With luxury now increasingly identified with one-off designs and with the current wave of renewed interest in local, traditional craftsmanship, the concept of quality is being re-discussed. 

So Giles Hutchinson Smith and Henry Neville – managing director and president, respectively, of Mallet, the antiques house with galleries in London and New York – were not surprised when clients expressed an interest in sourcing contemporary objects of similar quality to fine antiques.

“Quality, exquisite attention to detail and thoughtful selection of materials and construction, is as desirable and sought after today as it was in the past,” says Hutchinson Smith.

"Neville points out that the growing interest in extremely high quality – beyond names, labels and brands – often turns the antique dealer, a person who is an expert in quality, into someone who gives advice about the purchase of contemporary pieces too.

So, four years ago, Meta was born. It is a company dedicated to combining exquisite materials and master artisanship with cutting-edge contemporary design.

The first collection of objects was presented last April – three years after the initial contact with the designers involved – at the Fuori Salone, during Milan’s Furniture Fair, and then in New York.

In order to make the eleven richly detailed, functional and unique pieces that make up Meta’s first collection, the two owners had to travel the world to find craftspeople able to work materials according to specific 18th century techniques.

After the designers put in their proposals, Meta decided which materials would best suit each object. In some cases, that meant the re-creation of ancient, long-forgotten alloys. In others, it involved the analysis of historic art pieces (with the support of Oxford University), in order to understand exactly how materials were worked in the past.

The unpredictability of obtaining only the highest quality materials prevents Meta from guaranteeing that any single combination of materials, colours and finishes will be available in the future and clearly positions them as contemporary, limited-edition art pieces, albeit with a strong historical bent.

Without the knowledge and experience of the Italian luxury glass company Venini, for instance, the Cupola reading table designed by the British duo BarberOsgerby would never have seen the light.

It is made up of seven hand-blown glass elements variously nested and joined one atop the other. Venetian master blowers had to use multiple techniques, including free-blown and moulded glass, doppio incalmo joints, and a spiral of mezza filigrana glass. The piece is a lot more complex than it seems at first sight. The seemingly solid base is in fact four-layer opaline glass.

The internal stem used to encase the light is of milk-white glass followed by a section of spiraled white and clear mezza filigrana, which provides a fine tracery as a filter for light.

It is crowned by a third and final piece of coloured glass that rings the top outer edge. The outer dome is blown from a single gather of glass – very much the limit of what’s possible in terms of size. The table is mirror-polished, cast and spun white bronze.

Dutch designer Tord Boontje has taken his romantic style to an extreme for Meta, by creating a truly monumental piece that seems to have leapt out from a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

The Big Fig wardrobe is like a silent Renaissance garden that opens in front of our eyes to reveal a delicate tree. Its fig-leaf encrusted doors open to reveal a bronze tree arching up and outward against a background of silk.

Its 616 enamelled glass leaves are painstakingly hand-painted with bespoke colours, back and front. The leaves are suspended individually from a complicated tangle of hand-formed supporting vines, a process that required the development of a novel mapping and hanging system.

The overall size of the larger leaves and the enormous surface area that needed to be painted were originally thought impossible tasks, but the problems were later overcome with ingenuity and perseverance.

The inside tree was created with the lost wax method and then hand-carved, while the interior backdrop and base are upholstered in a custom hand-dyed and woven silk with an earth-to-sky motif.

The hanging lantern designed by Matali Crasset also hides many secrets. It looks as if it were made of bronze, yet the material used is paktong, an ancient golden-hued alloy that is used to encase twenty-four hand-blown glass panes, connected to each other at 102 different angles.

The paktong – a unique, non-tarnishing metal – was re-created by Meta with the support of Oxford University’s archeological materials sciences unit and a small, specialist foundry with particular expertise in complex historic alloys.

The formulation of the material was based upon a candlestick from 1720 made of Chinese-sourced paktong with a particularly beautiful patina. All structural elements were cast by the lost wax method.

Equally stunning is the Ivo_03 table by Asymptote, featuring a slumped-glass surface suspended across a contiguous and abstracted alloy surface of diamond-shaped facets.

The table base is the 3D materialisation of an asymmetrical metal topography of mathematically delineated folds and crevices. The material used is a bespoke formula of Tula steel, an ancient material re-created by Meta after the analysis of a rare piece of Imperial Tula steel from 1780.

Developed by the same craftspeople who restored the Kremlin, the perimeter edge of the metal base is hand-etched with a subtle pattern then hand-finished using traditional polishing methods to create a crisp surface.

“Meta is the antithesis of machine-age production,” says Louise-Anne Comeau, creative director of Meta. “Each object is as unique as the collaboration between the designers, artisans and materials that made it possible.”

Meta’s products are a true hymn to materials and artisanship. Through cutting-edge design they manage to forge a new dimension in which ancient and contemporary go hand-in-hand. 

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