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Tea With Claudia: Lord Wedgwood

BY Claudia Juestel - January 5, 2010


lord wedgwood, claudia juestel

Claudia Juestel with Lord Wedgwood
Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey

I had tea with Lord Wedgwood when he was in town for a book signing of the new book “At Home with Wedgwood: The Art of the Table” by Tricia Foley, which beautifully illustrates that the china of the historic Wedgwood pottery manufacturer easily fits in today’s varied interiors.

Prior to our meeting I wondered what I should wear when meeting Lord Wedgwood. Blue of course, I thought. But once I left the house two thoughts were on the forefront of my mind: will Lord Wedgwood be offended by the fact that I prefer my tea with lemon, and did I perhaps push the idea of wearing blue a little too far once I went for the blue eye shadow? Perhaps I should have consulted our Fashion Editor and top stylist Karen Tamblyn first.

But to my delight his lordship was most complimentary, took special notice of my ring (blue of course), and told me that he also prefers tea with lemon. He wore a charcoal chalk stripe suit with crimson lining, a windowpane blue and white shirt, complete with antique Wedgwood cufflinks, a blue tie with horse heads, a fuchsia and white polka dot pocket square, and tan loafers. Perfectly English: traditional, a mix of patterns and something slightly askew.

Wedgwood cufflink collection of Andy Gilchrist
Photo: AskAndyAboutClothes.com

Lord Wedgwood could not have been more gracious and charming as he poured me Mighty Leaf’s Earl Grey tea from an antique sterling silver tea pot into a bone china cup designed by Barbara Barry for Wedgwood. His lordship immediately noted the aromas of Earl Grey and Darjeeling. We took it with cream, as served by Gump’s, and without sugar, his lordship’s preference.

Before I asked him more specific questions about Wedgwood and his life as the spokesperson for his namesake china company we chatted about tea and other small enjoyable indulgences, as well as the importance of passion. I truly wish Lord Wedgwood’s lovely voice and charming accent could be conveyed in print.

– Claudia Juestel

Tea Service at Gump’s
Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey
Claudia Juestel: You have come to San Francisco to by invitation of Gump’s. I learned that you actually have a home here in the US. So you must have been coming to our city more frequently?

Lord Wedgwood: Well I am fortunate enough as you say to have a residence here in the United States. I live a by-coastal life as it were, between London and Philadelphia, and I enjoy the opportunity to travel throughout this great country extensively. So San Francisco naturally is always on the itinerary. But this is a very special occasion, to be visiting here during our 250th anniversary at the invitation of Gump’s, who as you all know, do everything in an extraordinary manner.

I travel all over the world and I can honestly say that there is nowhere else like Gump’s in San Francisco. I really respect them for the integrity of what they do, as a great shop. They present products in a unique and special way, and for us at Wedgwood to be a part of that mix I think is very fortunate. You only have to look around the shop so see the way that products are displayed and presented for customers, a discerning customer I would say. And again, that is something for us at Wedgwood, which is very special. Having had this incredible heritage and the legacy of my great-grandfather, and to know that our products are presented in the way that they are along with everything else is, for me is a great privilege, and to be a part of it and to be here today.
CJ: Understandably so.

LW: Thank you.

Book-signing table for Lord Wedgwood at Gump’s
Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey
CJ: Are there any other special places you like to visit in the city when you come here?

LW: Well, you know, San Francisco has so much to offer, and we were talking about gardens earlier on. I’m a gardener; love to see beautiful gardens. I think also the Bay is something that is a special treat, if I ever have a chance to go out in the Bay. You get a perspective, a totally different perspective of the city and its environments than you do necessarily on land.

So it seems to me there’s always so much going on here in San Francisco. There is always a new experience to be had, and I always leave saying, I wish I had more time, I wish had time to do such and such. And of course, around San Francisco you have so much that’s exciting to see as well. There is never enough time.

Blue Wedgwood Christmas ornaments at Gump’s
Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey

CJ: I must agree, some of us are very lucky to live here. You’re the very first member of British royalty with whom I have the pleasure to have tea. From what I have learned your full title is Lord Piers Anthony Weymouth Wedgwood Albertson, and you’re the fourth Baron of Wedgwood. Did I get this right?

LW: That’s right; you did. You know it is interesting because we are so fortunate to have this incredible lineage, and the Royal Family are people that I have got to know during the course of my life through different involvements and various activities, and they’re terrific. They are very much in the public eye and we see the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

But overall, as they described, as the firm and the head of the firm, the Queen, is undoubtedly a really remarkable woman. And for me as part of the nobility, as it were, I enjoy the privilege and the honour of in this instance, representing a company around the world that I am extremely proud of. We do have this great heritage that was started by my great-grandfather, now eight generations back, that I’m able to bring to our customers around the world. Yes, I am in a very fortunate position.
CJ: One would agree. I am sure may get asked this a lot, as in the US many people do not understand what the peerage of Great Britain means. Perhaps you can enlighten us a little bit?

LW: Well the House of Lords is considered very much a reviewing chamber for legislation in our House of Parliament. So as it stands right now, and has done for several centuries, the House of Commons is made up of individuals who have been elected to constituencies. They come in and they create the legislation that then is put forward to the House of Lords. The House of Lords then reviews it, makes various amendments, and it goes back to be ratified or confirmed in the House of Commons. And that kind of goes backwards and forwards.

For me personally, having spent 25 years in the House of Lords, a few years ago we went through some reforms, and I think its quite natural as a progression of life that we now have those reforms in place. Although I am welcome to go back, I don’t actually participate in the ongoing happenings in the House of Parliament, which of course allows me to involve myself more in the business which I, again, I am very happy to be a part of.
CJ: From what I understand is the title was bestowed to your family as a sign of honour.

LW: Well yes, my great-grandfather was a great individual in the mould of the foundry of our company who really believed in taking care of people. Sadly, I didn’t know him. He died before I was born. He was a wonderful humanitarian, as was Josiah Wedgwood. He was a long-time member of parliament during the difficult years of the early 1900′s into the 1920′s, and it was Winston Churchill who put him forward for a peerage, even though they didn’t necessarily agree on all political aspects. So again, I’m very fortunate to be descended from somebody for whom I have the highest regard.

josiah wedgwood

Portrait of Josiah Wedgwood
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: You also had a very successful military career as a Captain in the Royal Scots, the Royal Regiment, and as you mentioned, participated in the House of Lords for 25 years. When did you join the family business and how did that come about?

LW: Well, actually I will never forget my first visit to the factory. I felt a very strong connection to the people who work there, and in many instances they may not be by the name Wedgwood, but they have inherited the business in the same way through the centuries, through the generations, because it has become such a generational business, whereby son will follow fathers, and in many instances daughters their mothers, in the various crafts and skills etc.

And then when I was 16 I took a summer internship with the company, and I feel that my involvement dates back to those days. I have really had some association with the company ever since then. So, we’re looking at really a period of about 40 years now.
CJ: That’s a long time. Your famous ancestor, Josiah Wedgwood, founded Wedgwood 250 years ago. What can you tell us about him? He sounds like a very interesting man.

LW: Josiah Wedgwood, you know, I try and put it in relative terms, was a contemporary of George Washington. George Washington as the first President of the United States ironically ordered Wedgwood through his agent in London. So we put a sort of time perspective on that. But Josiah Wedgwood was very much a free thinker. Following that infamous tea party in Boston he really supported the struggle for independence here, where at the same time he was very proud of his own English heritage and believed in those principles.

benjamin franklin

Black basalt medallion of Benjamin Franklin, 18th century
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

He befriended Benjamin Franklin who was another great freethinker and another great American patriot. He provided Franklin with medallions for Franklin’s efforts in the abolition of the slave trade. Josiah Wedgwood himself, a humanitarian on the home front, looked at ways to improve the way in which his employees worked, and how they lived, and how they took care of themselves from a health point of view.

Abolitionist cameo pendant modelled by William Hackwood, late 1780s
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

And from a business point of view, for which he is probably remembered the most, he was a great innovator, a great experimenter, he was very prescient in terms of what was happening in the market and in developing markets. Our industry for the most part prior to the late 1700′s was just making very much craft-related products that were of a useful nature. He realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to develop a product that would become fashionable within England and fashionable elsewhere. So he spent a lot of time in the laboratory working on clays and glazes, perfecting them.

He was a perfectionist I think. He really liked to do the very best that he could, and he worked towards specific goals and making the best. And he did, and as a result he gained the patronage of Queen Charlotte, who allowed him to style himself Potter to Her Majesty. That was a very big deal in those days, and to name this particular line of products his Queen’s Ware. This allowed him to go elsewhere. He was soon celebrated in Russia and of course Katherine the Great of Russia ordered several important services for him.

Obviously trans-Atlantic, we talked about George Washington and others. Further south he was well respected in Asia where there is such a strong lineage and heritage of making ceramics. Australia was a burgeoning country. The birth of modern Australia happened in the 1780′s, and we have been involved in that great country ever since. There was so much that was going on during his lifetime, and of course it was really pre-industrial revolution. He worked with extraordinary people like James Watt, Thomas Wielden who made a number of lathes and other products to help him in his industry, some of which we are still using to this day.

I was talking to a group of bloggers the other day, and they were very interested in Josiah Wedgwood. And I said, you know, this was a man extraordinary for his times, and I think that if he was around today, he would be on Facebook, he would be tweeting because he was all about communication. He wrote letters, as they did in those days, but he spent more time writing those letters, writing his thoughts, and putting down ideas constantly. He was, I think feverish in terms of what he did with his time.
CJ: Do you have some of these letters and documents in your family?

LW: Well, they are all in our museum now, everything that is sort of pertinent to that period is.
CJ: That must give some wonderful insight into his mind.

LW: Well it really does. It gives a tremendous insight into the man himself, and we are so fortunate to have so much of the correspondence that relates to his lifetime.

Letter from Josiah Wedgwood to his business partner Bentley
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: You briefly mentioned this and I also read about this, Josiah Wedgwood had very high standards and he was keenly interested in scientific advances of his days.

LW: Right.
CJ: So how did that translate into the pottery during his day and how are these standards and the approach translate into the company today?

LW: Well his standards were undoubtedly very high, and they translate into today. One of the interesting aspects of any brand/company today is their logo, their brand mark. And again, he was incredibly prescient in creating the company’s stamp that he would put on all of his products, and there were two things that were relative to this. He didn’t want people copying them. So, you know, in order to retain copyright this was an incredibly novel and clever way of doing it.
CJ: So nobody did that at that time?

LW: That’s right, there was no one really who put their company name on their pottery. There may have been various marks that dated back to then. But to actually have your company back stamp on every piece that you made was very novel for that period, and I think it illustrates itself today in the fact that we are very bound and determined to retain that legacy, and one of which is very definitely quality, his commitment to craftsmanship, to the skills, to ways in which to make them.

And I think that that very much relates to the fact today that we create pieces, many of which you’ll see here at Gump’s, that are almost created in exactly the same way that they were over 200 years ago. Of course, we have electricity and gas and other means today; but when you travel around our factory today you will see all the hand skills still very much in use, whether it be in modelling, whether it be in decorating, enamelling, it is still a very creative business.

And then, one of the most critical things, Josiah Wedgwood realized that distinctive design was critical. So it is very easy for somebody else to go and copy another manufacturer. What he was doing was very novel, very different from anything that had been done before. And again, I believe that this in terms of where we are, where our focus is today and for the future, is on distinctive design.

And of course, we’re celebrating 250 years. We have this great heritage and legacy, but Wedgwood through the generations has had to stay relevant, and lifestyles change, and we are in a current time when lifestyles are definitely changing dramatically. So it is so important for us to maintain relevance for today’s consumer.

Tea Set in the Distinctive House of Wedgwood Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: And how do you do that with people living more casual lifestyles and having more modern tastes, how do you do that?

LW: Yes. There is definitely a case in point here for lifestyles where it is more casual. There is definitely more of a different kind of dining. But the products we produce reflect that. They reflect it in terms of whether it be in pure design itself, in shape, in the actual assembly of various pieces, in the way that we develop products to be possibly mixed and matched, to be used in a what we call a sort of a table-scaping manner, that is exciting and interesting to the consumer of today. And we are a global business, so there is a huge variety in which we are involved.

“Bombe” vase designed by Keith Murray for Wedgwood, 1930
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

“Platinum Stripe” plate designed by Jasper Conran
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

Here in San Francisco we look at a consumer base that has everything. There is this incredible sort of fusion with the Orient, with Asia. It is also very traditional in some aspects and very contemporary. So there is a wonderful mix, and I think it is important at for us to be able to balance all of those aspects, and this is something I believe Gump’s do incredibly well. It is not necessarily for their integrity, it is not just about appealing to everybody, it is appealing to a discerning customer who is really going to appreciate all the things that I believe we at Wedgwood are about, and we have discussed, like the quality, the distinctive design, the elements of craftsmanship.
CJ: Wedgwood is certainly represented in the right way in San Francisco. Please tell me something about the more well known designs, colours, patterns, that have made Wedgwood so unique in history; Jasperware comes to mind.

Jasperware color trials
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

LW: Terrific, yes. Jasperware was perfected after some 10,000 experiments by Josiah Wedgwood.
CJ: 10,000?

LW: That’s right, and we have many of those examples of those experiments still to this day in our museum. Again, perfection was important, and what Josiah Wedgwood was trying to do was to create a clay body that could take the bas-relief, the decoration that is all hand-applied to the piece. It is then fired at a high temperature so that the two bodies fuse to become one.

And yes, Jasperware, so often thought of as being in a blue and white combination, and yes, that is a colour combination that is enjoyed and celebrated around the world, but we have also during and since the late 1700′s, created a number of different colours and they today number in excess of 70 different colours and colour combinations. And you will notice here several of those colours and colour combinations, one of them being taupe, which in terms of contemporary colours has been very popular. We’ve just introduced a new darker blue that we called “Saxon blue”.

Various Jasperware colors

CJ: It is a beautiful shade of blue.

LW: It really is, and you are a blue lady, I can see that. Blues are wonderful, but it extends through the spectrum of colours; greens, crimsons, cane, primrose, there are any number of colours and colour combinations that make up the family of Jasperware colours.

Limited edition “Panther” vase from the Distinguished House of Wedgwood Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

Then there’s something else that I am sure you have seen here at Gump’s, which again I think of as being of a critical make-up of the Wedgwood group of ceramic bodies, and that is Black Basalt.

Black generally is pure black. Josiah Wedgwood perfected it before Jasperware strangely enough, in 1768, and he said of it, “black is sterling and will last forever”. And we still make a good amount of it today. It is really appreciated by a number of collectors around the world, and from an interiors point of view I think it is a basic, and it always will remain a basic.

Tea Set in Black Basalt, designed 1768
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

Black Balsalt Vase with Greek motif, 1785
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

We were talking about tea earlier on. There was in the late 1700′s for ladies who were enjoying tea the idea that the blackness of Black Basalt helped show up the lightness of the hands, the lily white hands. So there was this great contrast, and it is a part of the history of course, but the actual pieces themselves, I think, really reflect an absolutely wonderful part of our make-up.

Black Basalt Tea Pots, late 18th century
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

And that is really in the more decorative end of the business. Of course Queen’s Ware is really where the business started in 1759 going into the 1760′s, and which Josiah Wedgwood was able to call Queen’s Ware related to Queen Charlotte. That today is still very much a part of our manufacturing.

But the lion share does go to bone china, which graces the tables of apartments, houses, palaces, great hotels, ocean liners like Queen Mary II, it goes on. It is such a high quality product. It is durable, and the designers with whom we are fortunate to have working with us like Barbary Barry of course, like Vera Wang, Martha Stewart and a very talented young English designer, Jasper Conran, really have a field day working with this particular clay body and the designs that can be created from it.

White “Chinoiserie” plate designed by Jasper Conran
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: Of course I also love bone china, and its translucency when you hold it up to the light.

LW: Indeed. You are a china junkie; I can see that.
CJ: If I would only have more room in my house I would have even more tableware. I want to go back quickly to blue Jasperware. When I think of Wedgwood blue I always think about a particular shade of blue, as I believe most of us do. How did that colour come about? Was blue a popular colour during that 18th century? Was it a particular blue that already existed in other materials such as fabrics, or did Josiah Wedgwood create that particular shade?

LW: Well there was such an interest in developing a clay body that would take typically this classical bas relief, the figures, and Josiah Wedgwood looked at that sort of pale blue background as being a particularly good way to show off the bas relief, and that is really how it kind of developed, and as I said, developed further. I don’t think there was anything that was specified about blue being a fashionable colour of the period; it was just in a decorative way a very useful colour to use as a background for the decoration.
CJ: And in your examples of the mistakes, are there different shades of blues before they arrived at that particular one?

LW: Very much so, and it wasn’t just about that the colour, it was about the texture, about the density of the clay body.
CJ: Talking about the whole collection, some of the pieces you mentioned in collections have been around for a very long time, but you have also worked with contemporary designers. What are the newest innovations and designs that your company has introduced for the market more recently? You mentioned a particular shade of blue in the Jasperware. Anything else you can tell us about?

LW: Well yes, in the sort of more decorative area we have a collection called The Distinguished House of Wedgwood‘, which really is a reflection of all the wonderful pieces that have been made in a decorative manner. For bone china and more of our tableware, it is wonderful to see how our archives have really sort of helped inspire, not only the group of designers whom we are lucky enough to have as part of our team, but also our in-house team.

For example, in the early 1800′s there was a tremendous amount of interest in Asian design, Chinoiserie, and there was a design that was originally called “Dogs of Foo”, which then became “Chinese Tigers”, a wonderful sort of creature and that is now being reinterpreted a collection today called “Dynasty”. Not only have we been able to create a new design within an archive design, but we were also able to create some new pieces within that collection. For example, a square plate, which just beautifully reflects the design, but also in a sense this idea of a more contemporary style of life. So that is one we mentioned earlier on, Barbara Barry’s new pattern, Radiance’, which I think is absolutely stunning.

“Dynasty” collection
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

“Dynasty” square plate
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

Very Wang has come out with some new designs recently, which also reflect a sort of more casual style. Casual is one thing, it conveys maybe I think the wrong impression that is its not important, but there is a whole new sense of casual being really of a quality. It is really a sort of transition from being very traditional, formal, than to totally causal. It is a sense of how you can use it. For example, bone china for so long it has been thought of as formal in whatever pattern, whether it be a plain white design or with no design. That today can also be sensed or felt of in a more casual environment.

“Gilded Leaf” collection designed by Vera Wang
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: Perhaps informal in a sense does not necessarily mean that its sloppy or not beautiful.

LW: Well I think that’s it, and that is what I am finding in my travels, especially with young people today, that we have been through this period of time where there has been so much available and that’s wonderful for all of us, but there is now a greater sense to me of a focus on quality, that whatever you are going to put in your home you want to make it something that is special. And instead of having a vast array it is now more exciting to say, well we are not going to have quite as much as before, but what we have is going to be very special and we are going to use it, or it is going to be on display, and we’re really going to enjoy it.
CJ: To your point of using their beautiful china, I always encourage my clients to do so, not just during the holiday, or on special occasions. Any dinner party deserves such special pieces, and if it feels too formal mix it with more humble pieces. The idea is to enjoy quality every day.

LW: Every day is to my mind what living and lifestyles are about. Every day is a celebration in my book and every opportunity that you have to make it much more special. I always equate it to a very simple analogy that you know you can have really relatively simple food on a beautiful plate with a gourmet experience as a result; the same applies to an average wine in a fine stemmed glass.
CJ: Well put. I wanted to ask you about the 250th anniversary. What are some of the ways your company is celebrating this monumental achievement?

LW: We are fortunate to be able to celebrate it on a global basis in many of our important markets. In the US we have just opened a fabulous exhibition in Washington DC, which consists of nearly 200 pieces selected from collections and museums around the country. Of course we are having our ongoing celebrations in England. We had a terrific event at Harrods, and we actually going on to Russia fairly soon. We have some big celebrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Around Asia we have the wonderful opportunity to be able to present ourselves to an audience that is very interested, whether it be in Japan, Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, and then I mentioned earlier on, Australia; we are doing some special things there.

So it is truly a great time for us as a company to be able to reflect on, as I mentioned before, our heritage and legacy, but it is also a time that as we see here at Gump’s, to really sort of focus on today and the future and what the customer is looking for, what is relevant to today’s world.

“Prestige Dolphin Pastille” from the Distinguished House of Wedgwood Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: Wedgwood has gone through some major changes in ownership over the years. What kind of effect do you think those changes have on the brand that your family built? (In 1986 Waterford and Wedgwood merged. In 1998 the business acquired a controlling stake in German china maker Rosenthal. Then in March of 2009 the company was purchased by KPS Capital Partners, a US based private equity firm is part of new company called Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton (WWRD), which currently includes Johnson Brothers, a US liquor company, Waterford and Wedgwood and three more English china manufacturers, namely Royal Dalton, Royal Albert and Minton)

LW: I think they are all very positive. You know we have been through some changes recently; still we have managed to stay very much together. We’re fortunate to be with our sister companies, Waterford and Royal Dolton. We have been through those challenges as I think anybody, virtually any organization around the world has. We are very fortunate to have new owners who respect and understand the brands that they now have, and we look forward to a very sort of exciting, new and bright future.
CJ: Wonderful. Now on a more personal front, I have three questions, hopefully we can squeeze them all in. I learned that you are also very much involved in charity, and I have read about the Lord Wedgwood Down Syndrome Education Research Award and the Lord Wedgwood Charity. Are these personal projects, or are they connected to your namesake company

LW: Well the company is very kind to support them, but they are very personal and I am fortunate to be the father of a wonderful special-needs child who has Down Syndrome. So it something that is very close to my heart. My own personal tragedy comes out of much good fortune in that I suffered cardiac arrest and I survived, and now what we are doing and achieving is helping to save young lives by placing defibrillators into high school sports programs.

Lord Piers Wedgwood
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: It all goes back to some of the spirit that came from you when we were talking earlier in the very beginning. So what makes you passionate about your china company, and what makes you passionate about life.

LW: You know, what makes me passionate about the company is all the people who are involved, and that goes to the very source of people that make these wonderful products, the fact that they share with me this great heritage and definitely to the wonderful people we work with around the world, like the staff here at Gump’s who are so respectful of what we do and so encouraging, and then very much onto the consumer. We have collectors around the world who really enjoy our products, and they keep us good because they help us maintain those standards of quality, distinctive design and craftsmanship.
CJ: In closing, military and politics versus fine china. Looking back at all, if you would make a choice today knowing what you know now what would it be?

LW: If I only had one choice it would definitely be very much ceramics. This is my heritage, it is in my blood. But I’ve been lucky to have all of those other elements of my life, which help shape the person I am and the way that I am able to do that myself.

Ornamenting of a Portland vase and engine-turning of a Jasper tri-color plate
Photo: Courtesy of Wedgwood

CJ: As you said before, you are indeed blessed. Thank you very much Lord Wedgwood, it was most enjoyable talking with you.

LW: Thank you.

“At Home With Wedgwood: The Art of the Table”, written by Tricia Foley with the foreword by Lord Wedgwood, is available locally at Gump’s and Borders, and online at Amazon.

For more “Tea With Claudia” articles, please visit www.residesf.com



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