Instigated by being nominated to the final 10, for Belgian Craftsperson of the Year Award 2019, I decided to research my family background. Where does the passion for my vocation come from? Do craftsmen run in the family? Were my ancestors self-employed craftspeople? So I started doing some digging into my family history. The saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” springs to mind.
I did not need to research far. I knew my grandparents on my mom’s side, as they were both in their late 40’s early 50’s when I was born. Both my grandparents where trained craftspeople.
My maternal grandfather: Cobbler
My granddad apprenticed as a cobbler but sadly did not go into the profession due to the eruption of WWII. After a short period, working for a shoemaker in Brussels, he was sent to Berlin to work as a forced labourer, in a shoe factory. My grandfather was too young to fight in WWII, he was nineteen. Even though he did not pursue his shoemaking career after the war was over, I remember his trade tools and workshop in the basement of their house. I loved playing dress-up and wearing my grandmother’s high heels, which I managed to break occasionally. I watched with fascination, as my grandfather would lovingly repair them. I believe that my grandfather always carried the passion for his trade in his heart.
My maternal grandmother: Dressmaker
My grandmother worked as a dressmaker for her brother-in-law, my grandfather’s older brother, and a tailor by trade. After my mom was born, my grandmother continued her profession as a dressmaker from home. Although she was no longer practiced her trade, when I was born, the first few years of my life were spent listening to her singer sewing machine. Later, I saw how my grandmother made the communion dresses for my cousins and worked on making curtains for my parents’ living room. She too always carried the passion for her trade in her heart.
My great-aunt: Milliner
The rule of three applies to this family, my grandfather’s older sister learned the art of hat making. Their parents believed that learning a reputable skilled craft or trade would be their children’s bread and butter. My great aunt was an elegant lady of many talents. Although I never knew her when she practised as a milliner, this was the only surviving picture of her practising her craft.
Metal seems to flow through my veins on my dad’s side of the family. Apt, considering that side of the family is from Sheffield, where the steelworks and silversmithing industries have deep-rooted history. To this day Sheffield houses one of the four Assay Offices in Britain, the quality control for the silver and goldsmiths.
My paternal great-uncle: Saddler and harness maker
My great-uncle, on my grandfather’s side, was a saddler and harness maker. Even this makes sense to me, knowing that their father worked as the head-gamekeeper on Chatsworth Estate of the Duke of Devonshire at the beginning or the 19th century. He tended to the horses, hounds and stables, including the saddlery.
My great-grandfather: Silversmith
Much to my delight, my great-grandfather was a silversmith in Sheffield. Running his own business until the day he died during the winter of 1908/09. His specialism was engraving trophies, trays, and tea services.
Sadly, hand-engraving is a dying art form. Laser engravers have taken their place and there are very few hand-engravers practicing this craft. It is a real art form, to be able to wield sharp engraving tools to carve letters into precious metals.
I have a lot of appreciation for engravers, like Jonas De Clercq, who are still passionate about this discipline today.
My reflection on my family history
It has been a real treat finding out about past generations in my family. Metal may sometimes have skipped a generation or two. Nevertheless, I believe that I made up for it. I have been a jeweller for the past 20 years, which has been a tough and exciting, but also a passionate journey. I am looking forward to many more years of creating bespoke jewellery for people.