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On crystals and diamonds
von | 11/28/2014

In the course of recent decades our bathrooms have changed immensely. The sober wet cells of the 1960s have given way to feel-good islands, simple wash basins and sanitary ceramics have been replaced by elegantly shaped objects by renowned designers. The bathroom is swiftly emerging as an extension of the living room and small wonder that the materials used have changed, too. Once upon a time, the basins and tubs had thick walls and broad curves, whereas now they can have filigree thin walls, tight edges, and even colored surfaces. In other words, the history of bathroom design is one of technological innovation, as the properties of the materials used also help determine what is realized.

Laufen, the Swiss manufacturer of total bathroom and high-end wellness concepts, also likes to experiment with materials – using fine fire-clay it has already changed the market with extremely large washstands. To date, vitreous porcelain and fine fire-clay were the only materials that existed in the field of bathroom appliances. And then, in January 2013, Laufen launched a new material, SaphirKeramik. The innovative china includes a corundum additive, a colorless crystal found in minerals, that is extremely hard and far less expensive than its rarer forms, namely rubies or sapphires. Laufen spent five years developing the new material and has now registered it for a patent. And Laufen is also reaping the versatile design rewards SaphirKeramik affords as a material: surfaces with a special texture, fine radii and thin walls, not to mention far lighter objects. Nevertheless, the material is extremely robust, twice as strong as customary china, extremely malleable with radii of only 1-2 millimeters, and with greater flexural strength.

In 2013, the first products featuring SaphirKeramik were launched, namely “Living Square” and “Kartell by Laufen”. The designer locked into the advantages the new material offered and transposed it onto an industrial scale. Toan Nguyen and Konstantin Grcic were approached last year to join Laufen in continuing to explore the material’s potential – and embarked in very different directions when exploiting the new opportunities.

“It was incredible. Being able to work with a new material is an almost once-in-a-life-time opportunity,” Toan Nguyen commented in an interview. He dreamed up a thin-walled, light washbasin, combined with a spacious shelf and exceptionally elegant lines thanks to which it seems almost weightless. On SaphirKeramik he says that “it’s modern, very high-performance. Its thin walls provide the opportunity to create very graphic, minimalist shapes. Its radii can be tight yet they don’t feel sharp but smooth. Overall, SaphirKeramik is sensual, tactile.”

By contrast, Konstantin Grcic experimented more with the surfaces and textures made possible using SaphirKeramik. He added trays of various types to rectilinear and round washbasins. Burled or with creases or complex graphic patterns, “adding this playful aspect” reminded him of fine china. He was thrilled by the opportunity “to go into surface and to create patterns with a fine definition. These surface treatments and patterns are partly decoration, partly functional.”

In conceptual and design terms, Nguyen and Grcic mark the beginning. We can look forward to what other designs will be realized soon using SaphirKeramik.

Like any other china, SaphirKeramik also contracts while drying, which complicates the manufacturing process. Photo © Laufen
At Laufen, the glaze for the ceramic is applied by hand. Photo © Laufen
Konstantin Grcic created washbasins with different basic geometric shapes and experimented with shelves with different textures. Photo © Laufen
The thin SaphirKeramik walls in the Laufen products ensure the washbasins look extremely light. Photo © Laufen
In Milan, Laufen presented SaphirKeramik for the first time. The real eye-catcher was placed beneath the work tops: a new patented material. Photo © Laufen
The beautiful contrast between concave and smooth surfaces is apparent even on glazed objects that have not yet been fired. Photo © Laufen
The dual view emphasizes the lightness and sculptural elegance of Nguyen’s design. Photo © Laufen
SaphirKeramik enables simple geometries to be realized – with extremely thin walls. Photo © Laufen
The flat drain and thins walls with clear edges and radii of 1-2 millimeters are only possibly using SaphirKeramik. Photo © Laufen

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