Few artists would readily admit to being a con-artist but glass engraver Frank Grenier is unperturbed. 'You've got it. We're con merchants,' he says smiling, as if I've just unearthed a well-kept secret of the ancient society of glass engravers. 'We've got it made because if the glass product is good, we have only to engrave a line on and it gives it magic immediately. It's all about light.' His confession may be a comment on the art form, but it must also be a reflection of the fact that it has taken Grenier just seven years to establish himself as one of Britain's leading glass engravers. He started his working life as a submariner in the Royal Navy, retiring as a rear admiral at the age of 55, and took up his new career almost immediately. 'I thought I'd been working for a big firm for long enough and I hadn't seen enough of my wife, so I decided to do something for myself,' he says. 'And as I have always painted and sketched, I had the idea of doing something creative. Besides, I've always enjoyed handling good glass, washing it up or drinking from it.' He met glass engraver Laurence Whistler at a dinner party and was soon embarking on a course. Now he can proudly boast that when the Queen dines on the Royal Yacht Britannia, she is offered her after-dinner mints on one of his dolphin-engraved glass dishes and that Australia, the winners of the 1991 Rugby World Cup, is home to one of his presentation bowls. News of the retired naval officer's talents have spread quickly and commissions, mainly for anniversaries, special events and commemorative presentations, are frequent. To keep up with the orders, Grenier spends six hours a day with his eye to the magnifying glass in a studio at his Wiltshire home in England. Every two hours, though, his wife drags him out for a rest. 'I take off my magnifying glass and look into the distance across Salisbury Plain. It's certainly not a hobby, it's a profession.' While Grenier says every piece is as important as the next, he can hardly contain his pride at being commissioned to engrave a plate glass panel for a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren - the quaintly named St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe in London. 'They asked how much it was going to cost and I wanted to say, 'Cost? I'd pay to do a work in a Wren church'. I managed to bite back the words,' he says. St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, so named because King Charles II used to leave his robes there before going to nearby St Paul's Cathedral, was blitzed during World War II. However, it was restored during the 50s, and the panel is in commemoration of the warden who spearheaded the restoration. The engraving, which will take six months to complete, is about five metres long and more than a metre high and will feature cameos of six of the churches the warden helped restore as well as scrolls, quotations and other lettering. It is often lettering that proves the quality of a glass engraver, explains Grenier. 'You cannot make mistakes with lettering. If you are doing a parrot on a decanter, for example, you can cover up a mistake by putting in another feather. 'But with lettering it's very difficult to correct mistakes. It shrieks at the observer if it's wrong because everyone can see whether an A is straight or not. Something is good technically if it has very clear edges. If the edges are woolly or crinkly it looks wrong and technically it is wrong. A line with slithers or splinters either side becomes a spider or a centipede. 'What I strive for is technical excellence, but a little bit of magic as well. Something that people would like in their homes.' Grenier is mounting an exhibition in Hong Kong for the second time. His collection three years ago proved so popular he's been invited back by Jonathan Wattis, the owner of Wattis Fine Art. While his exhibition is simply called The Grenier Collection, he has unofficially called it Reflections of Hong Kong as the pieces have been created specially for the territory. They include Lantau Anchorage, a goblet with a sea scene; Fireworks, a cullet (organic-shaped piece of glass) with a spouting firework; a magnificent Hong Kong Dragon Plate and a School of Dolphins swimming around a large bowl. Grenier expects the appeal of his work to be in the quality of the glass - which is always the finest - as well as the design and the workmanship, but says glass engraving is still a relatively unappreciated art form. 'Glass is popular but I think people are wary of it. 'There are two areas that people are unsure of. One is that it does break. OK, they are paying for a lovely work of art, but it's fragile. 'The second is that to show off a fine engraving isn't as easy as simply placing it on a wall. A black matt background is best or in isolation in a cabinet, but this makes things feel like they're in a mausoleum. Things should be out and ready to be touched. Although there are some 400 artists in the Guild of Glass Engravers, only about 80 are serious professionals doing it full time. The rest are amateurs, says Grenier. He had never tried glass engraving before he left the Navy but his eye for design, and for the shape of glass and a good technique has contributed to his success. 'You've got to have the basics, you have to be able to engrave in different forms, some are very light and some are very deep. Ranges of tone are what you are striving for; whites should be very white,' he says. 'Some engraving is of a very fine form with just a point, where you just tap, tap, tap away at the glass. 'Others are done with an electric drill with a diamond burr. It's rather like the dentist. I drip water on to it so I actually engrave through water,' he explains. 'You have to work under water for deep engraving because you are digging into the glass. You want the powder to go away, which the water takes with it, but you also want the diamond to be lubricated as it touches the glass, otherwise it dulls very quickly. 'You could say I've come from submarines to, still under water, engraving glass. I just can't get away from water.' The Grenier Collection is being exhibited at Wattis Fine Art, 20 Hollywood Road, 2/F, Central until today. Frank Grenier will be working at the gallery today from 2pm to 3pm.