Technology may have created more efficient methods in pewtermaking but the time-tested skills of craftsmen are still alive, writes Sushma Veera
YEARS ago, a craftsman would melt the raw metal before rolling it into the acquired thickness to make a pewter sheet. It took about a day to create an A3-sized sheet. Over the years, with the advancement of technology, Royal Selangor used more efficient methods in pewtermaking without compromising on the quality of the workmanship. Today, it only takes three to four hours to create the same sized sheet.
However, the time-tested skills in producing a handmade pewter piece are still alive. S. Anthony Das, one of Royal Selangor’s long-serving craftsmen, is proof of that.
Das, who works in the special order department, is hearing and speech impaired. He was part of the team that created the hand-made limited edition tea set in celebration of Royal Selangor’s 125th anniversary two years ago.
Das says the tea set, limited to only 125 sets worldwide, was handcrafted using time-honoured skills learnt through the years. He adds that it was not easy to make the four piece tea set as it took time to make sure that all the angles and sides were rounded smoothly.
“The surfaces were hand-hammered to give the geometric design,” says Das, 49, through sign language.
Inspired by designs of the 1930s, the teapot, sugar bowl and creamer are angular in shape and decorated with neat rows of hand-hammered marks that create a delightful pattern on the surface.
The geometric shapes are softened with rounded corners and curves that highlight the beauty and malleability of pewter. Another charming detail is the use of rattan to insulate the handles of the teapot and creamer. It exudes a rustic feel and is a charming contrast to the modern design of the pots.
However, Das says he enjoyed making the sets despite it being a time-consuming task. He says the limited edition teapot is made from nine different parts — its body alone comprises three parts (central body and two sides) in addition to the handle, spout, cover, hinge, rim and knob.
“The pewter sheet is first hand hammered with rows of tiny impressions or dimples and required parts are cut from the hammered sheet and hand formed. Each set has approximately 7,540 hammer marks, the tray itself has 3,970 marks.”
He further explains that the spout, handle and cover were hand cast.
“Each part is then skilfully soldered together to ensure that the joints are virtually invisible. Each item is individually engraved with a serial number. The handles of the teapot and creamer are insulated with rattan.
“As with all Royal Selangor teapots, this teapot is designed and crafted for a drip free pour,” says Das, adding that it took approximately a week for three skilled craftsmen to make two sets.
A KEEN ARTISAN
A winner of the Anugerah Tukang Ulung (Award for Excellent Craftsman) given by Kraftangan Malaysia, Das joined Royal Selangor with zero knowledge of the job.
“After seeing my colleagues skillfully producing beautiful pewter pieces, I became very keen to learn the job,” he says, adding that pewtersmithing has become his passion.
He says his first task was scraping pewter which took about a year to perfect. He soon learnt other skills such as soldering, filing, grinding, fixing and assembling the pieces.
His disability has not prevented Das from becoming a great artisan.
“Of course, it was not easy in the beginning but my colleagues soon learnt to communicate with me through simple sign and body language,” he says.
When asked what he loves most about his job, Das says: “I would say that my work is rather challenging and requires a keen eye for details. Being in this special order team allows me to work with new pewter items every day. The challenges that I face to create an excellent piece keeps me going and this is what I love the most.”