Marc Newson Georg Jensen sterling silver teaset 2015

marc newson wish-list | taking tea with georg jensen | heirloom design

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

A state-of-the-art watch, designer pens, and a shimmering silver tea service … Australian designer Marc Newson  continues to accessorise our lives.

I don’t have a Lockheed Lounge or an Apple Watch but I do have a Marc Newson dish rack. It’s lime green with orange tips in fetching injection-molded glossy polypropylene and it has made me love washing up for, oh, eight years now since spotting  it in an objets d’art shop at Sydney’s Customs House. It also came in red with green tips and white with icy blue.

dish doctor marc newson magis 1

Dishing the dirt: Marc Newson’s Dish Doctor for Magis

There’s not much Marc Newson hasn’t had a go at designing. On top of the above, cabin interiors for Qantas, notably its international Skybed, the airline’s very sophisticated First lounge in Sydney, the insides of a spacecraft cabin (the aerospace industry allowed Newson to indulge a passion for working with new materials, technologies and processes); the Aquariva speedboat and Nike’s cool Zvezdochka sports shoe; a limited edition of samurai swords (priced at around $US300,000 each), and a luxury book store for Taschen in Milan.

Newson admits he is obsessed with making things. And for all the diversity of projects, there is an underlying thread. As he told architecture and design magazine, Deezen: “These are all on some level mechanical bits of engineering that differ only in the materials that they’re made from and the scale. All of these objects have really specific requirements and you’ve just got to understand that and then it becomes a problem-solving exercise.”

marc newson dom perignon ice bucket

Limited edition Dom Perignon cooler, 2006, designed to hold a jerobaum or four regular bottles

He’s a little more measured these days. When interviewed for Australia’s Bulletin magazine around the time he launched his Dom Pérignon cooler, in signature neon-meets-absinthe green polyurethane (he’d wanted to do it in polystyrene as a larrikin nod to the Esky but nightclub fire regulations thwarted that idea), Newson told me that much of what he designs is born out of perennial irritation.

“A lot of what I do is driven by a certain degree of anger and frustration – seeing things that look like crap and thinking, ‘This could be so much better.’ Aircraft interiors were a great case in point; I could not for the life of me understand why they were so awful.”

His pet hates, he maintained at the time, were mobile phones, sneakers and cars … and since then he has been setting the world to rights. His work can these days be found in major design museum collections including New York’s MoMA, London’s Design Museum and V&A, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Vitra Design Museum in Basel.

This year has brought, as well as the very high profile Apple Watch innovation, beautiful, tactile writing instruments (aka pens) for Montblanc and a tea set for Georg Jensen launched in September at Beijing Design Week.

A whole new proposition in family heirlooms, there are just 10 of the limited-edition hammered silver tea services, comprising a teapot, coffee pot, creamer, sugar bowl and tray – all stamped with the MN maker’s mark. It’s a cool $167,000. (Call it an investment by factoring in the Newson Inflation Factor: one of the rivet-studded aluminium Lockheed Lounges that kick- started his stellar career was sold at auction in London in April for £2.4 million (A$5.01 million.)

This is Georg Jensen’s first collaboration with a contemporary artist since Vernon Panton – he of the “car crash” trays – came on board in 1988.

The teapot, coffee pot and creamer have distinctive handles of mammoth bone (it’s estimated that each year some 60 tonnes of bones from the proboscidean, extinct for some 4500 years, is being unearthed in Siberia and shipped to China, following the banning of trade in elephant tusks), and the tray’s rims are bound in rattan. There’s a nifty, discreet cutout with sliding door on the top of the pots.

Commented Georg Jensen CEO David Chu, “Who else but Marc could bring to this domestic, modest and functional family of tea-related objects the gravitas, the feeling of universality, the harmony of domesticity and ceremony?” Who indeed.

Georg Jensen has been producing designs with a distinctive modernist aesthetic since the silver artisan’s beginnings in 1904. The brand’s sculptural, elegant and functional imperatives are its signature Danish heritage and tie in neatly with Newson’s world view. When writing the foreward to Georg Jensen Reflections, Newson, a trained silversmith, nominated the classic Georg Jensen “Pregnant Duck” serving pitcher – originally designed by Henning Koppel in 1952 and still handmade today on the premises – as a case study in perfection. He said:  “Anachronistic yet still totally contemporary, the object is streamlined and flawless, belying the fact that it was made entirely by hand over many hundreds of hours, probably by the same person from beginning to end.”

Putting pen to paper

The set of pens for German brand Montblanc boasts a magnetic closure system, and nibs plated with rare metals. The “Montblanc M” pen has a polished black resin case shaped using a diamond tool and incorporates magnets that snap the cap and barrel together so the clip aligns with a “plateau” at the other end of the writing implement. And look what he’s done with that signature white star!

Montblanc marc newson writing instruments rollerpen fountain ballpoint 2015

Marc Newson’s elegant writing instruments for Montblanc: rollerball, fountain pen and ballpoint

The gold nib is plated in rhodium and ruthenium – both rare metals similar to platinum – and engraved with Newson’s initials for the pen’s launch year. Said its maker: “Like Montblanc, I seek to strike a balance in the design between the simplicity of the functional qualities of this product and the creation of a sensory experience in its use.”

The range includes a fountain pen (A$760), a rollerball ($540), a ballpoint ($540). There is also a “screenwriter” for use on touch screens, and a fineliner for technical drawing – the first in Montblanc’s 109-year history. The brand’s star-shaped logo is displayed in white on the top of the cap, as well as on a bevelled portion at the other end of the pen.

It’s not Newson’s first writing instrument. In 2014, he created the “Nautilus” fountain pen with a retractable nib for the French fashion house Hermès, made from aluminium and stainless steel.

When I asked Newson how he measured success some years back, he said it was the knowledge that he has addressed “something that has been bad, that had to be done better.” Even if it’s something as prosaic as washing up.

marc newson montblanc fountain pen 2015

Marc Newson-designed “Montblanc M” fountain pen with gold nib, for Montblanc


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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.