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Silhouette explains its High-tech Titanium Eyewear from materials processing and its quality control that it says provide perfection

April 2013

Making a vision become reality calls for passion, patience, perfection and permanent expansion of your own horizons. From the beginning, the people at Silhouette were ready to think outside the box, and in the search for exclusive, versatile materials and technologies, to break down barriers – for revolutionary lightness, cool solidity and maximum flexibility, to present invisible features to users in a practical way; in short: to develop extremely minimal eyewear.

Silhouette“Already at the beginning of the 1990s we were experimenting with different materials such as phosphorous bronze, aluminium and copper alloys. These materials, however, fulfilled our demanding requirements only to a certain extent, if at all,” said Rupert Spindelbalker, who is in charge of Silhouette's research and development, when talking about the challenging beginnings. Only the discovery of a new flexible, yet stable, titanium alloy by the research and development department that Rupert Spindelbalker heads, and the perfect cooperation of his team with the designers and production staff made, what had seemed up to then, the impossible possible. Silhouette also developed processing methods that permitted consistent material purity and consequently, optimum properties. “The secret is in the interplay of the material and the processing – only when both of these components are at the highest level, is the eyewear then, too,” said Spindelbalker.

The material
“Back to the future …” is how you could describe Silhouette's path to high-tech titanium. It was one of the founding fathers of organic chemistry, the German Justus von Liebig, who succeeded in extracting metallic titanium from its principal mineral ores in 1831. But it was to take more than a hundred years before the discovery of this successful chemist – whom we can also credit for the invention of baking powder – would be ready for commercial use. It was not because of its availability, for titanium is not rare; on the contrary, after aluminum, iron and magnesium, it is the fourth most common metal. However, it does not occur in pure form, but rather as an oxide in the minerals rutile or ilmenite. The extraction of pure titanium is a laborious process. One that has its price, of course.

One of the driving forces behind the development of the material was the requirement for improved functionality at reduced volume. For decades, titanium in its pure form and high-tech titanium alloys were used only in the aerospace industry. At the end of the 1980s, other industries became aware of the significant advantages of the material:
SilhouetteIt is strong, yet very light in weight, is easily processed, is corrosion-resistant and is both non-toxic as well as antiallergenic – and thus, biocompatible. These are optimum properties for many devices used in salt water or medical applications, such as hip replacements. Titanium is also excellent for more or less everyday objects such as legendary watches and cameras, ultralight electric golf caddies and racing bikes with vibration-absorbing titanium frames.

In 2008, titanium gained entry to the world of tableware with a special edition of Peter Raacke's legendary “mono-a” silverware. And the super material was also the material of choice for Japanese architect Satoshi Okada. His almost filigree looking, lightly swinging Titanium Lounge Chair fully meets the highest standards in the public domain. These examples in particular show that the term titanium can also be linked to the property of exclusivity – because pure titanium is expensive. That is why the future of this material lies there where there is no alternative or where efficiency is warranted – in countries such as Dubai or Qatar, where ever larger titanium desalination plants are being constructed whose capacities, because of the sharply rising demand worldwide for drinking water, are increasing yearly in the double-digit percentage range.
Unique Silhouette quality
All Silhouette eyewear combines technology and functionality with design and exquisite handicraft. This recipe for success was embodied in the Titan Next Generation Collection of 1998 – the first eyewear to be made of high-tech titanium and with screwless hinges – and the first impressive success story. In 1999, the Titan Minimal Art came into being, which revolutionized eyewear design to become what is today both a style icon and a legend. Thanks not least to the unique properties of high-tech titanium, for without what was then a revolutionary material in the eyewear industry, the design would not have been possible. Thanks also to the untiring spirit of innovation of the design and research and development departments and their constant search for new materials, the revolution in the eyewear industry was successful.

Silhouette eyewear gets by completely without hinges or screws, since high-tech titanium is an extremely flexible and durable material. It is antiallergenic and thus optimally skin-friendly as well as extremely light, which accounts for the unmistakable wearing comfort of each Silhouette on the one hand, and allows for a particularly minimalistic design, on the other. And, high-tech titanium keeps its shape, day after day.

To attain this, not only were unconventional ideas and similar methods in design necessary, but also the use of the best materials available. Added to that, constant intensive and targeted research work, further development and intelligent finishing were indispensable. Tests to date on 25 exclusive titanium alloys in a period of around five years are the manifestion of what Silhouette understands quality to be. “It is all about the so-called beta alloys. Only three proved to be suitable in the end, however,” explained Rupert Spindelbalker about the high demands of Silhouette designs on the material. The ratio of strength to elasticity allows for a particularly delicate design without losing stability. Hence, high-tech titanium is best suited for the screwless and, in part, hingeless eyewear from Silhouette.

Top properties: high-tech titanium
In comparison with nickel silver, which is also used in the eyewear industry, high-tech titanium is around seven times more elastic -- the material can tolerate 3.5% elongation (nickel silver only 0.5 %) without distortion. At the same time, however, it is only half as heavy as nickel silver, which guarantees the utmost in wearing comfort and it is twice as strong, making the eyewear durable and resilient.
Next to the optimum titanium alloy, the ongoing optimization of the production process is what makes the quality of Silhouette eyewear. The goal is to produce raw material with a clean, shiny surface of uniform quality. Only in this way is an economic utilization of the material possible with the least amount of waste. And only in this way can the exacting demands of customers be fulfilled.

SilhouetteBecause of their slightly diverging strengths, high-tech alloys are suited for the different requirements of individual frame components – whether it be the flexible zone of the temple or the strong bridge. The definition of the elasticity and strength profiles is important. “Pure titanium would not be suitable for the requirements of our design – it would break,” said Rupert Spindelbalker when talking about the question of quality. “The secret is in the alloy, whose composition is the secret of our outstanding quality.”
In short: light yet durable, each piece of eyewear from Silhouette is the perfect companion for every day and for every occasion – with the special magic of an exceptional material.

Constant quality control
Quality management of all materials has top priority at Silhouette and starts already with the careful choice of suppliers. Since only flawless base materials allow for compliance with the highest quality standards in the end product, the close examination of the delivered batches of material is a matter of course, as are constant quality controls following each step of the production process. Furthermore, Silhouette works with the supplier on the ongoing optimization of the raw material – it can always be just a little bit better.

Around 100 precisely coordinated production steps are necessary to create a Titan temple from the raw materials, with up to 264 steps needed until a piece of eyewear is finished – approximately 80 percent is carried out by hand. Many of these steps take place in the tool manufacturing department, before actual production begins. Silhouette develops a large part of its machines and tools itself in order to be able to implement the design requirements with the highest, consistent quality possible. This unique symbiosis of high-tech base materials and genuine handicraft is what makes a Silhouette.

The processing
The alloy is delivered either in wire form in various diameters from 0.8 to 3.2 millimeters or in sheets in thicknesses of 0.8 to 1.45 millimeters. Approximately 500,000 meters of raw material are processed each year by Silhouette. Even if there are slight differences at the beginning of processing, the material is then reduced, stamped, cut and bent. In an automatic cyclone polishing machines filled with a nutshell granulate and special polishing additives, the surface is deburred for up to 80 hours and then polished by hand. A time-consuming process that is completed with various coating processes and finally, the individual coloration of the high-tech material.

The Silhouette secret: material purity
Secrets are part of any top-class production – these are what make the subtle difference. Silhouette revealed one of its secrets, though, about working with high-tech titanium: “The  difference is clearly in the workmanship,” Rupert Spindelbalker summed up the advantage of Silhouette eyewear, “because we have developed a method which allows for even the smallest parts to be compounded always with the same consistent quality.”

The joinings are heated up to the melting point, the materials fuse and after setting, are permanently joined. Different from soldering, where solder is added and which is only possible for the larger components, in this method the material purity and thus all the properties of the titanium alloy remain intact. “This method of joining guarantees the purity of the material – Silhouette titanium eyewear is truly made only of high-tech titanium that retains its optimum properties even in processing and handling,” said Spindelbalker.

The smallest components, such as the 0.8mm-thin pins for the plug connection between the temple and the lens can be joint on with pinpoint accuracy. The pins are extremely stable and make the screwless mounting of the temple and lens possible.
At Silhouette, this method is semi-automatic using automatic machines developed and constructed by Silhouette. Trained, experienced staff constantly monitor each step.

The future of high-tech titanium
“Currently there is no comparable material of such high quality that would be better suited for our design than high-tech titanium,” said Rupert Spindelbalker with conviction. Silhouette has therefore invested its energy in the optimization of the manufacturing process to give spectacle wearers the utmost in wearing comfort and the best quality. “But of course, we are always doing further research and perhaps someday there will be a material or an alloy that will replace high-tech titanium. Today it is the best for us – we do not doubt that for a moment,” Spindelbalker stated.

- High-tech titanium gives temples the greatest flexibility and the bridge the required strength, according to the diameter of the material.
- High-tech titanium is antiallergenic, distinguishing itself by being highly skin-friendly. Silhouette eyewear made of titanium is the ideal choice for clients with contact dermatitis!
- High-tech titanium is super light and offers outstanding wearing comfort.
- High-tech titanium makes particularly delicate and minimalist design possible that is still highly resilient.
- High-tech titanium is so flexible that Silhouette eyewear needs no hinges or screws at all. The flexible temple molds itself to the contours of the head for a perfect fit.
- High-tech titanium can be optimally adjusted – unpleasant pressure marks on the nose and behind the ears are a thing of the past.
- High-tech titanium is corrosion and temperature resistant. Silhouette eyewear of  high-tech titanium always keeps its shape and is maintenance-free.
- High-tech titanium offers endless possibilities in coloring. Whether high-gloss, semi-gloss or with color printing, the surface is UV-resistant and resistant to cosmetics.
- Through optimal processing and joining technology, Silhouette guarantees the greatest material purity in each and every pair of high-tech titanium eyewear.

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