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When you want to give someone the whole world

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– On a cloudy late October morning, Peter Bellerby stood above a large, recently varnished globe that traced the travel routes of famous explorers. Somewhere in the South Atlantic, a giant squid has wrapped its tentacles around an old sailboat. And a pair of hand-painted miniature turtles meandered across the equator.

“We often put them on the chaise longue,” said Mr Bellerby, 56, founder of the artisan globe-making company Bellerby & Co., as he gazed at the turtles through his glasses. “Sounds like fun making them walk over there.”

Such artwork is a key feature of the company’s bespoke and handcrafted globes, Mr Bellerby said. Commissions regularly feature personal illustrations and meaningful elements: travel routes, portraits, towns and homes, and pets. A client from Hong Kong, for example, had images of his four dogs flying biplanes, with slings flying around his neck, while the fifth floated in a parachute.

This spring, the company produced an Ice Age Globe for an Ice Age ecologist, complete with a mammoth and a giant land sloth (like many Bellerby globes, it was ordered as a gift). And in July, he completed a globe that was 80 centimeters, or 2.6 feet in diameter, as cartographers would have drawn it in 1846, based on a map of the time and named as a globe would have it. been at the time. It will soon be delivered to Texas in a 5 square foot case.

“People really like the idea because it’s so rare these days to have something that’s tailor-made and completely for you,” Mr. Bellerby said. “People buy these products knowing that it will mean something to them and their entire family. “

The website’s testimonials page is filled with notes that seem to support his belief: “The level of detail in the designs is simply exquisite,” said A. DG., From the Netherlands. “Thank you very much to the whole team for this beautiful piece of craftsmanship. We will enjoy and cherish this globe for many years to come. (“We don’t ask people to testify. They write to us,” Bellerby said.)

The company will not release the names, but Mr Bellerby said the clientele included heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, royalty and Hollywood (three were used in the movie “Hugo “). Even the Louvre commissioned a copy of a celestial globe nearly 4 meters in diameter, made for Louis XIV in 1683 by the Italian cartographer and globetracker Vincenzo Coronelli. The reproduction will be based on a set of original copper plaques, still in the museum’s possession, and, while funding has delayed the project, the completed globe is to be hung in one of the Louvre’s large stairwells.

Prices and production times for the company’s celestial, terrestrial and lunar globes vary: the most popular globe, with a diameter of 22 centimeters, starts at 1,349 pounds ($ 1,830) and takes about six weeks. The larger one, called Churchill and with a diameter of 127 centimeters, starts at £ 80,000 and usually takes about a year.

Bellerby’s sells almost exclusively online – the waiting list is now three to six months – although it has a stock of around 20 small globes that could be ready for Christmas and there is a limited selection in Harrods’ Great Writing Room and the luxury gift and home accessories store Linley, both in London.

Mr Bellerby founded the company in 2008, after he couldn’t find what he called a “beautiful” globe as an 80th birthday gift from his father, a naval architect. “I only did this as a hobby to do something for my dad,” said Mr Bellerby, whose previous careers included working in television rights and real estate development and helping with start-up. and the operation of a retro-themed nightclub. “I thought it would be all over in three or four months.”

Instead, figuring out how to make globes has become a two-year trial and error project with costs that have grown to six figures. “I was making six to ten globes a week and throwing them out,” said Mr. Bellerby, who worked in his living room at the time.

Today, Bellerby considers itself one of the few bespoke and handcrafted globes companies in the world (others include Lander and May and Strikes and Thomas) and prides itself on fully up-to-date maps. (Of Bellerby’s 25 staff, two are full-time cartographers.)

The company is housed in a north London warehouse studio, a maze of light-filled stairs and mezzanines, filled from floor to ceiling in places with globes in varying stages of completion. And while Mr. Bellerby was happy to have a visitor, he kept some details of the production process to himself, for competitive reasons.

Sitting amid the studio’s decorative assemblage of antique furniture, potted plants, and taxidermy, the company’s two cartographers use computers running graphics software to revise and customize the company’s trump card. They add any custom lettering and images that have already been drawn by the company’s part-time illustrator.

Each render is a snapshot of history. The physical characteristics of the world are constantly changing, with the breaking up of ice shelves and volcanic eruptions creating new land masses. But there are also geopolitical issues: Russian clients want Crimea to be represented as part of Russia; Morocco does not recognize Western Sahara. Mr Bellerby said some of the company’s globes had been destroyed by Chinese customs officials due to the way Taiwan was represented and by Indian customs officials due to border issues.

When satisfied, cartographers split and print a map in the form of spindles – long, thin, almond-shaped strips of paper – on one of their two large format printers. For example, 12 time zones are needed for a 22 centimeter globe.

The workers, called “makers”, use scalpels to cut the edges of each spindle to within a tenth of a millimeter, then the painters, seated near a wall of large windows, apply two to eight washes of watercolor paints. Schmincke on oceans and seas. Tins of murky paint with labels such as “sea mint green” are dotted along their worktables.

The colors are mixed by hand in batches and, in case of spots or scratches, stored for about a month, said Isis Linguanotto, the chief painter. “We have all the recipes for everything we’ve done. “

The spherical cores of the globes are made of glass reinforced plastic or resin by Bellerby’s suppliers, and delivered to the workshop. After the paint dries on a set of bobbins, manufacturers soak the strips in water before gluing them, from the North Pole to the South Pole, around a sphere. Extremely fragile when wet, a gore can tear, bubble or tear at any time.

And there is no margin for error: the spindles must be perfectly aligned.

Such precision takes time to master. For a manufacturer, learning how to complete a small globe can take a year, and learning how to manufacture all sizes takes four, Bellerby said.

And teamwork is essential. “We have to have a good relationship with each other,” said Eddy Da Silva, a veteran manufacturer, noting that each of the 700 or so globes the company produces in a year is passed on by at least five people in production. to treat.

Once the spindles are in place, a globe is returned to the painters who color its continents and detail its printed illustrations. (“That’s when everything comes to life,” Mr. Bellerby said.) Then it comes down to a manufacturer who, after checking that everything is correct, sticks on the caps, the card circles in paper placed on the poles. (“If something’s wrong at this point – let’s go back to Square 1,” Da Silva said.) These are then painted and the entire globe is varnished with a gloss or matte finish.

Finally, the globe descends to the wood workshop, where the team of carpenters assembles it on one of the company’s supports or plinths.

Despite all the laborious and repetitive nature of the job, it doesn’t get boring, Ms. Linguanotto said. Even though she’s been painting the world for almost nine years, it “still feels like a book that you read over and over again,” she said. “And you notice things that you haven’t noticed before. “