Wednesday, 25 November 2009


For three weeks in July 2009, I undertook a work placement at Royal Crown Derby, a fine bone china manufacturer whose products have been made in the UK since 1750. The following projects were self-initiated and completed during that time with the extremely generous support of staff at the factory, in particular the Design Director, Louise Adams.


Expectations of quality are exceptionally high at RCD. Every object, at every stage is checked by someone. Where imperfections are found, they are corrected and refired. A piece may go round and round a process, but remain second best. After the glaze firing, the pieces arrive at a line of three tables with a lady at each. Sharp eyes and quick hands mark each imperfection in synthetic-bright marker pen. These odments were stacked all around them, and I found them exciting. So refined, so ‘fine bone china’ but with bold marks that have no artifice. Marks that would be burned away until I asked the lady to use a different pen.

Then quality control became decoration.

Glazed fine bone china tray, dinner plate and mug with minor imperfections and permanent bake on decoration.
Envisaged for unlimited batch production of ‘mix and match’ items.


When the awkward spots are sprayed with glaze, the glaze must be coloured with vegetable dye so no bits are missed. These bright sprays of colour reminded me of the dyes sprayed onto farm animals to distinguish one flock from another.

Near the Design Studio are the ‘Standard Shelves’. These contain all the shapes in RCD’s range, with a generic name, basic measurements (a mean figure based on measuring one hundred of the same shape), a date and the initials of the person who measured it. This is to aid surface design and pattern fitting. The thing that draws you in is that this information is written in gold, adding a spark to the purely practical.

These two images within the factory appeared to me to have a connection with the collectors market at RCD. Collectability means each piece marked for ownership and belonging within a group. Each piece is made to the correct specification.

Glazed fine bone china with airbrushed enamel and goldline pen.
Envisaged as a limited edition group.


The budgerigar paperweight has layers of printed and hand painted decoration, fired on in stages. Each layer is printed on a sheet together with the subsequent layers printed in ‘soot’ (it's not real soot anymore, but a lovely bright red vegetable dye) to enable correct positioning.

The budgerigar’s essence is in this skin, it’s form is smooth and simple. If this skin is on something else it is still recognisable – can a cup 'pass' as a budgerigar? If it wants?

Glazed bone china with unfired inglaze and vegetable dye decoration (this would be replaced with red enamel).
Envisaged for general production and development across a range of forms.


Opulence and gold are hallmarks of the RCD style and the acorn tureen shape is emblematic of this. This project was about learning techniques including traditional enamel painting, gilding and hand raising. It is not without its own narrative though. Inspired by a piece in Derby Town Museum, I wanted to include a painted insect. Always wanting justification for everything, I researched insects that live on oak trees and came across the ‘Gypsy Moth’ Lymantria dispar. There is a centuries old connection between gypsies and RCD, the former collecting RCD ware to the point where it is like a currency to them and the latter actively catering to their taste. The Gypsy Moth lead to a twilight scene with the traditional stars falling down the tureen.

Glazed fine bone china with hand painted inglaze, enamel, raised paste and gilding.
Envisaged for special orders.

You can learn more about Royal Crown Derby here