Simon Pearce, The Ludlow Collection - Neiman Marcus
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Simon Pearce, The Ludlow Collection

Kate Sample

December 17, 2015

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“The human hand can’t do anything perfectly. And that’s the beauty of it.” —Simon Pearce

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In an age of mass production and artificial perfection, each Simon Pearce piece is handcrafted using wooden molds, continuing a time-tested tradition since the 18th century. The relationship between glass and wood inspired James Murray, the VP of Product Development, to create the Ludlow Collection, featuring walnut accents that beautifully complement the handblown glass.

Tell us about the Ludlow Collection and the inspiration behind it.

For some time, I have been dabbling with this idea about how glass and wood have a relationship that goes back very far. Glassblowing has always, in some way or another, relied on wood to help make the vessels and the pieces. We spend a lot of time designing and crafting our own molds out of various woods—fruitwoods, basswood—all different kinds depending on the type of piece we’re trying to create. I developed some forms that I thought would complement each other. Staying within the integrity of what we can do with wood and the results we get from glass brought the walnut and the glass together in our Ludlow Collection.

We’re particularly interested in the old-world techniques. Can you tell us a little bit more about them?

It goes back to the factories I’ve worked with in Europe that use these old-world techniques of carved wood. In the past, these molds took a long time to create; now we actually router them with machinery that we can program. But they don’t last long. You might get a hundred pieces out of a mold, and then if you want to keep making that same design, you have to keep re-creating these things. In this day and age, people are not aware of how the things they buy are made. So, bringing the wood back together with the glass was important to us.

Is anyone else using these kinds of molds, or have you guys created them in-house?

Everything we do is made in-house. We have our own wood shop that will create these things for us. Other companies use wood molds, too. You’ll find a lot of companies in Europe and Eastern Europe that are still making glass this way. In my office I even have some old molds from things I did 15 or 20 years ago —they’re cool artifacts. We decided to do the wood pieces in the Ludlow Collection with walnut because walnut is just a really revered material. The tonality of it is something that really resonates with customers today. It’s a beautiful wood. It’s not that easy to get, and the richness of walnut really plays off the glass because it’s a little darker.

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Would you tell us a little bit more about the process and how long it takes to make a piece?

The design iterations will go on for two to three months in the front end of the process, which is when we are playing with the idea of geometry and those simple kinds of accents and getting the proportioning right. A hallmark of Simon Pearce is proportion. Whether we’re doing classic designs or very modern, we will deliberate over how to proportion things. We sculpt these shapes in foam before we start making them to get a sense of the volume and how big they are, so we’ll do our own model-making internally. Then we’ll work with the R&D staff and start doing what it takes to get preliminary prototypes made. That will go on for six to eight weeks, throughout which we’ll be making corrections and fine-tuning the designs. There’s a lot of fine-tuning that goes into getting it right for the customer.

We have a whole review process—then it goes into production. The production timeframe might go on for several weeks. Any of these pieces could take from 20 minutes to half an hour to make. There are usually teams of two glassblowers making them.

Where is the Ludlow Collection made? Do you guys have one central factory?

Medium-sized products typically come out of Windsor. Our smaller things come from Vermont, and other medium to larger products come out of our Maryland facility.

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How long are your teams trained? Do they go through apprenticeships?

Our glassblowers train for ten years to become master glassblowers, so there is a really thorough process.

Why is it so important for someone to invest in the Ludlow Collection, especially with the holidays approaching?

I think the pieces from this collection make great gifts. They are created at the highest level of quality. The walnut piece is Vermont solid walnut we have made here, and I think the combination is beautiful—it’s unique. There’s really nothing else like that. Our four whiskey glasses on a wood tray and the ice bucket are heirloom-quality gifts, and they are of a simplicity that can appeal to many different people. We have a reverence for how things are made and the quality of materials we use, and express what we’re about through that. Anyone who is giving it as a gift is translating those same values to the person receiving it. To me, it’s a statement.

What is your favorite piece of the collection for gift-giving?

The whiskey glasses and the whiskey decanter. When you take the decanter off the wood, it stands at an angle. It won’t tip over, but there is something magical about it, and when you put it back on the wood, it’s upright.

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Are there certain occasions that really resonate with pieces in the Ludlow Collection?

We geared the collection toward more casual entertaining, just gatherings, people getting together. It has great versatility because it could be a cocktail party or it could be an open house or a buffet. Or it could be just like a quiet gathering where it’s just two people by the fire, savoring their special Kentucky bourbon. It has that range.

What’s next for Simon Pearce?

In the future, we’re actually looking at combining glass with other materials like copper or other metals. We’re also designing products in other mediums, so we’re developing a furniture line and new table linens. Next Spring we’ll have some new flatware designs and dinnerware coming out. So we’re designing in many mediums to build a total home story over time—one that projects this lifestyle that we’re talking about.

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