Wirework Wonders Wow at Auction

29th February 2024

Burstow & Hewett Auctioneers are excited to reveal the star of the show in our upcoming Fine Antiques sale on the 29th February 2024. An exquisitely intricate pair of silver and gold wirework Jutti (slippers) and two ornate hats owned by the Scottish surgeon, orientalist and pioneering environmentalist, Edward Balfour.




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Collection of wirework items owned by Edward Balfour

Who was Edward Balfour?

Edward Balfour established museums in both Madras and Bangalore, alongside founding a zoological garden there. He played a pivotal role in advocating for forest conservation and public health awareness in India. Balfour's notable literary contribution includes the publication of the Cyclopaedia of India, which saw multiple editions released post-1857. Additionally, he undertook the task of translating health-related works into various Indian languages, showcasing his diverse interests and expertise across a range of subjects.

Decades ahead of his time, he is remembered for his pioneering ecological writings, which he explored what he believed to be the 'direct relationship between deforestation, climatic change and environmental degradation.'

At a period when environmental conservation was an emerging concept, his efforts laid the groundwork for future conservation movements, leaving an enduring impact on public health and ecological sustainability.


Portrait of Edward Balfour by Walter Saunders Barnard (1880) at the Madras Museum

History of Wire Drawing

Our upcoming auction features beautiful pieces showcasing the ancient artistry of silver & gold wire-work.

The tradition of gold and silver wire drawing arrived in London during the 15th century, introduced by skilled craftsmen from Europe. However, the practice of combining metal wire with textiles dates back even further, with references found as early as in bible writings.

Wire drawing involves the meticulous process of handcrafting wire for various purposes such as jewellery, clothing embellishments, and silversmithing. Utilizing a draw bench at room temperature, craftsmen painstakingly reduce the thickness of metal by passing it through a series of draw plates. While modern manufacturing often employs mass production techniques using moulds, traditional wire drawing results in a refined product. The resulting wire is then polished and coated with a precious metal and can be drawn to astonishingly thin dimensions, sometimes reaching a mere fraction of the width of a human hair!

The Jutti or slippers that we have in our auction feature gold and silver thread, glass coloured beads, floral patterns and velvet insoles. 

The two hats also feature floral designs, sequins and are silk lined.

A recent exhibition at The Goldsmith's Centre, which our in-house gemmologist Will Ellin attended, explored the craft of hand drawing gold and silver wire through both a contemporary and historic lens. It showcased jewellers, silversmiths and embroiderers using this ancient technique in ways that both celebrated and subverted tradition. The exhibition was titled "Drawn & Formed: Contemporary work with Gold & Silver Wire and ran until December 2023. 


All of the items featured in this article will be up for auction on Thursday 29th February at The Abbey Auction Gallery, Lower Lake, Battle. The auction will begin at 10am and you can watch, bid and view all of the lots up for sale online at www.burstowandhewett.co.uk

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