Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her 90th birthday in regal style – and it's just been announced she even has her own limited edition handmade dishes! The beautiful set of china was commissioned by the Royal Collection Trust, which is dedicated to preserving European royal art collections. It was recently given the Queen's seal of approval and goes on sale today.
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But how does one go about creating exquisite tableware fit for a Queen?
HELLO! had a sneak peek at one of the factories in Stoke-on-Trent, England, where the must-have collectors' items are hand-crafted using traditional methods and techniques that have not changed for more than 250 years. And it turns out that when it comes to commemorating key events in her life, the final word on design goes to the monarch herself.
Ian Grant, production controller for the Royal Collection Trust, told HELLO!: "The products are always shown to the member of the Royal Family in whose honor they are made before we go into production with that range, because it's very personal and we want to make sure it reflects their wishes and desires.
"We tend to really work and work a design until we're 100 percent satisfied that it's appropriate. It's very, very rare that they say we don't like it at all!"
"We have received comments in the past and we have always acted on those comments, but I'm happy to say that when the Queen saw the 90th birthday china, she was very pleased."
Intricately designed in shades of blue and burnished gold, the 90th birthday range includes a $47 mug, a $55 pillbox, a tankard and 6in side plate at $75 each, a teacup and saucer at $105 and a large 10in plate at $170.
A limited edition range featuring charger plates, loving cups and other pieces will go on sale in the coming months.
Profits go back into preserving the Royal Collection, which is held in trust by the Sovereign for the nation.
Each piece has a unique design to complement the rest of the range but all feature the Royal Arms encircled by ribbons tied in a bow and surrounded by garlands of roses, shamrocks and thistles, the national emblems, which appear on the Queen's official coat of arms.
Roses and forget-me-nots, which traditionally bloom in April around her actual birthday, appear alongside cornflowers, which bloom around her official birthday in June.
Many of the pieces are edged with a "partridge-eye" pattern inspired by antique Sèvres porcelain in the State Apartments at Buckingham Palace. Ian said: "There is a lot of hidden meaning behind the design. We think very carefully about the event we are celebrating and the individual to whom it refers.
"If you look back at the Diamond Jubilee, Coronation, longest reigning monarch, those three ranges are quite formal.
"This time we thought, this is about Her Majesty The Queen, we wanted a different take. We wanted to develop something much more personal, with a lighter touch and lighter feel to it.
"And the back stamp says Made in England, which is vitally important to us." From design to dispatch, each exquisitely produced piece passes through at least 50 pairs of hands at around eight different factories in the Stoke-on-Trent area.
It can take up to a year for the designs to be finalized and reproduced on lithographic transfers known as decals using silk-screen printing.
Meanwhile bone china slip is poured into individual plaster of Paris molds to create the basic shape and rough edges and seams are removed before the item is fired, hand dipped in lead-free glaze and fired again.
After an inspection, each piece is decorated using decals before a third firing, another inspection and hand-gilding with burnished 22ct gold.
A final inspection takes place after a fourth firing and the approved item is wrapped in tissue paper – embossed with a floral design used in the silk damask wall hangings at Clarence House – and placed in a gift box.
Peter Walpole, 42, Director of Pollyanna, one of several factories producing the range, said: "It's such a privilege to be able to make the products. We can't compete with offshore factories because of legislation, but it's more of a high-end, niche, specialist product.
"That Made in England stamp is so vital to us and overseas visitors see a great value in it – not just in ceramics, but in fashion, food and other products."
The Staffordshire Potteries have been at the heart of the UK ceramics industry for more than 300 years, but only 10,000 of the once 80,000-strong workforce remain in the business.
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Over the past 23 years, the Royal Collection Trust has commissioned some three million pieces of china from the area, helping to preserve traditional skills and keep companies in business.
Ian explained: "These great people and great skills are only here in Stoke and we're proud of our association with it. We are quite a big part of their business, indirectly we probably employ 80-100 people in the area.
"Profits go back in to pay for the preservation and conservation of the art held in trust by the Queen for us all. The potteries in Staffordshire help to pay for that history and we are helping to pay for the skills that otherwise might have been lost."
The set is on sale from March 1 at Royal Collection Trust shops in London, Edinburgh and Windsor and online at: royalcollectionshop.co.uk.