Saturday, 12 April 2014

Swarovksi: Precision Perfection Velour magazine April 2013

Since it’s birth over a century ago, Austrian super brand Swarovski has always been about vision, precision and sustainability. Today however, a brand synonymous with ingenuity, poetry and technology has become more than about the technical precision required in crystal cutting. Like the elements, Swarovski is everywhere having firmly infiltrated its way into architecture and design, jewellery, fashion and the arts.

1892 was a significant year, a year that would help to begin to coin Swarovski as the world’s largest crystal manufacturer for years to come. It was in 1892 that Daniel Swarovski invented a revolutionary machine allowing precision to cut crystal in ways that would exceed their manual methods. The association that Swarovski has with crystal however is a given; it is what the brands sole heritage relies on and is renowned for globally. What is less obvious and perhaps lesser commonly known to others, is Swarovski’s influence in a variety of fields from its continuous assistance to couture houses, provision of scholarships to design students and as far as a water sustainability educational program – at the very least.

Such a brand, pioneered on great entrepreneurial spirit and consistent developments made it inevitable for expansion with others industry areas firmly at its helm. To many, Swarovski crystals appear in the form of luxurious jewellery pieces or delicate ornamental figurines for home decor that become collectables. However, upon close inspection you will come to realize that Swarovski deal their crystallised hands in many other aspects that most wouldn’t expect, in line with their open minded aesthetic: “To constantly improve what is good”. Daniel Swarovski had a vision to bring joy to people through crystal, which has immensely grown since it first came in to play when he moved to Wattens, Tyrol (Austria) in the late 19th century. The development and implementation of his machine, allowed Swarovski to go on to establish a long lasting relationship with manufacturing company Tyrolit, which has played a significant role in the brand both past and present. Together with Tyrolit’s exceptional grinding tools the process of crystal production was one that allowed both Swarovski and Tyrolit to expand into manufacturing giants. Fast forward a century to present day and you will find that not only is Tyrolit now a global group, but it is also one of the leading suppliers providing innovative solutions in grinding, cutting, drilling, honing, dressing and polishing.

Swarovski’s association with a tool manufacturing company is something that makes logical sense. Take away from crystals for just a moment and cast your thoughts onto road safety. At the surface it doesn’t sound as logical for what would a luxury brand have to do with the safety of vehicles? The answer is in Swareflex. One of the many branches of the Swarovski family tree, Swareflex is the innovation in technology to produce and develop products that aid vehicle drivers with road visibility and safety. Along with the war,
economical upheaval, and the utility scheme that came with the forties, the decade also saw the invention of traffic safety systems formed as a result of a breakthrough from Swareflex: the creation of the first glass reflectors. The objective then, as it is today was to provide clearer road visibility enhancing the chances of greater road safety – picture your car without the wing mirrors and you get the gist. Swareflex’ pioneering development on intelligent road safety now includes systems that operate on LEDs and other lighting solutions as well as precision lenses required for infrastructure. For future development, Swareflex is looking to work closer with solar cells, using advanced technology to tap into and make the most of natural resources. That’s the thing about crystals, when in the form of jewellery it is easy to forget the correlation they have with water and other energy sources.

With Swareflex a fully functional company, Swarovski is not however limited to just one type of lens. The brands desire to ‘See the unseen’ in other words Swarovski Optik, is another part of the group that focuses on long-range lens precision for sports optics. Sounding a bit technical and far-fetched? Think along the lines of: binoculars, telescopes, optronic instruments, image intensifier tubes to name a few, as well as working in tandem as component suppliers for other companies. Behind the physics of it all, the beauty in Optik lies in the purpose it wishes to fulfill, which is to bring people close to a precious moment of observation, a moment that can be lost when viewed with the naked eye. No nature observation or hunting trip is complete without them. Seeing beauty in this light almost becomes an art form with Optik rendered necessary in order to view beauty in a clearer way. Through simple and elegant design, a consistent Swarovski characteristic, son of the company’s founder Wilhelm Swarovski anchored the establishment of such tools with the best possible craftsmanship. His avid interest in astronomy as a hobby gave him the drive to construct his very own binocular. A novel prism fabrication combined with an applied grinding process is what led him to build his first 6x30 binocular (in lens speak, that’s pretty impressive). One thing always leads to another and Wilhelm went onto founding Swarovski Optik in 1949, with the same vision as his father, to constantly improve. When the human eye simply is not sufficient enough, turn to Swarovski Optik and allow yourself to see the world’s beauty through the eyes of a hawk.

Recurring themes when it comes to uncovering the details of the brand resonate strongly with the word precision. It is through this that the Swarovski group has continued to expand its tools and perfect its many crafts. Providing stimulating visuals through Optik and developing safety tools through Swareflex the brand also has a strong desire to educate. The production of crystals is highly dependent on water for its hydropower, resulting in progressive learning and action that takes place as part of the Swarovski Waterschool. The brands cultural history tied strongly in Tyrol, was an area that Daniel Swarovski was particularly attracted to because of its readily available supply of water.

As well as exploring water resource sustainability, the Waterschool National Park Hohe Tauern was founded in 1999 in order to bring to light to children the issues of the impending global water crisis. Being aware that there are areas in the world where people have little to no clean water at all, a fourth of across the globe to be specific, is not a new scientific discovery. It is also an issue that cannot be immediately resolved but as with many of their other foundations, Swarovski aims to create an impact that at the very least gets you thinking. The Waterschool program intends to create awareness of the basic fact that water is key to our survival and from this, generate manageable sustainability ideas and concepts that can be put into practice in order to conserve our future. Its significance has attracted approximately 300,000 members worldwide where children are able to learn of our ecosystem and the influence upon it through a series of experiments. Respect and consideration for the environment is what allows Swarovski to continue upon its expansion today and since 1999, Waterschool’s have opened in Uganda, India, China and Austria.

Fighting for the needs of the ecosystem as well as meeting people’s desire for adornment and delight since 1895, two polar opposites, has led Swarovski to have a global presence that dominates the luxury market. As a self-promoting marketing tool, Swarovski rarely needs any introduction especially within the ground of media. Spectacular works from STRASS, the name of the brands chandelier company, can be found in the most beautiful places such as the Palace of Versailles whereas Atelier Swarovski carries is presence each fashion week adorning many designers collections each season. Amongst its achievements are infamous works such as the costumes designs that became the pinnacle of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan teamed with Rodarte through to contributing to a range of couture collections that have come out of design houses such as Chanel, Schiaparelli and Christian Dior since the 1900’s.

The brands’ commitment to nurturing established and emerging talent has led to collaborations through their design strand of Atelier Swarovski. Established in 2007 as a design legacy to provide crystal accessories to designers and architects, Atelier Swarovski is launched twice yearly as part of Fashion Week and continues to bring to life the dreams of designers. Amongst iconic names in fashion also lies London designer Christopher Kane who created the infamous Bolster necklace in 2008. Following in his footsteps came Matthew Williamson and Mary Katrantzou incorporating accessories into their ready-to-wear lines. In addition, the Swarovski bursary in conjunction with Central Saint Martins, aims to support the next generation of design visions from a pool of undergraduate talent. Atelier Swarovski alongside the bursary scheme is yet another way the brand is committed to implementing development within the arts.

In yet another branch, Swarovski Elements is dedicated to fusing together creative global talents and their latest crystal innovations, which have become integral to a wide range of international designers. Under the Elements wing is also the bi-annual publication, Salt. The cutting edge magazine aim’s to celebrate the wide-ranging collaborations that Swarovski Elements is renowned for, the most recent campaign shot by notorious fashion photographer Nick Knight. The aim is to showcase the brands’ versatility as a key ingredient across creative platforms and also display the results that other brands achieve from the use of precision cut crystal. Such platforms have led to exhibitions like the ‘Digital Crystal’ display at London’s Design Museum that showcased early last year. Leading figures in design took to conceptualise, develop and present their ideas resulting in 15 unique installations giving a glimpse into their vision of the future. The combination of digital technology with faceted crystals opened up the visions of a host of exciting talent such as Yves Behar and Paul Cocksedge who took to using LEDs, laser lighting, mirrors and holograms to recover a connection with memory, which has been lost to fast paced digital era.

More recently so, Swarovski revealed its latest partnership on a joint project with the Vienna Museum of Fine Arts which shares Mysterious, Precious and Magical art tales, harking back to a time when art and wonder shared no logical explanation. The project focuses on re-telling old tales in a modern way that allow the viewer momentary escapism from the now. Indirect project include the sponsorship of publicised events such as the Vienna Opera Ball, New York Fashion Week and many others.

Adhering to original concept that the brand has built its foundations upon, “To constantly improve what is good”, Swarovski has become better than good. It is scintillating and the leader in many fields of engineering, production and technological development. It is the kind of brand you can mention Christian Dior and bird hunting in the same sentence and the two ideas at different ends of the scale are in some way logically connected. What began as a crystal-cutting machine has turned into a global empire that continues to use modern day developments to its advantage through a continuous series of projects. The next time a pair of Swarovski earrings catch your eye, you may start to look at them in a different light or crystal-focused lens. It took a wealth of talent to invent the machine that could cut crystal but a greater talent to collide the worlds of arts, science and economics under one sparkling family led umbrella.

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