First seen two years ago as a prototype, Swiss bathroom specialist Laufen has launched two new washbasin bowls manufactured from its revolutionary new ceramic SaphirKeramik.With a name that alludes to the addition of the mineral corundum, a component of sapphire also used in the watch industry as sapphire glass dials, SaphirKeramik is considerably harder and has a greater flexural strength.
SaphirKeramik is a new generation ceramic material that can generate completely new shapes. Closely defined radii and edges are now possible akin to those seen in pieces constructed from solid surfaces, along with much thinner walls making each ceramic piece up to 40% lighter than if it were made with traditional ceramic materials. The superior hardness of the material opens up new design possibilities, particularly with regard to the radii of the products: 1-2-mm radii for edges and 2 mm radii for corners are technically feasible with the new SaphirKeramik. The norm for classic ceramics is radii from 7mm to 8 mm.
Previously manufacturers had the choice of vitreous china and fine fireclay. Vitreous china excels due to the waterproof qualities of the surface – water absorption is virtually zero – and it therefore meets the highest hygiene requirements for WCs and urinals. Soft, round and flowing shapes can be readily achieved with this material when combined with the appropriate know-how of the manufacturer. However, the arbitrary shrinkage of the material during the drying and firing stage means the manufacturing process is difficult to control.
Fireclay has until now been the ceramic of choice for manufacturing very large ceramic pieces. Here, the classic ceramic mass (slurry) is stabilised with the addition of pre-fired clay (chamotte) which enables large ceramic pieces such as double washbasins or floorstanding washbasin pedestals to be produced.
With SaphirKeramik from Laufen shapes that were previously not possible with ceramic can be created, due to the hardness of the material. A more delicate design language, more defined in shape and line, becomes possible – exactly matching the ideas behind contemporary architectural design. Designs that were deemed to be only suitable for solid surface pieces can now be achieved in ceramic, meaning that all the benefits which ceramic has in the bathroom can be exploited: not only can absolute hygiene be achieved, the material is also not harmed by abrasive or chemical cleaning agents.
Ceramic is also an environmentally friendly and sustainable product, largely consisting of the natural and widespread raw materials kaolin, clay, feldspar and quartz sand. It can therefore be produced economically in large quantities, can be safely used in the bathroom in contact with drinking water for many years and is completely recyclable at the end of a long product life.
The first products to be manufactured from this revolutionary material are two washbasins, a square version measuring 360mm x 360mm and a rectangular version measuring 600mm x 340mm.
Dr. Werner Fischer, Research Director at Laufen, developed the SaphirKeramik together with his team and various university research institutes. The Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Berlin (BAM) examined the flexural strength of the material and measured an average of over 120 kp/mm² – which is comparable with steel and twice as high as that of vitreous china.
The exact recipe, according to Dr. Werner Fischer, was developed through half a decade of research and development – and is Laufen’s best kept secret.