Whether you are interested in owning Wonder as an art piece, an instrument to inspire meditation or movement, an ornament, an illusion, a stage or studio prop I wanted to tell you about the extraordinary effort that has gone into making this work something very special that I hope makes it one of your all time favourite possessions.
Beyond the spiral itself Wonder has been designed and manufactured without compromise. Each final unit is hand assembled in my workshop in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
Over the course of the last two years I have built up a network of specialist manufacturers who have come together like an orchestra to deliver bespoke components made to my exacting standards and design.
This has not been easy work, infact, it's been among the most difficult projects of my professional life. Not because of the technical feasibility - although the spiral took dozens of prototypes and experiments to make perfect - but because of the backdrop of the world right now. Product development is always difficult, but doing so in the wake of a pandemic with global shortages, delays and supply line inconsistencies has given me plenty to navigate.
I run a small business and have a great reputation but don't have influence or economies of scale that bring cost benefits to my practice. Every relationship has been nurtured from sctratch, from the factory floor to the MD. I shake hands with everyone, understand the process, business strengths and limitations and am relishing bringing this all together.
I bought an old British Gas van that I marked with a pegasus, which can be seen darting about the English countryside - collecting samples, delivering parts, shipping prototypes and now almost ready to shift finished product.
As a result of relentless and sometimes obsessive effort, nothing has been compromised, but the first batch production has been delayed by a few months. This was unavoidable unfortunately despite all attempts to mitigate the production issues. However, while we have stalled a couple of times with poor suppliers, we've moved on and have been incredibly well supported through the process by our primary manufacturers and equally encouraged by our incredibly patient customers.
Originally, we intended to ship Wonder in December 2022. But in reality that has slipped to March 2023. A frustration for many early customers (many of whom pre-ordered Wonder when the project live in March 2022) but when it comes to delivery - everyone is on side that only excellence will do.
The compound issues that have created this delay come down to two things.
1. I did not anticipate some of the unwanted noise that the system would make. Going from prototype to production is always tricky but I did not expect the final system to have perfect cosmetics and imperfect acoustics, compared to the prototype which was close to silent.
This required a two-stage engineering solution to dampen the sound using both an open cell foam to absorb high frequencies and a rubber deadening mat to absorb low freqency sound and vibration. We got the unwanted noise down to below the threshhold of human hearing.
2. Having solved the acoustic problem above by Christmas 2022 I thought that I would be able to immediately progress and assemble the first 100 pieces by hand but in reality, to achieve the precision build and tolerances we need for a flawless product I had to do the metal work and bearing assembly in the machine shop of our casting manufacturer.
For them to do this in house, we needed to revisit the design and production assembly method for a couple of integral parts. All the castings have been made since December and are perfect but basically, the mechanical design, the way the turntable design comes together, while looking brilliant, introduced a little more torque into the turntable, which in turn made the motor work harder and that made it noisier, again - taking me back to problem 1.
So, frustrated I have not been able to complete assembly and begin to ship product but without panicing I have quickly worked to resolve all build issues and every turntable is now assembled by our factory with precision jigs and fixtures. This gives us excellent quality control from the get go.
This has been an important process to go through and one I did not anticipate a year ago. The result is that each Wonder is extraordinary - from the quality of the push button, the balance of the turntable, the poise of the sculpture to the surface finish of the die cast aluminium enclosure, the warranty label and the little rubber feet. It all comes together like a song.
Wonder looks and feels like a high end instrument - it's a quality piece of hardware. Having now seen our final samples (and having absorbed 12 months of inflated costs) we have immediately re-listed Wonder with a pre-order sales price of £1,500 and to be honest, it's easily worth double that.
So, what a lot of fuss creating something so simple... all you do is plug it in to your USB, turn it on and hey presto, it slowly whirls around... well, it's not quite that simple.
Individually fabricated using a blend of advanced manufacturing with artisinal craftsmanship to finish, each spiral takes around 7 days to produce and we make them in batches of 25. This limits our production capacity and will prevent this from ever being a mass produced design object.
The spirals start as laser accurate forms with incredibly high precision, are hand finished and treated in a special coating which allows us to organically grow a copper skin on them. That process alone takes 48 hours and happens in stages so that the finish is as flawless as we can make it. The geometry is perfect and has to be for the spiral illusion to take its effect but on close inspection there are subtle differences in the finish of every spiral and any imperfections in finish are the characteristc result of a hand held processes. That said, the first fingerprint to touch each spiral will belong to the person who ordered it.
When ready each spiral is then electrophoretically lacquered so that it remains bright and will not tarnish, only ever needing to be cleaned with a dry cloth, which is provided in the box.
These processes take the fabrication from Hemel Hempstead, to Newport Pagnell, up to Wolverhamption and back down to Malmesbury where they are securely fitted into the turntable.
The whole spiral fabricration process was tested and developed two years ago before the project went live.
It was important that we provided a turntable for Wonder that matched the quality of the spiral. Immediately we wanted a die cast alumuinium enclosure with a matt black powder coated finish, more akin to a piece of hi-fi equipment than anything we had ever seen used for a moving sculpture. So we turned to a UK casting specialist in Andover, Hampshire who we worked with to production engineer the design.
Our tooling was made in Italy last summer where the parts are cast. They are finished in Andover and are now assembled with the complete mechanical design and precision bearing system.
We've managed to achieve a 0.65mm gap in the turntable with perfect concentricity and planar movement so that it the right lighting Wonder appears to float on it's own.
The push button is bespokely manufactured too, this time CNC machining with a powder coated finish to give a subtle, concave indentation that feels good to touch.
All made from stainless steel or aluminium - waterjet cut and machined to specification. Assembled with premium branded bearings and industry standard fixtures. Wonder is built to perform and made to last.
While most screws, washers and other sundries are off the shelf we had to use a very special screw to secure the spiral in place and this comes from a specialist Father & Son screw supplier in Buckinghamshire.
Wonder is driven by a low power 5v motor using a worm and wheel design, which means it can be powered by USB and doesn't need any special set up when it arrives e.g. it's good to ship.
You can plug it in where you like - with a mains adapter, in your laptop, battery pack or solar powered USB array.
The motor can be replaced without the need for soldering or specialist tools so that Wonder can be maintained to work for a very long time.
The motor is a custom design and is the only component that is made in China. We took delivery of our first 500 motors last summer anticipating there might be delays with their supply, there wasn't.
The motor sits in a UK made cradle, which seats it in position with the turntable mechanism by being screwed to the main housing.
Designed and manufactured in Bristol our custom PCB design neatly drives the motor and regulates the speed at a steady 16rpm. It also features a digital clutch that will stop the motor in case the spiral is stopped and prevent either motor or spiral being damaged.
It's so lovely and we were lucky to work closely with a brillant cardboard engineer at a packaging company in Melksham, Wiltshire.
After some careful thought I had a clear picture of what I wanted the packaging to be. Wonder feels alive and I think that some people are going to enjoy showing it off. When they do I wanted them to be able to carry it like a carriage, in the way you would carefully take a pet to the vets. So the box design comprises of an inner and outer carton, both come together to create a striking, characterful and protective packaging solution. Take a look at the unboxing below.
This is all made down the road in Wiltshire.
Of course, it's all well being functional and pretty but will it survive the wrath of the careless courier. We had to test it and to be extra sure that every unit arrives in perfect condiiton we will ship each Wonder box in an extra outer protective carton encasing the contents with biodegradeable filler.
The award winning poet and illustrator Jo Tilsley has helped us to visualise Wonder in a way that gives it a timeless two dimensional aesthetic. Some of these illustrations we have used in the packaging and some we have used in a few special prints we are including with each unit.
These extras comprise of:
- A poem about Wonder by Jo Tilsley
- A microfibre diamond dusting cloth
- A limited edition gold foil print of Wonder
All our printing is done locally with fine art digital printers in Corsham, Wiltshire.
Me and My Team
This leaves me to talk a little about myself and my team.
Things have moved on, while I am completely hands on with every aspect of this build - and will be across the first 1,000 pieces - I have started to expand my team. So, I have help and I will quickly recruit more once we get going.
I'm joined on the sofa by Nick, my business partner and Nandhit my design assistant and sitting on the arm is Verity - quite simply, our girl Wonder. I will tell you more about each of them in future blogs.
You can see in the photo there are a few spaces vacant so feel free to reach out to us if you're local and want to get stuck in.
We work across two sites, my original studio off Malmesbury high street where we assemble the motor, spiral and acoustic dampening and test every Wonder. Then, a mile down the road at Cowbridge Farm from where we package and get them ready to ship. The next stage is collection by our fulfillment partners in Swindon, Wiltshire who send them off by trackable delivery worldwide.
It's a lot of work but it's a lot of fun and this is what it takes to bring something completely new and utterly extraordinary into the world.
Wonder is a masterpiece and I am proud to have done justice to the design by being such a stickler for detail.
If you ordered Wonder at the beginning - thanks so much for your patience - this effort is for you. If you're new to the story, thanks for reading.
At the time of writing it is estimated that the first batch of Wonder's will begin to ship on 21st March. From there we will ship 25 units on a weekly basis and a full estimated schedule of all pre-order deliveries will be published here shortly.