San Francisco based glassblower Christopher Yamane and designer Matthew Johnson from SUPERDUPERSTUDIO discuss their beautifully crafted and spill-proof Saturn Wine Glasses…
Could you explain what the Saturn Glasses are and the principle behind their design?
Our Saturn Glasses are designed to be spill-safe. An indentation in the bowl of the glass creates a ring, or ledge, which helps the glass from tipping over.
What led to you experimenting with wine glass design and what compelled you to come up with the Saturn Glass?
Wine stains are nothing new. We wanted to find a solution for this relatable problem, while at the same time designing a wine glass that is a pleasure to look at, hold, and drink from.
What type of research did you do during the design process and who or what were your primary influencers?
Most of our research was aimed at innovation in the manufacturing process. Fairly early on, we discovered a mould-construction technique that allowed us to rapidly iterate and test many different glass forms. In this way we were able to create a shape that is both functional and elegant, without wasting too much money on expensive research and development. We love all sorts of designers (and would hate to choose a favourite), but our influences are broad and include aerospace, fine art, and architecture.
You must have spilled a lot of wine during the design stage? Did you drink much wine during the creative process?
Well, yes, early on, we tried to spill a lot of wine. What wasn't spilled we certainly drank, if that is an indication.
How do you make the glasses?
To prepare the material for each cup, the molten glass is shaped by hand before being blown into a mould by glass artisans in Oakland, California. Each glass is then annealed overnight (a process which cools the glass slowly to relieve material stresses), cut, and polished by hand. Much of the labour occurs in the finishing stages.
Have you encountered much opposition to stemless glasses from a wine tasting perspective? [Wine glasses are usually designed with stems to prevent the transfer of heat from the hand to the liquid]
We know that purists may shy away from our glasses, but in general, people seem willing to forsake that bit of functionality in order to help save their carpets.
The Saturn Glasses seem to have captured the imagination of people; how would you summarise the response they have garnered and has it surprised you?
I think one of the cool things about the glasses is that they are interactive in a sort of non-digital way. While it's relieving to accidentally bump a glass and have the contents stay safely inside, it’s also really fun to spin and wobble the glasses around on a table. These are almost an adult version of a spinning top or a dradle, and it’s hard to leave them alone.
After months of testing and refinement, we were thrilled to see that so many people had come across the glasses and shared them online - but we had no idea that our story would travel as far and quickly as it did.
Although obviously innovative, there is a beautiful simplicity and clarity about the classic design of the Saturn Glass; did you make a conscious decision to maintain relative tradition – a link to the past but in a contemporary context?
Absolutely. We were looking for the least intrusive alteration to the traditional glass shape as possible.
Do you know much about the history of wine glass design or was the Saturn Glass an innovative response and subsequent solution to the common problem of wine spillage?
We certainly aren't viticulture or wine glass historians, but we were aware of certain traditional shapes, and we knew about some traditional methods for manufacture. That being said, we are not the type of designers that feel bound to tradition.
Bottle design and wine label design, in a notoriously traditional business, is becoming an increasingly integral and innovative part of the industry, do you think there is similar scope for wine glass design to flourish?
Yes, here in San Francisco, we see that wine drinking culture is becoming less tethered to traditional ideas or expectations. Designers often find the best opportunities for innovation when culture changes or transforms.
Who were your heroes growing up, in the design world or otherwise?
Matt: Mom and Dad, first and foremost. Chuck Yeager, test pilot who broke the sound barrier. Pretty much all the Chicago Bulls in the 1990's, but definitely Michael Jordan (I was born in '81). Bluesman Howlin' Wolf. And of course too many artists, designers, and architects to name.
Chris: Roald Dahl, The Wright Brothers (I was also debating between Ben Franklin and Doc Brown from Back to the Future even though he's fictional. I wanted to be an inventor) and Bruce Lee.
What is your dessert island wine and which three people, dead or alive, would you share it with?
Matt: Ok, but a disclaimer, these answers would change by the hour! Here's my best shot: our dessert island I have to assume would be plenty hot. Some of my favourite summer-time wines have been Portuguese/Spanish Albariño (Alvarinho, Albarino?). As for the company...I would take Caravaggio, James Brown, and Emilia Earhardt. That's a lively bunch, right?
Chris: A non-specific Riesling (add strawberries) shared with John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and David Byrne. Matt stole Emilia Earhart from me even though I don't think we've discussed her...