Belleek Pottery's most expensive item

Belleek Pottery
Image caption Here it is.... The most expensive piece of pottery ever produced by Belleek.

Belleek Pottery have unveiled their most expensive piece of pottery yet, which is being sold for £75,000.

The elaborate parian china centrepiece created for the Paris Exhibition of 1900 has been reproduced by the craftsmen at Belleek.

It is believed the piece took more than 400 hours to make.

The new work has been released by Belleek Pottery to mark their 155th anniversary.

Five pieces of the work entitled International Centrepiece will be available to buy.

The piece was reproduced using the original design moulds created by the pottery's then head of design Frederick Slater.

The centrepiece has taken a handpicked team of Belleek's most experienced craftspeople over a year to create.

Wolfhounds

Standing at 30 in tall the centrepiece is a three-footed urn with three Irish wolfhounds keeping guard around the base and is decorated with Irish harps and hand crafted flowers.

The complex reproduction project has been led by Belleek's current head of design Fergus Cleary and has involved the making of new moulds and the creation of 50 separate pieces.

Image caption Brendan McCauley master craftsman working on one of five limited edition International Centrepieces

"I joined the pottery in 1978 and for a long time I have wondered whether we could ever recreate such an intricate piece." said Mr Cleary.

"The original International Centrepiece was created for the Paris Exhibition in 1900 to demonstrate the quality of the pottery's craftsmanship and the piece unveiled today does likewise for our skills in 2012.

"We were lucky that the original moulds from 1900 had been retained in our store but they were unusable and had to be painstakingly reconstructed using the exact same skills originally employed to make the centrepiece over a hundred years ago.

"From there it really was a matter of professional pride for all of us involved to deliver a product of the quality and attention to detail that would be worthy of our forefathers.

"I believe that the centrepiece unveiled today exceeds our expectations."

Nervous

At £75,000, it is a piece that even the managing director John Maguire is worried about dropping.

"I don't handle it at all, I leave that up to Fergus and the design team," he told BBC News. "It's a very special piece that represents everything that's good about the Belleek brand."

Brendan McCauley, a master craftsman at Belleek, said he had a nervous wait to see if the piece would come out of the kiln in one piece.

"It was great working on it because it's one of the most prestigious pieces Belleek has and with all the parts and getting everything together it was something else.

"There looked a lot of problems to it but at the end of the day we managed to get it through the kiln which was the important bit.

"It was a relief to see it all in one piece and in such good shape."

John Doogan has worked in the pottery for 35 years and made the intricate flowers that decorate the centrepiece.

He said he enjoyed the challenge of recreating the craftsmanship of his predecessors.

"It was great to be able to recreate some of the old flowers and pieces from the old days.

"There's still a lot of things out there that a machine can't make and it's great to go through all this.

"The skills are still carried on in the factory with the basket work and the flowers - it was just on this particular piece a lot more petals have gone into the flowers so there's maybe an hour and a half of work in just one flower whereas the normal flower we'd make in the factory would take maybe 15 or 20 minutes."

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