Early in 2013 The Royal Mint received an order for a baronet’s badge from Sir Michael Nairn, the 4th baronet of the Nairn family, a well-known name in the flooring industry, based in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Sir Michael and his two sons, Andrew and Alex, belong to the prestigious Royal Company of Archers that functions as the sovereign’s ‘Body Guard in Scotland’. All three were invited to attend a Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh in July 2013.
Being aware of his entitlement to wear a baronet’s badge, Sir Michael naturally wished to wear it for this very special occasion. So he contacted the Medals department of The Royal Mint, requesting – ‘could one be made in time’? That immediately set in motion craftsmanship and skills that, although infrequently called upon, are still available here.
History and Design of the Baronet’s Badge
The baronetcy was created in 1611 by James I who honoured 200 English ‘gentlemen of good birth’ with the title of ‘Sir’, with the intention of bridging the gap between peers of the realm and knights. Scottish baronets were granted a badge by Charles I in 1629. Three hundred years later, George V agreed in 1929 that all baronets might wear a similar badge. Initial design sketches for this new badge, by the artist George Kruger Gray, had been under consideration by The Royal Mint Advisory Committee since December 1928.
What eventually emerged was a design associated with that created for Scottish baronets by Charles I. This has the red hand of Ulster as its central motif, surrounded by an oval border of roses for England; shamrocks for Ireland; roses and thistles for Great Britain and roses, thistles and shamrocks for United Kingdom baronets. No new design was created for Scottish baronets because it was assumed that they would not wish to abandon their ancient design.
First Choice – Silver or Gold?
A baronet’s badge probably ranks as one of the most complicated items made by The Royal Mint and from start to finish the process can take nearly five months. Depending on the wishes of the baronet, the badge can be made of sterling silver, or of nine, 18 or 22 carat gold. However, all badges have a uniform finish due to the final gilding of the metal. Sir Michael’s United Kingdom design was made in silver.
First Impressions and Pressings
In the first stage, two pieces of similar metal are taken for each badge. The piece intended for the front of the badge is placed in a medal press where a die bearing the intricate design makes a first impression. Four blows of this press follow, to ensure the detail is faithfully transferred. The second piece of metal for the back of the badge, receives three blows from a plain domed die. Both pieces are then temporarily joined and given a final blow to ensure they will eventually fit together.
Front and Back
A trained silversmith cuts out the still solid design of the front by drilling as many as 80 holes in it to insert a saw to cut out the surplus material. The back is trimmed and drilled with four holes corresponding to the position of four hollow rivets soldered to the inside of the front.
A small ring is soldered to the front and a loop made for the ribbon to eventually pass through.
Hallmarked, Enamelled and Engraved
Now almost complete, the badge is sent to the London Assay Office to receive its hallmark, for assurance of its metal content. On returning to The Royal Mint it is again sent away for enamelling, after which the back is engraved with the name and title of the baronet.
The separated front and back are gilded with great care to ensure the enamel is not cracked.
Its final assembly follows, when the front and back are fitted together and a yellow ribbon edged with blue is attached.
The badge is now ready for presentation to the baronet. We are pleased to confirm that the whole process was completed in time for Sir Michael Nairn to wear it proudly at the Royal Garden Party in July 2013.
In an age of mass production and machinery, we are also proud that baronets’ badges continue to be made here by hand, as when they were first instituted by George V in 1929; showcasing the skills still available at The Royal Mint. Experts in the field of medallic art, craftsmen at The Royal Mint have been creating medals, including military decorations and gallantry awards, for centuries.