WHEN CARLO Ferranti was nineteen he graduated from his apprenticeship early because of his unusual skill. He was a good-looking young man and possibly as a consequence was arrogant and vain, both about his skills and about his charms. His graduation piece was a gentleman’s ring decorated on the outside with rubies cunningly set like roses. When the bezel was lifted by means of a hinge, it revealed a skeleton in repose in a coffin. On the inside of the ring were the letters MEMENTO MORI carved and enamelled black. The ring was well made, but not such that it could have served as a masterpiece.
He was popular with the young women of the city, and with their fathers, because of his glib tongue, his looks, the rumours of his skill and the seeming certainty of his future success. Released from his indenture he had, of course, no shortage of offers from prospective employers and lovers. But being clever and vain he wanted more than that and so scorned the women and set off on a journey to find his fortune.
He worked from place to place, and because his reputation had not preceded him, was thought an adequate worker and no more. Young Carlo soon grew disgruntled. Thinking himself already possessed of the whole range of technique common among goldsmiths, he sought after yet more secrets which he supposed the craft and its guilds hid from him.
Then, arriving in a new city, he fell in with Alchemists and puffers and followers of Thrice-great Hermes, and of the Rosy Cross and the Cabala. Here he thought his success and distinction might lie, for his facility with technique should soon yield him gold from lead at the least, or possibly immortality or great wisdom.
He picked up a text loaned to him by a workshop master with whom he had been drinking, and found himself in a maze. This world, even more than his, was peopled by fabulous beasts and beings, whose couplings, separations, deaths, putrefactions, unions, sublimations and so on in no way echoed the experience of his hands. Years passed, while Carlo methodically trudged through the labyrinth of texts, building in the process texts of his own, as he tried to make at least the semblance of sense of them. We still read Ferranti’s De Aurum et Argentum with some respect, at least for his sense of method, which, some claim, foreshadows the most powerful method of all, that of Science. Carlo learned from some of the texts, from trial and error, hints and the like to make a wand for conjuring angels. At least, he thought they were angels. The wand was cleverly fashioned from gold, silver, bronze, wood and crystal. Carlo fancied that no previous puffer had his smithing skills, and that he, if anyone, would perform the conjuration correctly. Perhaps he was right. He worked at it doggedly, and with the attention that he brought to bench work.
When the angels arrived, they were angels like him—facile, impatient and cunning as well as skillful and beautiful.
“What do you want from us?” an angel asked him.
Carlo was dumbfounded, for he had never really believed that he would indeed conjure a wish-granting being. What was his heart’s desire?
“A long life and wisdom,” he said at last, following the example of Solomon.
“Pah!” said the angel, “You already have those in abundance, and in your ignorance neglect to make use of them. You wouldn’t know wisdom if it were pissing on your shoes.”
“Tell me, then what I should require of you.”
“You should require nothing of us.”
“Then give me consummate skill in my craft. Make me a prince of goldsmiths.”
“That too you have, and have squandered. Why should we grant it again?”
“Because I command it of you, by the power of my wand.”
The angel laughed. He took the wand from Carlo’s hand. “Your wand, whilst well made, has not in it the complexity of a single blade of grass, nor the intricacy of even a fruit‑fly’s wing. How could it command us in any way? It is merely a beacon, and the curious among us are drawn to investigate its sputtering light.”
Then Carlo asked for something in which he had never before shown a real interest. Moved perhaps by the angel’s presence, before he could really think he blurted out: “Then, Lord, show me that light which is steady, and which is a real beacon to those who seek the way.”
The angel became still. “That is easier done than said,” he said. “The light is everywhere around you. You have but to open your eyes.”
“The light that I see flickers and changes. It is not a constant beacon.”
“Then you have not looked aright. That is no fault of ours. All your wishes are granted, and without asking,” the angel said, and passed in a flurry of wings, from Carlo’s sight, taking the wand with him.
After that Carlo abandoned the arcane arts in favour of the practical ones. He returned to his home town and set up the Ferranti workshop which still runs today. He married the daughter of a wealthy trader, and had many children and grandchildren. He took especial pains in the preservation of his craft, and trained many apprentices. He wrote two workshop manuals, of which his On Teaching the Smithing Arts has been lost. The other, simply titled De Ars is a classic of technical expertise. Many examples of his work endure in museums world-wide.
But nothing much is known of Carlo’s later life. He never wrote an autobiography, aside from his brief account of the conversation he had with an angel. He was not noted by Vasari or Cellini. The few references we find call him “humble,” “saintly” or just “Carlo the Good”. If you find a piece of jewellery of excellent workmanship, hallmarked with the figure of a winged angel holding up a rod or wand, then it is probably from the Ferranti workshop. If it is very old, it could possibly be from Carlo’s own hand, though don’t celebrate until you’ve had it assessed—the world abounds with cunning forgeries.