When choosing materials for a delicate hanging light, granite might not be your first choice. Not so for the Spanish designer André Simón Soneira, who decided to use the weighty material to create MIKA 350, a lamp that is just as beautiful to behold as it was challenging to make.
With this project, Soneira wanted to create a product that spoke to his identity as a designer, resonating with his traditions and heritage. Soneira hails from a region of northwest Spain called Galicia, known for its granite repositories. With strong Celtic influences, Galicia has a long tradition of mining and processing granite for different uses and has many rare types, including Pink Porriño, Gray Mondariz and Silvestre. "Galicia and its cities smell like stone," Soneira says. "When it's raining, the smell invades every street. … If Galicia were a lamp, it would be MIKA 350."
Soneira (center) with the lamp-shade craftsman, Esteban (left), and a colleague from Soneira's studio. All photos by Lino Escuris.Originally, Soneira planned to offer a lamp in a variety of materials and finishes. Once he had the idea for a stone lamp shade, however, he felt that additional options only detracted from the concept. He sought out a manufacturer who could transform a block of granite into an object as thin and fragile-looking as a plate of glass. Due to the varying grain, hardness and density of stone, this task had to be done manually, and finding a skilled craftsman was no easy task. "Everything today is made with automated processes," Soneira says. "We had to visit many craftsmen before finding someone willing and able to make a prototype of MIKA 350 into reality."
The lamp shade starts out as a 220-pound block of stone, which must then be whittled down to the shade's final 13-pound weight. The block is first placed on an automatic lathe, where a round saw makes concentrical cuts into the stone to roughly shape out the exterior form. These cuts allow chunks of stone to be removed using a hammer before the piece is moved to a second lathe, where it is then manually worked.
For the manual portion of the process, the craftsman begins by polishing the exterior of the shade; then he moves on to the interior, utilizing a saw, hammer and chisel to work the cavity into the form. This requires both a high degree of accuracy and nearly infinite patience. Once the interior is polished and ready, the ends are sawn off to obtain the finished piece. The entire process takes around five to eight hours.
The major steps of the lamp-shade production process. Click the image for a larger version.The major steps of the lamp-shade production process. Click the image for a larger version. A metal gearwheel allows the wooden top to expand and contract without breaking the stone.
Each completed shade is then taken to a carpenter, who manufactures the wooden top. The two sections must be a perfect fit to allow them to be attached using adhesive, and there is a metal gearwheel supporting the stone in this connection. The gearwheel serves two functions: it allows for the wood's expansion to not exert any pressure on the stone (which might lead to breaks); and it vents heat generated by the bulb.
The biggest challenge, however, is accounting for any irregularities in the stone not visible to the human eye. These irregularities can lead to breaks during the process, and might not make themselves known until the lamp is almost complete. As the shade becomes increasingly brittle with the more material that is removed, breaks can often occur when more than 50 percent of the process is complete, resulting in the loss of all the time and work invested in that piece. "We had to break and lose many blocks of stone to develop the technique and be able to adapt the machines for each type of stone, classified according to their hardness and grain size," Soneira says. "The elasticity of the stone decreases with grain size, and that's a problem when working, since those with fatter grain are more easily broken."
While the irregularities in the stone can lead to breakage, they also render each lamp entirely unique. The final result is an elegant, subtle lamp shade—one that is 207 pounds lighter than the block it started out as. "Thinking of a lamp made of stone leads us to imagine a heavy object," Soneira says. "This is another attractive visual aspect of MIKA 350. The appearance is not true to the final weight."