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The Wedgwood story began in 1759, when Josiah Wedgwood, aged just twenty-nine, started as an independent potter in Burslem, Staffordshire, England. He began to experiment avidly with clay, exploring its many possibilities.
During his lifetime he invented and produced three of Wedgwood's most famous ceramic bodies - Queen's Ware (1762), Black Basalt (1768) and Jasper (1774). These remain famous to this day.
Creative, energetic, an astute business man and patron of the arts, he quickly became Britain's most inspired and successful ceramics pioneer. His genius led English pottery from a cottage craft to an art form and international industry.
He is today remembered as the “Father of English Potters”. His pioneer spirit, his vigorous design policy, his commitment to exacting standards of quality and his efforts to create affordable luxury products remain the values at the heart of the brand today.
In 1762, Josiah met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant who had travelled widely on the Continent and possessed a sound knowledge of classical and Renaissance art. With Bentley, he formed an intimate friendship and partnership, which was to last until Bentley's death. The years of the partnership with Bentley were probably Josiah's happiest and most prosperous, with his inventing, perfecting and capturing the fashion of the time for the neo-classical style.
Today, the Wedgwood and Bentley collection celebrates this partnership and is the pinnacle of the product portfolio. It encompasses the finest Wedgwood ornamental ware and luxury tableware, with each item made in England and meticulously decorated by hand by Master Craftsmen.
Wedgwood's enduring appeal among the world's Royal Families and Heads of State began with Queen Charlotte, who ordered a set of cream-coloured earthernware that pleased her so much that Josiah Wedgwood was granted permission to style himself 'Potter to Her Majesty' and call his innovative cream ware 'Queen's Ware'. A few years later the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia ordered a service in Queen's Ware for fifty people, which consisted of of 952 hand-painted pieces of gardens and English scenery. Today this service is kept in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Since the time of Queen Charlotte, Wedgwood collections were to grace the tables of every British monarch and many other illustrious Heads of State, such as in the Vatican, the Kremlin and the White House. It was also the brand of choice for some of the world's most prestigious hotels.
Jasper, the most famous of Josiah's inventions, first appeared in 1774 after thousands of experiments. An unglazed vitreous fine stoneware, it was made in blue, green, lilac, yellow, black or white; sometimes one piece combined three or more of these colours. Upon these delicately coloured grounds would be applied the classical and contemporary reliefs which are still made today from moulds reproduced from the originals. The iconic light blue jasper gave rise to the expression "Wedgwood Blue" and remains a recognizable Wedgwood signature worldwide.
Since 1940, at the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston, England, modern technology combines with the ancient skills of throwing, modelling and decorating. These precious skills are preserved through a solid apprenticeship program, reintroduced to meet the growing global demand for some of Wedgwood's most exclusive signature pieces. Apprentices train for up to 10 years to become Master Craftspeople.
Throughout its history, Wedgwood has collaborated with the most famous artists of the day. In the twentieth century, Rex Whistler, John Skeaping, Eric Ravilious, Keith Murray, Arnold Machin, Richard Guyatt, Eduardo Paolozzi and David Gentleman have all designed for Wedgwood; reflecting Josiah's policy of commissioning work from John Flaxman, George Stubbs, Matthew Bolton and other celebrated artists of the late eighteenth century.
Today, the Wedgwood collections are designed in England by the Wedgwood Design Studio. Jasper Conran, one of the UK's leading fashion designers, and Vera Wang, the acclaimed authority in bridal elegance, also created distinguished collections for Wedgwood, whilst Beatrix Potter's original watercolours adorn Peter Rabbit collections.
Wedgwood exports all over the world with a commitment to creating premium, desirable and distinctively English home and lifestyle products to delight consumers – a fitting tribute to the memory of its founder.
For more information on Josiah Wedgwood and the history of the company, the Wedgwood Museum at Barlaston is the place to go or visit www.wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk
The Wedgwood company is founded by Josiah Wedgwood I
Queen Charlotte of England commissioned her Queen's Ware service
Catherine the Great of Russia commissioned the “Frog” service
After thousands of experiments, Josiah perfects the world famous Jasper ceramic
Copying the ancient Barberini Vase. Josiah painstakingly reproduces the Portland Vase in Jasper to great success
Wedgwood's London showroom realised Josiah's vision
Wedgwood perfects fine bone china
1,282 bone china Wedgwood pieces are commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt for the White House
1200 piece service for HRH Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation luncheon
The Wedgwood Rose was created by David Austen for Wedgwood 250th anniversary
The launch of the luxury Wedgwood & Bentley collection
The Wedgwood 2013 campaign featuring British Model Cecile Sinclair photographed by Rebecca Miller