Tomáš Lamač, Head of Innovations for Preciosa Components, explains what it takes to whip up a new color, why the new Pyramid flatback is so special, and reminisces over his childhood spent growing up in Crystal Valley.
How can you innovate with products that have existed since the 16th century? Can you truly create something new?
Good question. The truth is that fashion trends and the collective tastes of a society are constantly changing. No doubt, technology has also improved, which has over time given us better tools and methods for developing new products. That said, the glass industry has, generally speaking, remained the same over the past several centuries and it’s always been fashionable to embellish everything from hair pins to light fixtures, which is what we still do today.
Did you always know you wanted to work with glass?
Growing up in Jablonec nad Nisou, we had a cottage, and I used to dig near the river where I would find glass stones and pebbles, which were naturally formed. The Bohemian region is also known for gemstones, such as Garnet. For a child it was like finding tiny treasures! Additionally, my mother is a jewelry designer, so I grew up seeing her work with glass and my grandmother worked as a salesperson at a crystal trading company. I’ve been around glass and crystals my entire life... it’s in my blood.
What does the Czech glassmaking tradition mean to you?
It’s very much a part of our Bohemian culture – it’s what we’re known for. When I travel, it becomes suddenly obvious. People inherently associate Bohemia with crystal. Crystal Valley itself attracts both local and international tourists who often travel throughout the entire region to visit not only Preciosa, but also the smaller, independent ateliers.
When I hear the term “innovations department,” I imagine a group of people frantically running around in white lab coats. How would you describe Preciosa’s?
Sometimes I feel like I’m managing a group of geniuses because they have to come to work every day ready to experiment with all kinds of things. We’re never 100% sure what will happen. You might come in and have a new task lying on your desk and it’s now your job to find a way to develop it, often times with nothing to go on except the final idea.
Do or can you develop something simply because you want to? For example, from an idea or inspiration you had?
Yes, and it happens quite often! Sometimes we come up with some bizarre ideas that aren’t really useable, but they’re still beneficial in the long-run. We even have a special budget allocated toward this so that they can put effort into developing something truly inspired and unique, in addition of course to the products we develop for our customers and for our collections.
What was the strangest innovation ever requested by a customer?
I think it is our job to find a way to make everything possible… the stranger, the better. Nothing is too out-there, and my team is always looking for new challenges. One day you might be figuring out how to get just the right color and the next you’re trying to optimize the smallest cut in the world. The most rewarding part of the job is when you see these mega celebrities wearing stones that are the result of your dedication and hours of hard work.
With regards to the latest collection, Atelier Bohemian, what was the biggest challenge?
For me, it was the Pyramid flatback because this stone is entirely new to the global market. No other producers make anything similar, and it was developed upon special request from one of our longtime customers. We started with a square shape, turned it sideways to cut it and began sanding and polishing. Ironically, the customer had already canceled the request because they needed it urgently and we couldn’t guarantee that we’d be able to make it in time; however, we sent it to them anyway, and in the end they loved it and began submitting orders immediately. With this collection, we’re adding it to our worldwide product portfolio.
How do you create new colors?
Developing new colors is true alchemy. We begin by mixing all kinds of different ingredients, from very expensive ones to very common ones, like all-purpose flour. Each size and product needs a different proportion of ingredients, so it’s really about playing around with the calculations. Once you’ve found a combination that works, you take it to production and test it out on a larger scale. When we were developing one of our colors, we nearly created an explosive mix! Safety is our highest priority though, so we have to be sure to take our time and to follow the legal limitations of materials. Aside from this, the possibilities for creating new colors are endless!
What about new coatings?
When we develop a new coating, we focus a lot on durability. And, again, it’s all about testing the ingredients. We’re also always trying to think outside the box; for example, we’ve created a non-conductive vapor coating that won’t interrupt electronic devices.
It there something you would personally like to develop during your career at Preciosa?
A smart stone! I would love to develop a premium glass product that could be connected to your smart phone, for example, and could change its col