THE elaborate craftsmanship of Japanese artisans has been harnessed by car maker Lexus, who are pushing the boundaries of industrial technology to incorporate stunning moulded glass panels inside the new flagship LS sedan.
In a world first for a production vehicle, the new Lexus LS uses these exquisitely detailed works of art to create distinctive and beautiful ornamentation on the doors.
Inspired by fine Japanese kiriko glass, the panels strike a rich visual and tactile contrast with the stitched leather upholstery, cool metal door handles and hand-pleated silk surfacing.
kiriko is a Japanese tradition of hand-cutting delicate patterns into glass, producing stunning reflections of light. It is often seen in vases, sake glasses and traditional ornaments.
The introduction of glass panels in the new LS – which is due in Australia in April – is a perfect example of how Lexus is using Japanese craftsmanship to create innovative elegance.
Beautiful and delicate, the glasswork is also remarkably strong, thanks to advanced heat-treating that makes it tough enough for the challenging environment of an automotive interior.
The finished design gives the LS a distinctive, artistic quality that exemplifies the attention to detail for which Lexus is renowned.
LS chief designer Koichi Suga said the look and feel of the glass changes according to the angle of viewing and the time of day.
“This special ornamentation represents the best of both worlds – it is an industrial product that is also a work of art,” he said.
In 2014, Lexus and Asahi Glass Company (AGC) began to explore how to use glass in vehicle interiors to enhance the distinctly progressive perspective on luxury from Lexus.
An industry giant with decades of experience, AGC realised kiriko was completely outside its traditional scope. It would require a completely new glass-moulding process and the talent of an artisan to design and craft an exquisite and elegant glass prototype.
AGC turned to Takumi craftsman Toshiyasu Nakamura to recreate the reflective effect of kiriko glass for the LS. This provided a unique challenge because, unlike a kiriko sake glass, there is no light passing through the glass inside the LS door.
Running his finger along the lines of a cut-glass model, Nakamura described his thoughtful solution: “Cutting at altering angles through the hand-drawn lines on the glass results in a ‘twist’, allowing more light to reflect at different angles along those lines.”
From this point, it was another 18 months before the final glass panels were ready to be fitted to the LS.
Nakamura’s ‘twist’ design led to the incorporation of a new 3D digital scan when designing the mould, faithfully rendering the glass panel’s unusual dimensions and accurately reproducing its unique expression.
Multiple panel reproductions – exact facsimiles of Nakamura’s craft – were a singular challenge, while a vehicle’s rugged environment required a durability far beyond that of regular kiriko pieces.
AGC invented a new eight-stage production process carried out in eight different locations across Japan.
A film-dipping process and rear-mounted metal plating provide the kiriko piece with a sturdiness that belies its delicate appearance.
The finished ornamentation represents a vision of Japanese beauty and luxury shared by Nakamura and AGC.
“The partnership of traditional hand-made artistry and leading-edge industrial processes is – in itself – a form of craftsmanship,” he said.
“To me, Japanese beauty represents a subtlety and depth that reveals detail and craft the more one observes. As reflected in the kiriko glass, looking at it from different angles yields different aesthetics, yet it conveys an overall sense of harmony and connectedness.”