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Return of the Snuff Box
High craft and contemporary design merge in a collection of one-of-a-kind objects from a new company dedicated to introducing historic methods and materials to a new generation of architects and designers.
Barber & Osgerby's Cidade candle holder.
Paolo Pandullo

We may be on the verge of a new Arts and Crafts movement, but it is clearly one stripped of both fervor for social reform and prejudice against machinery. This time around, the passion seems to be about the revival of arcane techniques and rarefied materials in the service of architects and designers making high-priced objets d’art. This is nowhere more evident than at a new company called Meta, created to marry hip designers to pedigreed artisans wielding age-old technologies. Opening in New York on May 12 (following a launch in Milan last month), Meta is a subsidiary of Mallett, an antiques dealer with shops in London and New York. The company commissioned five designers, among them Asymptote, Tord Boontje, Matali Crasset, and Barber Osgerby, to create 11 made-to-order pieces.

For a glass-topped coffee table called Ivo_03, Asymptote used faceted Imperial Tula blue steel (with its historical roots both in 18th-century weaponry and bibelots crafted for Catherine the Great to use as bribes) as a base to which the architects added a topographically-complex surface of slumped glass. Another Asymptote piece, Mnemos_03 (below) is the largest of three boxes made of silver gilt—the smaller Mnemos_01 is made of solid gold—with nested interior boxes carved from fine-grained satinwood. The box shape is as esoteric as its 18th-century antecedents would have been, based as it is on dozens of 3D printed models built up from layers of acrylnitrile butadene styrene deposits.

Asymptote's silver gilt Mnemos_03 jewelry box.

London-based designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have attempted to revolutionize the candelabra (above) by making a silver platter—more like a minimalist sheet of sheen—supporting seven candleholders sculpted into Jetson-like starbursts. These hand-wrought shapes are made of spun and cast 958 Britannia silver, an exceptionally pure grade of the metal introduced in 1697; the platter is of 925 Sterling and rests on a hidden base of polished pearwood.

Other pieces in the collection include Tord Boontje’s hand-veneered Coco Bolo cabinet and Matali Crasset’s Cubist cheval mirror with hand-stitched goatskin backing. The manufacture of bonbonnières, curio cabinets, and, yes, solid gold snuff boxes would hardly seem essential in today’s world, but anything that reconnects architects and designers to a knowledge and appreciation of how things are made is progress worth celebrating, and not only by fetishists.

Julie V. Iovine