The Asprey firm was established in the late 18th century specializing in dressing cases, during the early 20th century the firm rose to fame for its jewelry and royal patronage. Founder William Asprey was the descendant of French Huguenots who fled to England to escape religious persecution. The family traditionally specialized in leatherworking, watchmaking, and metalsmithing. During the 20th century the firm gained additional royal appointments as goldsmiths, silversmiths, and jewelers. During this time their international fame grew, foreign royalty and Hollywood celebrities flocked to the firm for customized, exclusive luxury items.
Asprey was founded in 1781 in Mitcham, South London. It was here that William Asprey established a silk printing business. William’s son Charles and his grandson, also Charles, expanded the business into the metallic arts. Asprey advertised “articles of exclusive design and high quality, whether for personal adornment or personal accompaniment and to endow with richness and beauty the tables and homes of people of refinement and discernment.” Asprey not only made superlative traditional dressing cases, they reconceived the category, creating new, more portable designs, especially in leather, suitable for the new style of travel ushered in by railways.
The company consolidated its position through shrewd acquisitions. In 1859 Asprey absorbed Edwards, an award winning maker of dressing cases and holder of a Royal Warrant. Asprey established its reputation as the premier maker of luxury goods by winning a gold medal for its dressing cases at the International Exhibition of 1862. In the same year Asprey was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria.
Throughout the nineteenth century business flourished and another Royal Warrant was granted by the Prince of Wales – later to be crowned Edward VII, who remained an important and enthusiastic client of Asprey. Patronage came not just from the British royal family and aristocracy but foreign royalty and dignitaries who would visit the store while in London. At the time of Edward VII’s funeral an Asprey member of staff remembered “practically all the ruling heads of state were there, and many of them came to Asprey. You might have seen three or four of them at one time.”
During the 20th century Asprey grew considerably as the company acquired new manufacturing facilities and hired the finest silversmiths, goldsmiths, jewelers and watchmakers. Asprey employed the finest craftsmen, including Ernest Betjeman, the father of the distinguished poet John Betjeman, and one of the most highly regarded designers of his day.
In the glamorous 1920s, commissions poured in from around the world. From American millionaires such as J. Pierpont Morgan to potentates such as the Maharajah of Patiala who commissioned a huge teak travelling trunk for each of his wives. Each blue velvet-lined trunk was fitted with solid silver washing and bathing utensils with waterspouts of ornate tiger head. Asprey cigarette cases became collectable amongst young sophisticates who delighted in its modern products, from art deco accessories to travel clocks, safety razors and automatic pencil sharpeners.
The coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 occasioned the Asprey Coronation Year Gold Collection which featured an 18 carat gold dessert, coffee and liqueur service weighing almost 27 pounds. This remarkable collection went on show in the Bond Street store in April of 1953 and subsequently toured the United States. The firm continues to produce exceptional jewelry created with the finest gems by skilled craftsmen in their signature British style.
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