From ancient times, handmade silver teapot has symbolized prestige and was highly valued. The tradition of using silver pots for boiling water and making tea has been passed down through generations. It gave birth to the saying: "Boiling water is most precious in a silver teapot, and brewing tea is most respectful in a silver teapot" (煮水以银壶为贵, 泡茶以银壶为尊).
Tea culture and the pursuit of a higher quality of life have further fueled the popularity of handmade silver teapot. It has become a fashionable choice for personal use and thoughtful gifts for health-conscious households. However, many tea lovers new to silver pots may wonder about their craftsmanship. Coming across silver pots with various appearances, such as white, bright, old black, or even engraved designs, can make people question their authenticity. How can silver pots exhibit such diverse styles when made from the same material?
The six processing techniques of a handmade silver teapot
In fact, the variations in silver pots stem from the meticulous handcrafting process. This article will delve into the six production processes that give birth to pure handmade silver teapot. Discover the artistry and skill of creating each unique piece, and gain a deeper understanding of the craftsmanship behind these captivating pieces.
The hammering pattern
A hammered silver teapot is made through skilled manual craftsmanship. Craftsmen use hammers to strike the metal repeatedly, creating a simple and appealing design. This traditional technique gives the pot a timeless charm, showcasing the artistry of handmade silverware.
Hammered pattern teapot
The hammered patterns on the pot are not random but intentionally created by craftsmen. When you observe a silver teapot with these patterns, you'll notice how the light interacts with the surface, creating a layered effect. This effect is achieved through the craftsmen's experience and skill.
Each hammered pattern represents the countless strikes made by the craftsmen. These patterns come in various styles, resembling winding paths through fields or gentle ripples on a pond. They have a natural and relaxed appearance.
The hammer pattern technique originated in the Tang Dynasty (618–907). It was used for creating gold and silverware, as well as Buddha statues. In Japan, it became known as the hammer pattern process and is still practiced and refined today.
Mirror surface pattern
A mirror silver pot is also known as a "glossy silver pot" because of its polished surface. Unlike silver pots with hammer patterns, it features an additional polishing step. The mirror silver teapot has a bright and serene appearance, which makes it highly favored in certain teapot circles.
There are two types of mirror silver pots: partial mirror surface and whole body mirror surface.
- Partial mirror surface pot: That refers to the mirror polishing process applied to specific parts of the silver teapot. For example, the pot lid is polished to contrast with the pot body's hammer pattern, resulting in a combination of light and dark textures.
- Whole body mirror surface pot: These pots also exist in two variations. One features an entirely polished surface without any additional elements. The other consists of adding decorative elements, such as engraved words, on the base of the handmade teapot.
How come this is a handmade silver teapot, but there are no visible traces of handwork on its surface?
Many people assume that mirror silver pots that don't show any signs of hammering are not handmade. However, all types of silver pots, including mirror silver pots, keep at least some traces of the processing.
During the shaping process of the silver teapot, artisans use hammers to shape and mold it, leaving hammer marks on the surface. The polishing step clears these marks on the outer surface. However, if you look inside, you can still see the remnants of hammering inside the pot.
There are two variations of smoked silver processing. One refers to the artificial aging of pure silver. The other refers to the craftsmanship of silver plating. It adds a protective layer on top of the silver teapot.
smoked silver teapot
What exactly does smoked silver processing consist of?
The smoked silver process takes advantage of silver's oxidation (blackening) properties:
- Craftsmen smoke the silver surface with sulfur.
- They treat the outer surface with tin to enhance the blackening.
- They polish the outside of the pot. That gives the protrusive parts a prominent luster, while the concave parts retain the smoking's black color. That creates a three-dimensional sense of the surface pattern of the silver pot.
Smoking the silverware gives the silver teapot vintage, retro vibe and a lingering charm. This process also avoids the unevenness of natural oxidation that might occur in the future.
Does smoking silver pose a health threat to the human body?
Some tea enthusiasts may wonder whether using a smoked and aged silver pot for boiling water and making tea is harmful. There's no need to worry about this. Smoking only affects the pot's surface, creating a very thin layer (in nanometers). It acts as a protective chemical passivation layer, which is highly stable.
The principle behind the smoking process is simple. It accelerates the reaction between silver and sulfur, creating a dark-colored surface. Normally, silver reacts with hydrogen sulfide in the air to form silver sulfide, which first turns yellow and then black. One common method to speed up this process is treating silver with sulfur soap - a common household item that is not harmful to humans. Thus, aging a silver pot doesn't pose any health risks.
Smoking silver is just a step in the production of silver pots. It doesn't pose any harm to the human body or affect the functionality of the pot itself.
Gilding, or gold plating, is a decoration technique with more than two thousand years of history in China. It involves mixing gold and mercury to create "gold tribute" and applying it to the surface of an object. The object is then heated to evaporate the mercury, leaving the gold to adhere to the surface. This process enhances the brightness and luster of the object, adding decorative value to gold, silver, and bronze wares.
The history of gilding dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-481 BC). During this time, bronze gilding techniques were already quite advanced. However, the documented records of gilding can be traced back to the Liang Dynasty (502-557). Tao Hongjing of the Liang Dynasty mentioned using mercury to plate objects with gold and silver.
Chiseling on silverware differs from woodcarving and other engraving techniques. Rather than scraping out the excess material, it involves using chisels to press into the metal surface. Initially, craftsmen chisel out a rough outline. Then they use flat chisels to refine the shapes further. Chisel engraving on silverware requires precision and control. The chisel becomes a tool akin to a pen, allowing artisans to carve countless intricate traditional patterns onto the metal surface.
Chisel-engraved patterns are commonly present on handmade silver teapots. Some silver pots only feature chiseled patterns, while others have only chiseled shapes or drawings. Some pots feature both.
chisel-engraved teapot with pattern and characters
It's worth noting that for silver pots with both chiseled shapes and patterns, craftsmen first chisel the shapes, followed by the patterns. They need to plan carefully the arrangement of the chiseled shapes and drawings, ensuring that they don't damage the chiseled patterns in the process.
Copper-clad silver processing
As the name suggests, producing a copper-clad silver pot, also known as silver on copper teapot, requires wrapping a copper plate with a silver leaf and then shaping it through hammering.
Copper and silver are quite similar metals. They both have high plasticity and excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. However, creating a pot from two similar metals is challenging, especially when shaping a copper pot, as pure copper is harder than pure silver.
silver on copper teapot
Depending on the complexity, it takes around 10 to 20 days for a skilled artisan to complete a pot. During that time, he might spend over 10 hours a day hammering. Crafting a copper-clad silver pot requires even more effort. It undergoes multiple rounds of high-temperature tempering and over 70,000 to 100,000 hammerings. The copper and silver pieces are fused together, ensuring a precise fit with no gaps. Creating the handle, lid, and spout requires precise hammering, making it even more challenging for the craftsman.
Making sliver on copper teapot is exceptionally difficult, with only a few master metalworkers in Japan and China possessing the extensive skills to create them.
The finished copper-clad silver teapot showcases a striking contrast between the softness of silver and the simplicity of copper. It can be embellished with exquisite patterns or characters, enhancing its beauty. The decoration can include elements like emerald, sandalwood, or iron art.
Crafting copper-clad silver pots is not only a complex art form but also a labor-intensive process. The output is limited, making them highly sought after. Over time, this intricate technique may fade away, raising the copper-clad silver pot value even more as historical works of art.
That's it for today. In our next blogpost, we'll go through the special benefits of using handmade silver tea pots, and the way it influences both water and tea in our tea ritual.