May 24, 2019
To Make Its Glass Fixtures, Original BTC Turned to a Storied Traditional Glassmaker in the U.K.
Released last May, Original BTC’s Art Deco–influenced Mini Globe Wall Light is the latest evidence of the brand’s recipe for success: revivifying British-made product lines with sleek and accessible industrial styling.
In the Birmingham, U.K., workshop of English Antique Glass, an ancient glassmaking tradition is getting a new life. From furnace to mold and back, a team of expert craftspeople hurries about, wielding blowing irons affixed to blazing orbs of silica sand.
Times are good these days for the business, which has produced stained glass for the likes of York Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. But nearly a decade ago, the studio—one of the country’s last great glassmakers—was on the verge of collapse, a would-be casualty of out-sourced production.
For Peter Bowles, who founded British lighting brand Original BTC in 1990 and has since championed investment in the country’s manufacturing sector, watching it fail was not an option. So in 2011 Bowles, along with his son Charlie, Original BTC’s director, purchased the company with the goal of bringing its artisanal traditions to a wider audience. With their future more secure, the glassmakers in the old factory found renewed purpose in producing hand-blown glass for the global company’s pared-back designs.
Released last May to complement the Globe pendant series, Original BTC’s Art Deco–influenced Mini Globe Wall Light is the latest evidence of the brand’s recipe for success: revivifying British-made product lines with sleek and accessible industrial styling. The new light features brass or chrome hardware and a spherical handblown shade—a sort of calling card for Original BTC. The shade is available in opal and an anthracite color, which is made possible by using a naturally darker silica mixture. A seed glass version is achieved by placing a potato in the kiln.
“The glassblowing techniques that I use are unchanged from those of the last couple hundred years,” says Walter Pinches, the factory’s master glassblower. With a great bellow, Pinches, aided by his assistants and a pair of powerful lungs, inflates the molten material into the desired shape. Making sure to move quickly so the silica can maintain a workably hot temperature, he blows the piece into a carbon mold where it acquires a smooth, shiny finish. He then applies a layer of molten glass around the shade’s neck to prevent cracks before breaking it off the blowing iron with a gentle tap.
Though Original BTC often takes on apprentices, only a rare few have the work ethic and talent required to become a master blower. “Given the skills and expertise necessary to effectively form blown glass, these craftsmen are highly valued,” says the elder Bowles. “In a society of mass production and factory-line products, the creations by these skilled artisans are a sign of premium products.”
Peter continues to put stock in British manufacturing. Embracing what he sees as responsible for his thriving family business, he says the viability of the industry lies in products designed for longevity, handmade by world-class craftsmen: “The ‘BTC’ of Original BTC stands for British Timeless Classics, and as designers, we are aiming to create designs that people want now but also still in 20 years or more.” For Bowles and his employees, “Made in Britain” is much more than just a talking point; it’s an investment in the future of an extended family and the mark of a proud heritage.
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