In his workshop in rural County Mayo, Neville O’Farrell has been working on a walnut display case with an oak veneer to make a special clock.
He runs Neville O’Farrell Designs, a company he and his wife, Trish, founded in 2010. He creates handcrafted chests from local and exotic hardwoods, with prices starting at €1,800 ($2020); Mrs. O’Farrell handles finishing and detail work.
Most of their clients are in the United States and the Middle East. “New Yorkers and Californians are asking for jewelry boxes and watches,” Mr. O’Farrell said. “Texans are asking for refreshments and boxes for their shotguns.” He added that the Saudis committee decorated refreshments.
The nut box is for Mr. O’Farrell’s only Irish client: Stephen McGonigle, watchmaker and owner of Switzerland-based McGonigle Watches.
He was commissioned by Mr. McGonigle in May for a minute repeater Watch it make for a collector in San Francisco (starting at CHF 280,000, or $326,155, excluding taxes). Ceol – the Irish word for music – refers to a clock repeater, a mechanism that sets the hours, quarters, and minutes on demand.
The watch collector had no Irish roots, but liked the Celtic ornament typical of Mr. McGonigle’s watches and chose an abstract pattern of birds engraved by the watchmaker on the dial and bridges of the watch, a term for the panels that hold the inner workings and can be seen through the case-back.
The pattern was designed by Frances McGonigle, artist and watchmaker sister, inspired by the art created by medieval monks for the Books of Kells and Doro. She said: “Ancient manuscripts are full of mythical birds, and birdsong speaks to the ‘Seoul’ of the hour.” “I love how the bridges in the clock mimic the long beak of a bird.”
The client wanted the box, which measures 111 mm high, 350 mm wide and 250 mm deep (about 4.5 in x 14 in x 10 in), to be made of bog oak, a dark wood salvaged from Irish peat bogs thousands of years later. But Mr O’Farrell, 56, said oak acorns come “in clumps” and would be unstable. Use walnut and bog oak veneer instead.
Ciaran McGill, a craftsman from Donegal specialty shop The Veneerist, executed the marquetry using bog oak and a pale cut of curly sycamore, which is often used as a veneer for stringed instruments. “It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said.
It took him two days to inlay the McGonigle logo on the lid and add a bird pattern to the lid and sides. Inside, he has illustrated McGonigle on the left edge and Ireland on the right with the Ogham alphabet, which was used to write the earliest form of the Irish language, dating from the fourth century.
Mr. O’Farrell said he hopes to complete the fund by the end of this month; Most take six to eight weeks, depending on the size.
Getting a high-gloss finish over a polyester coating for the box, he said, was the hardest part. Mrs. O’Farrell sands for two days and then, using a gritty compound on a cotton cloth, buffs for 90 minutes, repeating the process 20 times.
It could go terribly wrong. Mr. O’Farrell said, “If a tiny speck of dust gets on the cloth, it will scratch the wood.” The box will then have to be stripped and the process redone. “That’s when you hear shouting and cursing!” he said laughing.