Andrew Miles enters the crystal maze.
Steve Marriott was lead singer and co-creator of 1960’s Mod four-piece, The Small Faces. In their 1968 track, Donkey Rides, A Penny, A Glass… Marriott alludes to wasting his days in idyllic fashion in a caravan at the seaside. Mind you, the band’s subject matter also included (and indubitably entertained) various substances; references being made to the breakfast cereal All-bran, tin soldiers jumping into fire and life affirming measures that only those of a certain age could possibly appreciate.
As a ‘70s child, blissfully innocent of free-love and mind expanding powders, for me the band produced consistent results, a little like some Swedish artisans cooking up glass, deep in Småland.*
Orrefors (end it with a shh) are producers of fine glassware and have been shaping crystals for many years. Building a smithy and forge by the river which flows into the lake Orrenas, the company’s name translates as the Iron Waterfall. The car connection appeared when Volvo asked them to create some glasswork enhancements for the cabin their 2009 S60 concept. Whilst stunning in both looks and style, a centre glass console was never going to be within a sliver of a chance of actual use – imagine the insurance report on that crash.
The red hot furnaces to make such jewels were now well and truly fuelled though – the initial crystal gear knob installed in the 2014 Concept Estate. The small glass crystal became curiously lost in such a flamboyant interior but someone up high thought it worthy of XC90 fitment. Explicitly ostentatious, ostensibly pointless. The crystal glass engenders no faster gear change speed nor gearbox feel – drive by wire takes care of such matters. But pour your eyes over the hand crafted, joyous small-faced shape. This is a jewel as a part of the automobile.
Anders Bergström is Volvo’s colour and material designer. He wanted to explore the use of Scandinavian history, looking both to and through, crystal glass to give the interior a sparkle that few others achieve.
The gear lever being a notoriously difficult instrument to make interesting, Mr Bergström peered into the world of Versailles by using such glass as one does in a hall of mirrors. Poking fun at the initially comedic rising circular affair from JLR, making a mockery of the giant, truck-like gear stick spouting from the centre of the Bentley Flying Spur – how heartily Bergström must have laughed then at the distorted, rhomboid effect that was seen fit to grace the interior of the Seibener – this 50mm small glass face contains substance.
Ample forests for the fuel, silica-rich sand blended with a naturally secret array of other elements (that we can reasonably expect not to be of a narcotic base) are then heated to 1400 degrees centigrade for sixteen hours. This is purely to allow the sand mixture to become molten; at that temperature the glass is too runny and requires cooling to a more nursing-home like 1180. This gives the honey coloured substance malleability and the hand craftsmanship can begin.
Rolled roughly into shape before being pressed carefully but firmly into the shaping press. Science states that varying degrees of cooling and heating will strengthen and polish the glass to perfection. Roughly fifty units per hour are made but only three dozen of these will make it to an Inscription interior. The others cast aside by those with eagle eyes, due to minuscule bubbles in the casting. No matter, for the material can simply be reheated and another attempt made.
Of course, in-situ, the glass stick had to withstand many hours of testing. It has to survive the (admittedly rare) off-road excursion, being bumped about incessantly along with being safely out of harm’s way in the event of an accident. A typically perishing Swedish night or two ensured the glass could handle the cold.
It’s not known if Volvo employed an over exuberant toddler to ascertain the curious factor such a jewelled fancy must garner but it is believed none have broken to misuse. Which must also be reassuring for the driver. Take Steve Marriott’s Uncle Joe (such a lovely man) for example on his way to the caravan. Imagine having shard lacerations due to putting it in reverse?
Something small and perfectly formed then from a blend of natural materials. The crystal gear knob fits a nice groove you could say. I’m certain Mr Marriott would approve of these particular small faces.
www.orrefors.se has several videos on the making of these small glass faces.
*The original glass works closed in 2012 and became a museum.