Niello has been known in Russia since the 10th century. Niello is a kind of original copper-plate engraving, first the article is engraved, then it is covered with niello, then it is heated, niello melts, after the article gets cold it is cleaned and buffed. Source material is silver.
The flourishing of this art in Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Oblast dates from the 17th-18th centuries when the market of Veliky Ustyug was on the rise. Later the town became a major centre for jeweller's art, namely production of niello adornments. When the handicraft was in its infancy I.Zhilin, M. Klimshin, A. Moshnin were considered to be the best jewellers.
In the 18th century the artisans from Veliky Ustyug were invited to teach Moscow citizens niello art. The style of "baroque taste" prevailed at that time. Pastoral sumptuous hunting scenery decorated all articles.
In the 19th century the artisans from Veliky Ustyug mastered new methods typical of classicism. The shape of adornments became simpler, austere composition replaced intricate ornamental design. Architectural monuments, geographical maps, panoramas of cities appeared on the adornments. Over a hundred years the most favourite subjects of Veliky Ustyug's masters were views of the town from the Sukhona River.
By the middle of the 19th century the master M. Koshkov decorated niello adornments with vegetable ornaments. The master passed the craft on to his grandson Mikhail Chirkov who played a key role in further development of his handicraft. Over several decades he was the only artisan in the town who managed to preserve all the methods and unique technics so as to hand them on from generation to generation. Thanks to Mikhail Chirkov the northern niello is one of the most unique handicrafts which has gained the world fame.
The 20th century contributed greatly to further development of niello. The tradition is now maintained at the Severnaya Chern niello factory that was founded in 1932. Niello adornments produced in Veliky Ustyug are unique and charming.
Nowadays the factory Severnaya Chern (Northern niello) makes articles of silver cutlery, silver utensil and household items made of silver rate 925°. There is a large assortment of flatware sets and dessert sets as well as items for table arrangement that are produced by the Severnaya Chern niello factory: tea, coffee, ice-cream and honey spoons, spoons and forks for children, spoons with the images of horoscope signs, sieves for tea, clips for bank notes, business card holders, vases, water jugs, jewelry and other items. The factory also produces icons - Our Lady of Vladimir, Our Lady of Kazan, St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker, God the Almighty and Sergey Radonezhski.
Articles of this factory were exhibited at World’s famous exhibits in New York, London, Prague, Milan, Leipzig and other cities.
The factory is a laureate of the contest - 100 Russia’s Best Goods. It is the recipient of international awards at the national and the world exhibitions.
The Severnaya Chern workshop perpetuates a remnant of the town's former exotic trading connections. There, craftsmen produce fine niello silverwork of a kind not seen anywhere else in northern Europe - delicate black alloy inlaid on engraved silver.