Based in a former bread factory in Berlin's Mitte district is the production of IC! Berlin—a frames company that has its roots in a design student graduation project of the University of the Arts (UDK) from 1996. Students at the time, Harald Gottschling and Philipp Haffmanns had the idea to create eyeglass frames with hinges that would work without any screws, so they came up with a unique solution of a snap-in hinge that could be produced from sheet aluminum. And to make even more sense of this concept, the actual frames were created from laser-cut, anodized aluminum sheets.
Encouraged by their professor to turn this project into reality after graduation, they got a patent on their hinges and teamed up with Ralph Anderl to turn their idea into a profitable business. Now, 18 years later, the company has grown to 100 employees, a total product profile of roughly 1,500 different designs (of which about 120 are currently in production) and worldwide distribution. But despite their success and growth, the production has always remained in Berlin Mitte.
A laser cutter is the heart of the frames production. All of the arms and hinges, without exception, are produced with this technology.
Most spectacle frames, apart from the designs made from acetate, are laser-cut from sheets metal. But not all of them meet the company's quality standards, as the scrap container in the picture above shows. They will all be recycled into new sheets of aluminum, so nothing is wasted.
The cut-out frames are being put through a metal roller to give them the right bend for a suitable fit.
After bending, the frames are being put in a steel press to angle the nose rests and the side bits in order to prepare for the assembly of the hinges.
Freshly laser-cut hinge parts and spectacle arms
The arms are being pressed into the right shape to allow them to be assembled (combined with the additional hinges part from the previous picture) with the frames.
In order to smooth the last remaining rough edges, the aluminum arms are being put in a vibrating vessel filled with ceramic granules.
The lenses are ground and put into the frames before they get checked against the technical drawings for final approval.
As a final step the arms and frames are snapped together, resulting in a pair of very bendy and therefore rather resistant and forgiving pair of glasses.
Cutting and polishing of sunglasses lenses
Before stocking, the finished products are checked again for flawlessness.
This is just a glance at the company's overall product portfolio on display in the headquarter's reception hall.
The starting point of every new design is a hand drawn sketch which is then transferred into a computer drawing.
Insight into the design department of IC! Berlin
One of the acetate designs, here with a rapid prototyped model in the background
Earlier this month the company has launched their new color series. In order to create a smooth coloring and steady coating, IC! Berlin developed a complete novel coloring method: Different shaped micro-crystals reflect the light in different ways, so depending on the shape of the crystals the object appears in a certain color.
Telescopic plastic tubes serve as the individual packaging of the glasses.
Storage and distribution—worldwide
Long-term material is tested in the "sweat box," where it's exposed to artificial human sweat.
For several months a performance artist has taken up the role of the "company hermit," living on the staircase landing of the top floor. He is also the cover model of the new catalogue.
Company culture: Art and prizes, table soccer and tandem bikes are watched over by posters featuring one of the founders' faces—multiplied.