Born in 1943 the son of an Engineer and Greengrocers daughter. John’s interest in silversmithing was influenced mainly by his father who had married late in life and put huge amount of time and effort into bringing up his three children and preparing them for life. He would take young John to his workplace to explain the gas making methods and all the ancillary processes, chemical and machinery. Railway trucks being turned upside down emptying coal into huge baking ovens, cascades of white hot coal tumbling down, visits to museums and art galleries, membership of an archaeological society which included digging the buried foundations of the old Thorndon Hall in Essex, courses at the White Chapel Art Gallery making pottery, nature groups and high achievement in the wood working class. These are some of the examples of events which help mould the young John Campbell.
Discovering young talent
One Christmas a friend had received a plaster casting kit as a present. Mix a white powder with water, pour into a mould and in a few minutes you have a model of a rabbit cast in a stone like material. I wonder, thought John, if I could make a mould of one of my tin soldiers, melt down some tin and pour it into the mould.
After overcoming some of the technical difficulties like getting the original soldier out of the plaster, John cast a perfect tin soldier unaided and self-taught using the family gas stove. This gave him tremendous confidence in his practical ability. Having thought that he had discovered something not knowing that the Byzantians had done this many thousands of years before.
Route into silversmithing
At the age of 14 it was becoming clear to John that his career would be making things with his hands but in precious metals (tin seemed too down market). Approaching school leaving age at 15 John’s father found the route into the silversmithing trade was through an art college in London providing a pre-apprentice course. From there a 5 year apprenticeship with Langfords (Campbell’s now supply the third generation at Langfords).
Made up to standard, not down to price
John married Barbara who produced two sons, Paul the eldest who became a Silver caster and Colin who joined the family firm initially as a Polisher and now heads the sales team. John rose through the trade learning new skills and eventually started on his own in a garden workshop at his parent’s house. Larger premises were soon needed and John moved to the Clerkenwell workshops in London, a start up place for many in the jewellery and allied trades. Barbara now joined the growing business to assist with the administration. 1985 and needing larger premises again the firm moved east to Shoreditch where bigger premises cost less and the growth continued. The reason for Campbell’s growth when the industry was shrinking? Making a product better than necessary, over engineering, innovative designs, being reliable, delivering on time. “Made up to a standard not down to a price” is the company motto.
Growth leads to innovation
Until this time Campbell’s had been making reproduction silverware, copies of antiques. Although sales were still rising rapidly there was rumour on the grapevine, especially internationally, of a desire in the consumer for a more contemporary product. John listened to this and put his toe in the water and made three crystal and silver decanters, loved them himself, so did the consumer and trade. Clearly he was on to something. He sat down and designed the now famous “Appetite”collection. This is a complete matching tableware service made in sterling silver. Initially, John had hoped that the sales of this new collection would be in edition to the repro range but the effect was that the new collection nearly killed off the repro range completely although it still sells to a lesser degree today.
Craftmanship and attention to detail
Most items in our ranges are made from sterling silver sheets using the spinning method. For those who are unfamiliar with this method it is constructing hollow objects on a lathe using a metal or wooden “chuck” and forcing a disc while it is rotating using a polished steel “burnisher”. This method is quite old as the large dishes from the Milden Hall Roman treasure currently in the British Museum in London would indicate. This method is good for small level production of round objects from 1 to 100. Quantities above this would be better made by other methods. As an example of this craftsmanship and painstaking attention to detail, the handle of the best selling crystal & silver Chalice Claret Wine Jug goes through 21 individual hand worked operations over many hours. Many more hours are needed to complete the final distinctive design before it is ready to be shipped.
The ‘Over the Moon’ collection is born
John’s latest venture is the brand new collection of silver babyware gifts called “Over the Moon”. The reason for the name? when asked “Are you pleased with your new arrival Mr & Mrs Bloggs?” They replied “Pleased, We’re not just pleased; we’re over the moon with excitement.” The new collection is contemporary in design and decorated with the moon and stars symbols using bead blasting. All pieces are made in England.