The design for this cup and saucer is attributed to the experimental potter George Owen, known for perfecting the technique of ‘reticulating’, or piercing ceramics to create a honeycomb effect. Achieved by cutting the fragile, wet clay body freehand before firing, this technique resulted in multiple visits to the kiln, numerous imperfections and many failed pieces. Every piece was cut by hand with tools made by Owen, using filed metal stays from women’s corsets. As the Pottery Gazette reported in 1896, ‘The artist tooled every one of these minute apertures without having any tracery, or any other assistance whatever to guide him to regularity, except his eye and his hand…. If on the last day of his work his knife had slipped, and so made two ‘holes’ into one, the whole piece would have been ruined.’
George Owen was incredibly secretive about his technique, not even allowing his son to watch him work, in order to protect his lucrative trademark. Beginning his career in June 1859 at the age of 13, Owen was employed at the Worcester porcelain manufactory as a ‘China Presser’ in the Ornamental department. Under the supervision of Edward Locke, Owen cut out holes in porcelain wares to imitate reticulated vessels produced by Sèvres. The shape of this cup is identical to an earlier Sèvres example in the V&A (153-1877).