Orrefors is a Swedish crystal brand, making everything from stemware to the signature gear shifter of the Polestar 1. We spoke with COO Lotta Fonsell and Account Manager Lars Sjögren about lead-free crystal, green energy, and smuggling glass experts into Sweden in beer barrels.
Could you start by briefly introducing yourself?
My name is Lotta Fonsell, and I’m the COO of Orrefors. I was born outside Växjö, and for most of my career, I’ve been working in Småland. Within the culture of Småland, so to speak.
I’m Lars Sjögren, a project engineer and the key account manager for Polestar. I’ve worked for Orrefors, on and off, for about 30 years. I’ve been here a very long time.
How did the collaboration with Polestar come about?
Lars: We produced a crystal centre console for the S80 concept car, and we also made the suggestion to have a gear shifter made out of crystal.
Lotta: At the time, we didn’t really have any experience from within the automotive industry. Our company has a culture of making everything by hand, with mouth-blown stemware and vases and so on. It’s quite interesting; we are from completely different worlds, but with the same emphasis on precision. It was a very nice collaboration, where both parties really wanted to find a solution and accepted the challenges involved in order to make it work.
What does the process of creating the crystal gear shifter look like?
Lotta: The glassblower collects the melted glass on the blowpipe. Then, they press it in the mold. After a few seconds you open up the mold, turn around the glass, and use a flame to even out the imperfections.
Lars: It’s called flame polishing. Then, they’re taken to a cooling area to cool them down overnight.
Lotta: While it’s cooling, it travels on a conveyor belt in order to reduce the temperature evenly. This is the most effective way to remove the tensions that are enclosed in the glass.
How long does the entire process take?
Lars: The melting process takes 16 hours. When we finish in the afternoon, we start the melting process and by the time we begin the next day it’s ready. The melting temperature is approximately 1400° C.
Lotta: Then it needs to cool overnight, and the cutting and polishing takes another full day.
What makes the Polestar 1 a fitting car to feature an Orrefors crystal gear shifter?
Lars: It’s the most luxurious Swedish car right now.
Lotta: It’s a perfect fit. Orrefors has the ambition to be the most desirable crystal brand, so we are aiming quite high up in the pyramid. It’s nice to have two Swedish companies which both stand for design and high quality. It’s a good match, with both the focus on quality and the design aspect.
How did Orrefors begin?
Lotta: There were two generals who were appointed governorships in Växjö and Kalmar as a sign of appreciation for their service. They were ordered by King Fredrik I to begin the glassworks. Their names were (Anders) Koskull and (Georg Bogislaus) Staël (von Holstein), which is where the name “Kosta” comes from. The unemployment was quite high in this region at that time, and there were a lot of ironworks in the area. The knowledge of glassmaking wasn’t that good, so they imported people from Italy, right?
Lars: Germany as well, I think.
Lotta: They were actually smuggled here because they were quite protective of their people down in Germany. There are stories about how they were smuggled into Sweden to start the glassworks.
What kinds of stories?
Lotta: There were some beer barrels that apparently had people in them.
Polestar cars are a meeting point between form and function, like the Orrefors “Beer” series. Are all Orrefors products created to be this, or are some purely decorative?
Lotta: Since Orrefors has transparent glass and no colours, it’s not so much decoration as plain and cut glass. Function and form.
Lars: I always say that it’s timeless. The glass is timeless.
Orrefors holds a number of environmental certifications (such as ISO 9001:2008). In what ways does Orrefors strive to be an ecologically friendly, sustainable business?
Lotta: We have set goals on everything that we define as affecting the environment: carbon emissions, energy, water consumption, and so on. Also, one of the big issues we’re working with is how to increase the recycling of used glass from our current level of 75%. We are aiming to be free from fossil fuels by 2025. We’ve been working with this for quite some time.
Lars: We can also say that we were the first company in the world to produce lead-free crystal. We’ve been lead-free for twenty years.
Is the process of producing crystal inherently environmentally friendly or unfriendly? How so?
Lotta: The raw material is silica, so in that respect it’s very environmentally friendly, but of course heating up the ovens takes a lot of energy. That’s where we’re going from gas to electricity, for instance, and using as much green energy as possible.
Lars: And when we recycle, say, a gear shifter, that uses less energy. It’s easier to melt the gear shifter than to create one from raw material.
Besides a shared Swedish heritage and a focus on design, what other similarities do Polestar and Orrefors share?
Lotta: In Småland, people have been quite used to a lack of resources, and that challenge breeds innovation. I guess that’s the same with Polestar. Scandinavian design is also something we have in common. You have quite a refined simplicity when you look at. A lot of our products show the beauty in simplicity. That’s my interpretation.
You can’t have creativity without limits, right?
To ensure a greener future, we’re embracing environmentally sound solutions which harness new technologies, processes, and materials. And even though climate action is a matter of collaboration, some of the most important steps are taken at the beginning of the process, by designers.