Before the advantages of modern technology, hand engravers followed the same techniques and basic methods for centuries. The advent of motorised tools and computer technology allows today’s hand engravers to complete complicated and intricate designs much more easily and precisely. Nevertheless, the skill of an engraver may still be compared to that of an artist.
Control and technique
The experienced engraver will exercise great control over his tools, and by using advanced methods, such as ‘bulino’ and ‘bank note’, produce quality and lifelike images. The ‘bulino’ technique allows the engraver to control the dark and light contours of an image. Sometimes referred to as Pointillism or the Dot Technique, this method uses thousands of very small dots on the object, and whether this is a crystal bowl or a glass award, the results are often quite exquisite.
The ‘bank note’ technique differs slightly in the fact that thousands of lines are created, in various lengths, in a very systematic and ordered way. Examples of this technique can most often be seen in old works of literature or family bibles that may have been printed using engraving plates. Another prime example of this technique, as the name suggests, is paper currency and bonds.
Shaping the graver
Whichever technique is used, the shape of the graver itself is a key component when creating a quality image. Grinding and shaping the face and heel of a graver will greatly determine the quality and accuracy of each cut. A poorly shaped tool may result in ‘burrs’ being raised and therefore an unsatisfactory finish with jagged and distorted lines. If the heel is shaped too long this could cause the graver to drag, while a too short heel will cut too deeply. Both can result in a burr along the edge of the cut. Experienced engravers will have the expertise to correctly shape the tools that they use and ensure a clean, smooth finish.
Visualisation and artistic style
As well as technical ability, whether using hand or mechanised tools, the skill of an engraver also relies on a certain amount of artistic talent. This could be the ability to design and draw an original idea, reproduce with accuracy and flair a generic pattern or the interpretation of a client’s brief with innovation and understanding. Combined with the technical and theoretical know how, experienced engravers are usually able to produce quality pieces with character and originality.
It may take a great deal of time, practice and patience to become fully proficient with the technical side of hand engraving. Some may have a natural ability which will make the process easier, while for others it will not be so simple. Mastering the tools and skill needed requires dedication as well as natural flair. A skilled engraver will invest their talent, time and tools to create beautiful and intricate engravings, be it a unique engraving on a crystal trophy or an engraved champagne glass for a much-loved family member, the skill of hand engraving may be considered a true art form.