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Concept Creation & Design

theprocess1.jpgFred's inspiration comes from many sources, ocean, land, sky - almost everything you can imagine and indeed imagination itself.  An idea takes shape in his mind and when he is happy with the concept it is initially sketched by hand. Further refinements are made until Fred is happy that the design inspiration is now achievable in crystal form. The process of making  ideas a reality can now begin.

Mould Making

The mould maker is a true craftsman in his own right. Moulds are used when multiple pieces of the same crystal shape are needed.  Fred will produce a template from his crystal drawing and this will be used by the mould maker to create the mould. They must first choose a block of wood of suitable size and hollow it out to the exact dimensions and shape of the template. It will then be sanded, split and hinged and placed in a bath of hot water for many hours before it will be ready to proceed to the blowing platform.

Blowing the Shape

theprocess2.jpgThe batch (raw materials consisting mainly of silica sand and potash) is placed in a melting furnace at fourteen hundred degrees celsius for thirty six hours before being ready for blowing.

The blower will have trained for ten years to become a master. He will place a hollow blowing iron into the molten crystal and using his skills, will rotate it to gather just enough crystal for the piece he intends to blow. This can be as small as a thimble or as large a piece as he can physically lift.

He will then work the molten crystal with wooden tools that have not changed for centuries. He needs to determine the wall thickness of the piece which is very important for the cutting and shaping processes later on. The molten crystal is then placed into the mould and by blowing gently through the blowing iron and rotating continously, it will finally form the required crystal shape.

It is then taken to a kiln to be cooled which can take from three hours to a full week depending on the size of the piece. The piece will now receive the first of many Quality checks and if passed will continue to the next process.

Cutting Crystal

theprocess3.jpgDuring the blowing process there is a cap formed at the top of the piece where the blowing iron is attached and this must now be removed using a very fine diamond saw. The top is then smoothed and a bevel is added. The piece is then marked up for cutting.

As Fred cuts all his designs from memory, only a grid pattern is applied using a marker. Every design will have it own unique grid and Fred will use this grid as a guideline for the cut pattern to be applied. Calling on the skills learned during his long training, Fred will cut the pattern deep into the crystal using a variety of diamond cutting wheels, dependant on the complexity of the design. This is why it is so important for the blower to get the wall thickness just right.

There are two types of cutting - wedge cutting and flat cutting. Flat cutting is often found on the necks of decanters and the stems of drinking glasses, but it can also be used as the main pattern. Wedge cutting is mainly used to apply the main pattern and will be seen on most pieces. The cut design may take several hours or days to complete, and only when Fred is satisfied will he move on to the next process.

Sculpting Crystal

This is Fred's particular area of expertise being one of the only cold crystal sculptors in the world. Unlike sculpting marble or stone, Fred does not use a hammer or chisel but a series of wheels and specialised tools that he has developed himself to achieve particular shapes and cuts.

theprocess4.jpgOnce happy with the design concept, he will cast a solid block of crystal from the furnace to the desired size and cool it in the annealing kiln. This cooling is done very slowly to avoid breaks or cracks in the crystal and can take up to a week depending on the size of the block.

On the raw block, an outline of the desired shape is drawn on and he begins to cut away the excess crystal, slowly revealing a three dimensional form. It can take days, weeks and even months to complete a project depending on the size and complexity of the piece. Extreme skill, patience and attention to detail is required as even a momentary lapse of concentration can undo weeks of painstaking work.

Polishing

The polishing is a crucial part of the process as it gives the crystal its unique sparkle. A polishing compound is applied to a cork wheel the crystal is carefully rubbed against the wheel until it has achieved a smooth a finish as possible. Finally, it is bathed in an acid solution to give it that brilliant shine and sparkle.

Signature

theprocess5.jpgThe piece now receives a final quality check and if passed, it will get the ultimate seal of approval, the hand engraved signature of the artist himself, Fred Curtis.