Made from silver and containing moon dust, the Cross of the Cosmos is the project of a lifetime for artist David Montalto – and the result of many skilled craftsmen, including luxury leather company INRO London and fine art and furniture restorers, Plowden & Smith.
Following the recent consecration of the Cross of the Cosmos at Westminster Abbey, we sat down with David and Nawaz of INRO London to discuss this extraordinary project.
David, what inspired you to involve INRO in this project?
The initial idea of having a leather sling to hold and carry the Cross of the Cosmos came from spotting a heavy flag being carried in a sling during the Trooping of the Colours. I was introduced to Nawaz, founder of INRO London by my nephew, who had been extremely pleased with the work he had commissioned from INRO over the years. At our initial meeting, Nawaz showed me some of his beautiful leather work, and he also brought his master craftsman with him so we could discuss how a sling for the Cross of the Cosmos could potentially be made. After this meeting, I knew INRO would be perfect for this project.
What was it like for Plowden & Smith working with David on this project?
Plowden & Smith created the wooden staff, base and bespoke travel case for the Cross of the Cosmos. David was involved in every aspect of their design. For example, David was keen that the wooden staff offer a strong, visually attractive contrast to the silver Cross. Therefore, after lathe-turning a fine straight-grained section of oak, we ebonised and polished the wood to achieve a low-sheen black finish that looks wonderful alongside the silver.
It was a pleasure for us to work closely with David. The Cross of the Cosmos is recognised as a work of immense beauty – a testament to David’s vision and appreciation of traditional craftsmanship.
David, what were the key challenges you encountered with this project?
Unlike most crosses, the Cross of the Cosmos is complex, heavy and tall, making it tricky to carry safely in the traditional way. I needed a simple design that accommodated the Cross being safely removed from its stand and carried during a choral service. The challenge was finding a design that did this whilst ensuring the moon at the base of the staff (an essential part of the Cross’s story) was always visible.
The advantage of INRO’s sling design is that it negates the need for hands, which would not only cover the moon, but would also transfer sweat and grease onto the silver. INRO has taken this very tough brief and delivered brilliantly.
How did David’s unique requirements influence Plowden & Smith’s design work?
One key requirement for the Cross of the Cosmos was its ability to travel around the country. For ease of transportation, we designed the oak staff in two sections that can be assembled with a patinated brass joining section.
To safely transport all the elements of the Cross, we lined a custom-made flight case with Plastazote, which provides the correct amount of cushioning and is ideal for museum artefacts because it is inert, meaning it will slow the tarnishing of the silver.
Another requirement was how the Cross would be used during Church services. The Cross is carried into the Church however, during the service itself, it is set down. To fulfil this need, we lathe-turned and ebonised a circular base that is light enough to transport, yet can safely support the considerable weight of this top-heavy object.
Nawaz, how did INRO have to think outside the box to hit David’s brief?
The starting point was to make sure that what we designed would safely support the Cross and was essentially simple so that the Cross is the focal point.
Together with the designer and master craftsman, we looked at the brief and researched if there were any designs we could draw inspiration from. To our surprise, we found none, as crosses are never carried with the aid of any support structure. We went back to the drawing board! After weeks spent mulling over various ideas, we presented a sketch where the sling was secured around the shoulders and the heavy weight of the cross was evenly distributed at two critical points on the body—one at the back centre point and the other at the naval front end – to create balance.
A toile from leather was made to trial our theory. The test sling was simple, unobtrusive and able to balance the cross perfectly by redistributing the weight across the whole body in a stable way while ensuring the sling was adjustable to accommodate carriers of different heights!
Founded in 2010, INRO London has become one of London’s go-to companies for bespoke leather accessories, namely card and folio cases, belts and watch straps. As a LAPADA Approved Service Provider and with particular expertise in crafting straps for Patek Philippe and Cartier timepieces, INRO’s work continues to be respected by many prestigious names in luxury across both private and retail clients, including the likes of Harry Fane, S.J Phillips and Marcus Watches. In addition to the core line of products, INRO also offers a design consulting service for clients keen to bring out their creative side: whether it be looking at recreating an object, restoring a treasured piece or seeing whether an ideal object can be turned into reality.
David Montalto, the 13th Duke of Fragnito, is one of the most widely respected award-winning artists in the world. His work across glass sculpting, painting, jewellery and diamond point stipple engraving has been showcased in some of the most admired public and private collections around the world. These collections include the Royal households of Great Britain, Norway, Brunei and Oman; as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Atwater-Kent Maritime Museum in Philadelphia and The Museum of Writing in Paris. David has also lectured at many prestigious academic institutions, including Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Christie’s Education, and The Harvard Club.