Heritage Crafts

Hand engraving

The embellishment of metal, precious stones and semi-precious stones using traditional hand tools.
Craft category
Metal, Stone
Historic area of significance
Mainly UK, with Europe having a tradition for engraving, gun engraving in Italy in particular.
Area practiced currently
Across the UK, but focus on London and the South.
Origin in the UK
14th Century
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
21-50 The Hand Engravers Association of Great Britain know of 40 professionals and estimate that there may be a further 10. There are none who specialise in watch engraving and only 1 who engraves die stamping full time.
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
11-20 Based on figures from the Hand Engravers Association of Great Britain. There will also be some silversmiths who do some engraving as a part of their work.
Current No. of trainees
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Current No. of leisure makers


Historically hand engraving has been used in both practical and decorative applications ranging from hunting arms to royal seals, from coins and bank notes to jewellery.

The craft developed in the 14th Century, when it became common for swords and other arms to be embellished and decorated, and with the development of copper plate engraving for printing. Reddaway and Walker’s early history of the Goldsmiths’ Company says that ‘gravers and the cutters of seals’ were mentioned in the first hallmarking act of 1300, when they were ordered not to keep back an undue proportion of the gold and silver removed in the engraving process They also note that a Goldsmiths Company ordinance of around 1370 set down for rules for ‘work in which some of the craft were always involved but which they could not wholly control, the making and engraving of seals and the burnishing of plate’. (p.34, 247). Note 58 of this chapter records some 15th century engravers of silver seals.

Traditionally engravers were aligned with the print industry, so there were clusters of businesses in the City of London (Clerkenwell) and of course engraving sits with jewellery/silverware production so historically businesses might be based in Hatton Garden and Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.


Engraving is the cutting away of metal. This is done with the burin hand tool, also known as the graver. First introduced in the 16th Century, these tools are still in use today. Some professionals will use pneumatic gravers to save time and muscle strain but they are still controlled by hand

There are two types of hand engravers:

  • those who work engrave on other people’s items as a commercial engraver
  • those who engrave on one off objects as an artist/craftsperson


  • Gun engraving
  • Seal engraving
  • Clock and watch engraving
  • Engraving for enamel
  • Engraving for die stamping.
  • Copperplate engraving

Issues affecting the viability

Training and recruitment issues: Lack of master engravers able to take on apprentices, and lack of appropriate apprentices. Very few places offer training in Hand Engraving in its own right although some degree courses include it as a module.

Market issues: The professional engravers we speak to are very busy, in particular gun engravers often have waiting lists that go into years.

Supply of raw materials, allied materials and tools: The Association has experienced some problems in the last year of getting hold of tools when required for courses (in particular gravers for seal engraving which are slightly different to surface engraving). It has not prevented us from running the courses but has made more challenging.

Small business issues: There is support for craftspeople starting out in business selling a product (not specifically for engravers but useful nonetheless). However, there seems to be very little or no support for craftspeople starting out in business offering a service.

Ageing workforce: Potential masters are getting older, and there are not many obvious successors.

Training issues: There are very few hand engraving firms who have the capacity to take on trainees, the sector is now primarily sole traders

Global and geopolitical issues: British firms that use engravers (not necessarily but including engraving companies) have been using engravers from Europe, in particular gun makers using engravers from Italy; but Brexit and to some extent Covid-19 has prevented this and the British companies are struggling to find professional engravers in the UK to undertake their commissions.

Support organisations

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

The Hand Engravers Association have a directory of members on their website

 Businesses employing two or more makers

Other information

Clock and watch engraving is critically endangered


National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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