmen are becoming increasingly scarce, it should be an increasingly attractive career as "a craftsperson of the future is going to earn more than a craftsperson of the past".
But being a craftsman offers rewards beyond purely financial, Mr Baker insists. "Making things is good in terms of intellectual stimulation," he says. "Working with your hands is a very meritorious endeavour." - By Jorn Madslien, BBC News.