How We Manufacture Our Products
At Icarus Originals we want to give our customers the chance to own a small piece of history. Whether it’s the fastest-ever Concorde, the classic E-Type coupé or the celebrated Japanese Bullet Train, these iconic legends of engineering, spark a feeling of excitement and progress.
We love to bring these small snapshots of history and technical achievement to life. But how do we research, design, develop and manufacture our products? It’s an intricate process that combines cutting-edge technology with traditional craftsmanship. It’s this complete commitment to perfection that makes our pieces so distinctive and desirable.
Our signature product
In this blog, we’ll look exclusively at our signature product – our cufflinks. To illustrate our process, we’ll consider Concorde 101 (G-AXDN). There are six stages to take a project from an idea to something you can buy from our website:
1. Project research
2. Material acquisition
3. CAD/3D design & development
4. 3D printing & master production
5. Lost wax investment casting
Understandably, we were very keen to offer our customers a piece of Concorde. Not just any Concorde, but the particular aircraft that set the speed record for the type at 1,450 miles per hour. We knew Concorde would be challenging to reproduce at a small scale but, given its iconic nature, it was a challenge we were up for.
With so few Concordes produced, material is scarce and hard to come by. The majority of the surviving airframes reside in museums around the globe. We needed to find a surviving Concorde owed by a preservation group that was working on its restoration, and would be willing to collaborate with us on our project. This is how we usually come by our precious aircraft material, and in this instance we were lucky enough to be introduced to Duxford Aviation Society (DAS). DAS owns Concorde 101 G-AXDN and had a small amount of hiduminium aluminium alloy from the engine air intake assembly left over from its restoration efforts. This would be our ‘raw material’. Most importantly, we could complement the material with the guarantee of authenticity that comes from working with an aircraft’s owners. That guarantee is a critical element of our product offer. Where possible, we always look to collaborate with a museum or special interest group as this gives us a means of contributing back financially to supporting our beloved icons for future generations.
CAD/3D design & development
To ensure maximum accuracy of profile, we typically use a combination of 3D scanning and computer aided design (CAD). For Concorde, this entailed taking a 3D scan of a scale model and then manually adapting the design in a CAD software package to make sure we faithfully replicate the most iconic features which is more of a challenge than it may sound given that the typical length of a cufflink is 26mm and the original aircraft is 62000mm! This process is always difficult, since we need to thicken up certain surfaces and round off particular details to attain a delicate balance of accuracy, practicability (they will be worn, after all) and viability of manufacture.
CAD images of Concorde during the design stage.
3D printing & master production
With a finalised design, we can progress to 3D printing to allow us to cast a master component. Here, we use a high-resolution 3D printer to print, layer by layer, an exact rendering of our design. Once complete, we end up with a replica of our Concorde cufflink made of a special resin that melts away at 400 degrees centigrade This can now be used to make a master using the magic of lost wax investment casting..
This delicate rendering of Concorde will now be cast in silver using the lost wax process detailed below. Once in this precious metal, expert jewellers ensure the master is perfect and free of defects. Once we are happy, we can create the mould that lets us produce the miniature wax models we cast in aluminium reclaimed from Concorde.
Lost Wax Investment Casting
The lost wax method allows jewellery artists to copy the finest detail. It’s as old as human history and the only major changes since its inception has been the addition of technology to allow casters to repeatedly cast without generating a high number of failed items. Lost wax casting is no more complicated than filling a high-definition impression left within a cylinder of modelling plaster. To do this, we take a number of the miniature wax models created in the mould and attach them via sprues (think tiny bits of wax spaghetti!), to a central wax stem. This assembly, called a tree, is placed carefully inside a metal flask about the same size as a large thermos flask and liquid modelling plaster is poured around it so that only a tiny bit of the stem is visible above the plaster. The flask is then vibrated rapidly for an hour to make sure any air bubbles are worked out and that every one of the wax models is completely covered by the plaster. Once this sets, the flask is heated on a vacuum pump. The idea here is to completely vaporise all of the wax and expel it completely from the flask, leaving with you with a perfect impression of each of the wax models and a clear route to the atmosphere via the sprues and the central stem. Once you have reached this point, the final step is to heat up your crucible containing the aluminium alloy removed from an aircraft and very carefully pour it into the hole left by the central stem protruding through the plaster. If you’ve heated the metal to exactly the right temperature (655 degrees centigrade for aluminium), it will pour like a viscous liquid and fill all the voids evenly meaning that the void created by what was once a wax model is filled with aluminium. Once it’s all cooled down, the plaster is cracked off and if you’ve got everything just right, all that’s left is a central aluminium stem with lots of perfect aluminium Concordes attached to it via now little aluminium pieces of spaghetti.
The final step in the process is the finishing (or polishing). Each cast that is cut directly from the tree will appear relatively rough, and a dull metallic hue. Each casting needs to have the remaining sprue removed and then the whole piece can be polished against a special abrasive polishing wheel. The hand finishing takes a tremendous amount of skill to ensure the correct pressure is applied to every angle and surface. The individuals who polish the Concordes have often been apprenticed since a very young age and are rightly recognised as master craftspeople within their area of expertise. Given the nature of the process involved in creating them, each Concorde can have slight differences meaning that they are matched into perfectly complementary pairs. The final result will be a beautifully hand polished rendering of Concorde 101, perfectly unique to the wearer. Throughout every step of this whole process, quality control and removal of defective casts means that from start to finish perhaps as many as 35 per cent of all items will be rejected. The whole process can be time-consuming and reliant on manual skills built up over many years.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to turning a part of an icon into something you can wear than you might think. Although it will hopefully become a treasured item that will be handed down to future generations, every single item we produce captures a little bit of the soul of an icon and allows you to carry on the journey of something that has affected the lives of millions of people globally. With the extra knowledge that the item you have has helped sustain restoration activity and supported the livelihood of a wide network of artisans, there’s a lot more to our products than their superficial beauty and timeless designs.
Shop our Concorde range now to find a collectible or gift that will last a lifetime.