EXCEPTIONALLY BESPOKE: THE VIKING HELMET
Every now and again, a client has a request that can catch you off guard but no so much so that I want to decline the challenge.
Last year one of our great clients summoned me to his chalet in Gstaad with the promise of “our next project”. Over something expensive to drink, said client requested we design and make him a Viking helmet, him being Swedish, it seemed like a perfectly sound request.
He had already done a bit of groundwork and shared with me a mood board consisting of some real Viking warrior types. Apart from the mood he only added that he wanted his to be the helmet for a king of Vikings, complete with Wagner operatic horns, the lot. I got working on the design and also sourced the largest pair of cows horns I could find. I showed the deigns and the horns. Despite being on the right track, the horns were too small and the helmet not OTT enough. In other words, it was all just a little too tasteful.
I decided to make the horns out of silver which could be gold plated rather than use existing mammal ones, that way I had full control over the size and could exaggerate the shape. For good measure I decided to add the figurehead and tail of a Viking long boat at the front and back of the helmet and create a Celtic inspired crown of thorns.
Believe it or not something was still amiss. The nose guard with the figurehead looming over it didn’t quite gel. So, I added a second head and tail, this time positioning them either side of the nose guard and suddenly the whole thing became majestic.
After design approval, I was contacted by the client, he had been speaking to his best friend (oh no I thought, this could mean second thoughts). Fortunately his friend had not questioned the sanity of ordering a solid silver and 18ct gold plated Viking helmet, but instead suggested that after the client had worn it maximum two times to fancy dress parties he may be forced to retire it from such festivities, therefore SW might think of a secondary purposes for the headpiece.
His suggestion; “maybe a table lamp”. Writing this off as too ridiculous to contemplate, I still had to think what else could a horned, golden helmet be used for. Then it struck me, the client loved to shoot and a couple of times a season, he would host shooting weekends at different castles and piles across Britain. At each of these, pre a black-tie dinner on the Saturday night between shooting days, he serves champagne and a kilo of caviar. What about if I made a stone bowl the same shape as his head to sit under the helmet that would make it a centrepiece for the table. Lifting the helmet by the horns would reveal a black onyx stone bowl, in this would sit a bed of ice and on the ice a carved crystal bowl large enough to accommodate up to 1 kilo of caviar. The client was over the moon with the idea.
5 months’ solid work later, using 8 different specialist crafts people (including the person who made the leather liner for the helmet so that it fitted his head perfectly and could be worn into battle; or just the battle of a fancy-dress party). Also, stone carvers, silversmiths, a chaser, a glass blower, glass and metal engravers.
The finished piece is something so extraordinary, it really should be in a museum or of course filled with caviar and given nothing but decadent pleasure. A while after, we made a cape and a pair of battle brooches to complete the strip and figurehead caviar spoons for the caviar bowl. -Stephen Webster MBE