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Meet the glass blowers who created the baubles for the 2018 Claridges Christmas tree

PUBLISHED: 06:00 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:52 21 December 2018

Max Lamb at Salt Glass Studio, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Max Lamb at Salt Glass Studio, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

A married couple working out of a small workshop on a Norwich retail park have collaborated with one of the world's top designers to help dress the Claridge's Christmas tree.

Max Lamb and Dr Fiona Wilkes, owners of Salt Glass Studios, recently hand-crafted 300 baubles for the Claridges Christmas Tree – designed this year by Diane Von Furstenberg.

The pair, who have run the business since 2011, were commissioned by the Claridge’s props team to make the baubles of three varying sizes and density of blue pigment.

Mr Lamb said: “It took us about a week, between other commissions. They asked for quite difficult colours – blue is one of the hardest pigments and oxidises quickly, so it takes more time to get right.

“I started doing glasswork whilst I was a student at Great Yarmouth college. From there I worked between London and India, before starting my own business.”

Adding colour to a christmas bauble at Salt Glass Studio, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodAdding colour to a christmas bauble at Salt Glass Studio, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Mr Lamb and his wife make a few thousand baubles a year, as well as other decorations and running glass-blowing classes.

“The industry can be quite secretive about their methods, particularly the colour recipes for how to make certain decorations. I’ve learnt it through years of experience, particularly when a company I was working for was commissioned to make huge coloured domes for some commercial space in Bishopsgate in London,” he added.

The turnover of the business based in Roundtree Way retail park is in the region of £70,000.

“It’s a more difficult industry in the UK then when we were selling to the US. When you’re at trade shows in New York the buyers tell you how much of what they want, write you a cheque and ask when it’ll be delivered. Over here, buyers will wait to see you for a few years in a row and then place an order,” he continued.

A selection of the baubles made by Salt Glass Studios for the Claridge's Christmas Tree. Picture: Salt Glass StudiosA selection of the baubles made by Salt Glass Studios for the Claridge's Christmas Tree. Picture: Salt Glass Studios

However Claridge’s decorations don’t claim the spot for Salt Glass Studio’s highest-stake request: “We got asked to make 400 apples and pear decorations for wedding favours for a big company CEO, that was a long process.”

The bauble making method:

The finishing touches being added to the bauble. Picture: Salt Glass StudiosThe finishing touches being added to the bauble. Picture: Salt Glass Studios

1. Safety preparations

Make sure you’re wearing eye equipment and kevlar gloves. Also be aware of who else is in the studio with you – those glass blowing rods have two ends!

2. Heat up the glass

The glass will be on the end of the glass blowing rod, which is heated to around 1,100 degrees in the reheating chamber.

3. Add the first colour pigment

Continually rolling the steel rod between your finger tips to stop the glass from drooping, roll the glass into the first colour pigment.

Roll the glass from side to side, before lifting it up by 45 degrees to ensure the whole surface is covered in pigment.

4. Melt the pigment in

Standing your glass blowing rod on the marver (a stand used to prop up the rods whilst the glass is in the reheating chamber), continue to roll the glass until the pigment is melted in and the surface of the bauble returns to a smooth texture.

Remember, some pigments take longer than others to melt due to how fast they oxidise, or the density of the shards, but it will take between 20 and 30 seconds on average.

5. Blend in the second colour

Repeat the above two steps again - rolling a second colour onto the surface of what will be your bauble, before melting these back into the glass.

6. Thumbing the bauble out

Blowing down one end of the rod, and then placing your thumb over it, will mean the air in the pipe expands due to the heat.

From a blob of glass the bauble starts to take shape and become spherical.

7. Blowing the bauble out

Now that the bauble has started to take shape, blow into the same end of the tube as the rod rests on the yolk (a stand). This will mean the bauble expands even more, and doesn’t shatter.

8. Tapping it off

Even though your bauble has its shape and is solid, it will still be around 500 degrees. Taking your bauble to a stand, tap it off the end of the rod.

9. Finish with a hook

Using a small amount of glass and a hole maker, create a loop.

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