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Enterprise: Glittering deal creates a taste of luxury for QM2.

Byline: Martin Faint

No matter how rough the weather faced by the Queen Mary 2 on her maiden voyage to Fort Lauderdale one thing is for sure -the ship's dining rooms will stay resplendent with the glint of silver thanks to one Midland company.

With their luxuriant air, the ship's silver cutlery and serving pieces speak of years of expertise from Birmingham-firm Bayliss Dawe Gainsborough.

In its biggest deal to date, the Brearley Street company furnished the ship, which set sail on its two week trek across the Atlantic this Monday, with thousands of items in a sale it said was measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds.

It provided a welcome boost for the 30-strong firm, which traces its roots back half a century.

'We've been negotiating for some little while and started talking about it two years ago,' said sales manager, Peter Watkinson. 'The final order was placed in February which gave us plenty of time.'

The firm had delivered boxes containing thousands of items of cutlery, salt and pepper shakers and assorted service pieces to the ship's French construction yard by October.

The extravagant dining set is made from nickel electroplated in pure silver.

'In appearance there is no substitute for silver,' said Mr Watkinson. 'It is far more imposing than any other material and is associated with fine dining.'

The company still produces the occasional set in pure silver, but demand is slim.

'Cutlery was once silver all the way through but it's not really practical in a commercial situation. It needs love, care and attention and of course it is so valuable. Nickel plated silver is a good compromise. It retains the looks but is much more sturdy so it will withstand the rigour of a restaurant.'

The firm's plated silver cutlery ranges from pounds 6 to pounds 15 depending on the thickness of the valuable coating.

'The silver is measured in microns,' said Mr Watkinson. 'And a 20 micron plated piece would give many years of service as long as it's not attacked with wire wool.'

The wire wool scenario represents something of a nightmare for Mr Watkinson. Through the firm's repair and resilvering service he has encountered many cutlery horror stories.

'There are a lot of problems today, many people just don't have the experience of handling silverware and it can lead to abuse. It's not unknown for silver forks to be used as doorstops or knives to be used as tin-openers.' But it is generally the larger items -such as the firm's pounds 4,000 duck press -that warrant the expense of repair.

These items have typically been handmade by the firm's 30-strong team of craftsmen, as the volumes are too low to justify automated production, and then go on to take pride of place in a restaurant.

'We take on all sorts of things and produce bespoke items of serving ware. Chefs are always looking for a way to present their food that is a little different.'

But fashions do change and with minimalist looks now popular, demand for some of its products has fallen by the wayside. Its pounds 14,000 carving trolleys are no longer the rage, and orders for catalogue item number 77293 -the duck press -come less than yearly and then may never see service.

The last one made headed to China where it took pride of place in a display cabinet.

'I think there is probably a diminishing market,' admitted Mr Watkinson. 'But we have now got a wider spread in it, with our products used all over the world despite very little advertising. It's all come through word of mouth.'

Within its market, there is no substitute for this informal mechanism.

'We deal with an awful lot of prestigious companies and we tend to remain in the background and let the products tell the story,' said Mr Watkinson.

It is an approach that works, leaving the company well established at the top end of the hospitality industry.

'People tend to know about us,' he said. 'We serve a niche, which is probably at the top two per cent of the sector. It's probably one of the reasons we survive.'

But sadly the firm's exclusive clientele base means its staff rarely get to see their products in action. Its own refreshment area knows no silver, or even duck presses.

'Its the same old story,' said Mr Watkinson. 'Although we produce lovely things most of us never get to see them in use.'

Fortunately for Mr Watkinson, with his own set of silver for 'high days and holidays', he is one of the lucky few.

'We do have some Gainsborough cutlery at home,' he admitted. 'And it still looks good after all these years. I on the other hand do look a little greyer.'

CAPTION(S):

Directors of Bayliss Dawe Gainsborough (left to right) Greg Turvey, Lee Dawe and Peter Watkinson with one of the pieces of silver that the company has produced for the Queen Mary 2; Picture, JEREMY PARDOE
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 14, 2004
Words:834
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