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Just around the corner from Birmingham’s famed jewellery quarter, at its old Gothic Works premises, Vaughtons continues a now 203-year-old tradition making badges, medals and other enamelled, gold and silversmithed items.
“The company really became famous when Howard Vaughton, the grandson of founder Phillip, took over,” managing director Nick Hobbis explains.
“He played for Aston Villa and England, and when the league needed a medal supplier he stepped forward. That was 140 years ago and we still make them now.”
Vaughtons even produced the replacement FA Cup after its mysterious disappearance in 1885, then the medals for the 1908 Olympics and, with its prestige established, took on civil regalia and pioneer motoring clients.
An early 20th-century promotional poster shows badges from AC, Swift, Sizaire-Berwick and more.
“Vaughtons was the original supplier to Rolls-Royce,” Hobbis continues. “Those early badges with the red, transparent enamel were made by us.”
Aston Martin commissioned Vaughtons to produce all its enamelled winged badges in 2012, the firm having already been a key supplier for 60 years, including for Newport Pagnell’s Aston Martin Works heritage department – the DB4, DB5 and DB6 dies are often in use.
Beneath Hobbis’ office is the pressing room, filled with industrial stamps small enough for making East India Company dead gilts, and as big as the massive 600-tonne press that produces the badge for the new Aston Martin DBX.
Steel stamps are pressed into plates of a 90% copper, 10% zinc alloy to form the outlines of each new badge; older crests are often made of silver, hand-worked and cut by silversmiths.
Some of the dies are more than 100 years old and include many automotive names from the past, while in the workshop during our visit there’s a freshly stamped T50 logo for Gordon Murray’s new hypercar.
“The stamps are repeated until the detail is all there,” Hobbis explains, “which can be hundreds of times. There are eight sub-processes just at this stage, and we inspect it at every step.”
In another room, five staff are quietly setting to enamelling. Following a blast from the blowtorch, the liquid enamel is painted into each delicate section of the badge plate.
After being annealed at 800ºC in one of the little ovens – for consistency rather than volume – each is sanded and checked for defects, then re-enamelled and re-sanded until crisply defined.
The final stage for the Aston Martin wings, and other enamel badges, is the polishing room upstairs.
A trio of workers in boiler suits employ old wooden moulds to hold the badges in place as the polishing lathes spin the enamel clean.
There are generations spanning every part of the business, from the 60-year-veteran silversmith to the two new apprentices from the local jewellery district.
History resonates among the staff as much as the smell of polish or the noise of worn-in stamping machines.
Having worked with jewellery from a young age, and with family history in the industry, Hobbis understands the business from both the perspectives of the past and the future, as he explains.
“We’re keeping the handmade ethos, but we’re also making investments to pull ourselves into the 21st century – we’ve just bought a CNC machine so we can have high and low volume.”
He also hopes to supply more of the vintage-car market, particularly on the silversmithing side.
Vaughtons rightly has a positive outlook, and with new apprentices that promise to continue the fine skills that have been grown here for generations, perhaps there’s proof yet that the old ways still have a place in today’s world.
Images: John Bradshaw
- Name Vaughtons Ltd
- Address 16 Well Street, Birmingham B19 3BJ
- Specialism Enamel badges and detail manufacture
- Staff 30
- Prices Badges from £100
- Tel 0121 554 0032
- Web vaughtons-automotive.co.uk
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org