Vaughtons is the family-run business based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter that has been making enamelled badges for Aston Martin Newport Pagnell since the 70’s, and Aston Martin main production since 2012. Meeting Sales Director, Nick Hobbis, at Aston Martin Bristol resulted in an invitation to visit the factory. We didn’t anticipate what a fascinating day out that would be.
Paul & Jan Gerring's GT8 outside Vaughtons' factory (W H Darby & Son is part of the Vaughtons Group)
From the outside, the business looks like a rather quaint and old-fashioned factory. Indeed that’s what it is. Behind the 1950s style frontage is a plethora of pale green old English machine tools that would have looked at home in David Brown’s Newport Pagnell.
Nick arranged for our 3 Astons to be parked safely, two of them indoors, before a short spell in the office explaining the background to the business and seeing some of their work for clients around the world. Vaughtons’ fine enamelling graces the chests of royalty in Africa and the Middle East; mayoral chains in the UK; Olympic Medals going back to London 1908; various badges of honour and, of course, the wings and other badges on Aston Martin cars, amongst their many automotive clients.
On receipt of a commission for work, some of which have lasted over 100 years, designs are agreed and then dies are created for the pieces. In some examples, a single medal can include more than 40 components.
When the die is finished, a selection of presses ranging up to 600 tons, stamp the design into the source metal, including silver and gold for some designs. However, it’s not that simple, as Nick explains, “As metal is pressed, it’s structure changes. That’s why we anneal (heat and cool) the metal between pressings. Aston Martin badges typically require up to 100 individual treatments. One of our team checks the badge at every stage of that process”… and that’s before they start the enamelling!
After the almost constant noise of the presses in the machine shop, the dedicated enamelling room is a relatively tranquil environment. In there, the completed badge ‘shells’ are loaded with millions of tiny coloured glass beads that will ultimately be melted into enamel. Skilled use of a tool that looks like an oversized fountain pen layers the white and green powder before each badge spends 4-6 minutes in the kiln at 800C. It’s then linished, polished, chrome plated and passed for final inspection, packing and despatch.
The relative quiet of the enamelling room
Glass beads anyone? They are stored under water to stop them blowing away.
Applying the enamel paste
Then firing to cure the enamel
Whilst the process for creating enamelled objects is fairly well understood by Mr. & Mrs. Average, the details of exactly how and why each step in the process is required for this top-quality work is mind-boggling.
It’s testament to the quality of Vaughtons’ work that most of the staff have been with the business for many years and a lot of them are related in some way; a true family business.
Our party was welcomed warmly by every member of the Vaughtons team. This was clearly not a show put on for some ‘VIPs’ (thankfully, none of us would have liked that). Nick’s invitation to come back again and for anyone else wanting to do so was genuine. The six of us can heartily recommend doing so.
Nick Hobbis displays the finished product, ready for despatch
As we departed, some of the team came out to see the cars. Loretta, whose job it is to make the final inspections before despatch, was delighted to see her work on a real car for the first time!
Author’s note: I think it’s about time Aston Martin invited the Vaughtons team to Gaydon to see the final stage of a process that starts with some sheet metal and a few glass beads in Birmingham.
Dies are stored for the Newport Pagnel DB cars ready to make heritage badges
Sincere thanks are due to Nick Hobbis and all of the team at Vaughtons. Also, to Aaron Allnutt at Aston Martin Bristol for introducing us.
L-R: Mike Jones, Nick Hobbis, Gillian Fawkes, Bev Jones, Paul & Jan Gerring (photo: Andrew Fawkes)
It was indeed a fascinating day out.
(All photos by Andrew & Gillian Fawkes)