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Obituary - RASHID EL HADI, Master Engraver

Rashid El Hadi (Dec 1961 – Dec 2020), also known as Rash, was a master engraver based in London and Birmingham. He was billed as “One of the most gifted engravers of modern times…” in The Vintage Gun Journal, with his work described as: “An exquisite mix of carving, cutting and inlay of precious metals… he was as adept at game scenes as he was at stylised scrolls.”

Rash’s hand engraved guns have always drawn attention at auction. His 1994 Swan Gun for Holland & Holland, sold via Morphy Auctions in 2017 was listed as a “stunning masterpiece”. An earlier rifle, the 1989 Bird of Prey gun for Symes & Wright, “engraved to an exceptional standard by Rashid el Hadi”, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2005.

Rashid El Hadi 'Swan Gun' engraving details, copyright Holland & Holland.

Rash gained an equally impressive reputation working in other fields. With the celebrated London jewellers Courts & Hackett, his repertoire included designs for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’, notably a stunning 1991 Diamond Skull ring, which he engraved with a Grim Reaper scythe, tumbling dice and falling playing cards. Another music industry client was DJ and producer, Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B OBE, who bought various jewels, describing him as having “incredible talent… Rash’s work was unique, one of a kind.”

Goldsmith Bill Hackett (Courts & Hackett) said: “Rash was recommended by Malcolm Appleby. Looking through his sketches Dave (Courts) and I quickly realised the tremendous potential for adding decorative detail to our designs. We took him on immediately and he became a good friend. Later we showed some jewellery to Geoffrey Munn, then managing director of Wartski’s, and he singled out a few items as “absolutely remarkable” – they were all Rash’s work. He was extraordinarily talented. He was also his own man and never took advice!”

Rashid El Hadi zebra engraving on Westley Richards .500 detachable lock double rifle.
Rashid El Hadi zebra engraving drawing for Westley Richards .500 detachable lock double rifle.

Rashid was born in Omdurman, Sudan, to Hassan El Hadi, a textile artist and painter, and Shirley Hadi (née Appleby) a teacher. Returning to England with his mother as a young boy, he grew up in London, notably Chiswick, where he was initially based. He had a natural ability for drawing and visits to his cousin, master goldsmith and engraver Malcolm Appleby MBE, were an early inspiration. He made his first marks on metal there, in his teens. The ease with which he drew and engraved, combined with an inborn impatience, led him to race ahead, leaving many unfinished works. He was primarily self-taught, although he returned to Malcolm’s workshop in Scotland on several occasions in the 70s and early 80s. He also briefly attended Sir John Cass College.

Malcolm’s gun-engraving contacts led to an introduction to John Wilkes, the London gunmakers, where Rash was given his first opportunity to work on a rifle. He went freelance in 1985 and within the next decade there were projects for Purdey (James Purdey & Sons), Rigby, Holland & Holland and Symes & Wright.

Rashid El Hadi engraving of .410 'Hummingbird Gun' for Westley Richards.

A very different opportunity, completed in 1989, came via goldsmith, artist and architect Louis Osman. “One of his better virtuoso pieces” is how Malcolm described the impressive globe section of a lectern design by Louis, commissioned by Sir Roy Strong for the V&A. The concept, as envisioned by Louis in a letter to Rash was, "… about creation and the creative process as related to the V&A and those who direct it. I hope that it will stand against the superb pieces of the past; having its roots in the past but being in itself completely contemporary." Richard Edgecumbe, Curator at the V&A said: Rashid was responsible for the superb engraving of the central sphere of the lectern designed by Louis Osman, an exceptionally fine feature of the work.”

Rashid El Hadi engraving on Louis Osman designed Lectern, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Table lectern designed by Louis Osman including hand engraving by Rashid El Hadi, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Following a spell with family in Australia, Rash returned to England in 1996 to join Westley Richards, the legendary Birmingham gunmakers. He spent his last 16 productive years there, creating some superlative work. The late Simon Clode, then managing director, had been impressed by Rash’s innovative approach, his Holland & Holland Swan Gun in particular. Simon took exceptional care of Rash, often in challenging situations and in a Westley Richards blog post, said: “I have always thought of Rashid as one of the most gifted engravers of our times.”

 

From 1996 to 2002, Rash trained an apprentice, Vince Crowley, who has since established his own reputation as a much sought-after master engraver: Rash was my master during my six years at Westley Richards. He taught me with care and a selfless generosity. He was a remarkable designer and engraver whose original work is admired around the world.”

Rash’s life and career were coloured by an eccentric, somewhat rebellious streak. He was the life and soul of many an event, memorably charming and witty, although his wild side occasionally led him down dark roads. His health deteriorated slowly following an accident and stroke in 2012. He passed away on New Year’s Eve 2020. Rash is survived by his three sons Max, Jimmy and Louis.

A gift from Keith Richards to Bob Dylan, designed by British jewellers Courts and Hackett, 'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat', with hat engraved by Rashid El Hadi.

2 Comments

  • Savvas Toufexis on February 9, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    I knew him as Has , met him through Mick Smith the Purdey barrel maker latterly of Smith and Torok
    Who also passed away before his time .

    Mick was working at John Wilkes at the time when
    I asked him to customise a Sako rifle of mine ,
    According to the story I was told the rifle was left on the bench when Has was told to start engraving that
    Rifle , three day later it was discovered that he was engraving the wrong rifle my rifle , my rifle , perhaps the first rifle he engraved was my rifle !!!.

    I still have that rifle , still unfinished .
    Perhaps if we meet in the happy hunting ground of
    Another life , I might manage to get him to finally
    Finish it off .

  • Rochelle Shepherd on February 10, 2021 at 4:25 am

    Rashid was a genious, forgotten soul....
    His work was second to none...
    He had a personality that was right here right now syndrome, and had no patience. His ideas were already there before the execution of the thing.. Infact he was a designer, already seeing the outcome before the realisation. Typical of a genious and his ideas. Sometimes these people are better off, and worse off, of having thir ideas executed in an immediate fashion, and not always to their minds' ideas. Rash WAS one of those people. Like a composer in his field, and everything he did. He had a way of interpreting his ideas, and sometimes it was either like it or lump it!. and not having people around him to realize his ideas. Like Frank Zappa for example!
    He was one of these people where you were either on his side, or not, despite his fall short shit. We all loved him, I loved the guy and will miss him till I die.

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