When Science Meets Design: Tom Dixon Mirror Balls
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When you hear the term mirror ball, the first thing that used to come to mind are those spinning spheres covered in mosaic mirror. (Cue the Donna Summer music.)
But Tom Dixon has changed that first impression with his iconic line of Mirror Balls. They are still spherical but, instead of being made of individual tiles, are perfectly smooth. Their form was inspired by space helmets, and the process used to make them is just as space-age.
These metallic spheres are made using the process of vacuum metallization, a process normally reserved for more industrial applications like chroming plastic car parts, toys or flashlight reflectors. Inside a vacuum chamber, aluminum is heated until it vaporizes. In that state, the metal vapor is then essentially sucked in perfectly even, microscopically thin layers to the internal surface of a clear polycarbonate globe. This outer globe is what gives a Mirror Ball its smooth shape and protects the thin metal coating within.
First created in 2003, the Mirror Ball eventually reached such levels of success that it encouraged Dixon to experiment with other metals. Hence, the Copper Shade Pendant, which has copper vacuum metallized to the inside of an open polycarbonate globe. And then, from that success, the Bronze Copper Shade Pendant, with copper vacuum metallized to the inside and brass on the outside for a rich two-toned effect.
This blending of science with design is a signature approach of Tom Dixon’s. In fact, Dixon has made a name for himself as a sort of master metallurgist, using a variety of advanced tools and techniques to bend metal to his will. While the Mirror Ball remains the most popular example, there are also lacy, geometry-inspired pieces made out of acid-etched metal (the Etch collection), metal that has been pressed, spun and brazed to create smooth indentations (Void collection) and metal that is both spun and hand-beaten for a smooth exterior and textured interior (Beat collection).
And that doesn’t even touch on the things he can do with glass…