Manufacturing Thor: Pearl On Carbon


Pure Aesthetics

I find the iridescence of mother-of-pearl simply irresistible. Mother-of-pearl, which is also called “nacre,” is a natural material that is made when layers of a substance called “aragonite” build up on the inside of some types of mollusk shells. The way light bounces off these layers is what gives mother-of-pearl its iridescent look. The different thicknesses and orientations of the aragonite layers make light bend in different ways. This creates the beautiful shimmering rainbow effect.

That shimmering effect of mother-of-pearl, together with the way carbon fiber reflects light, is simply majestic! When carbon fiber is woven, the fibers are arranged in different angles, directions, and layers, in a process called “3D weaving”, that gives the impression of depth. Each layer’s fibers are set at a slightly different angle than the next layer’s fibers. This makes a small change in how light bounces off the surface, which gives the material a 3D look.

I tried to capture how that looked like in the short video clip below. Using the iPhone 14 Pro camera to make an HDR video is kind of OK, but you really have to see the real thing! Note that the pieces of mother-of-pearl are not yet glued and leveled, so the pieces are hovering a little bit above the carbon fiber. I am simply trying to fit individual mother-of-pearl pieces into the carbon fiber base.

 

Inlaying MOP

Mother of Pearl Blanks

The traditional method of inlaying mother-of-pearl into a material such as wood is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and requires a high level of precision and skill. The process involves carefully cutting and shaping small pieces of mother-of-pearl before carefully setting them into a groove in wood, or in our case, carbon fiber.

Jeweler’s Saw

Using a Jeweler’s saw, the material is cut into the desired shape and size. After that, the pieces are sanded and polished to ensure a smooth, even surface. The surface is then grooved to make room for the inlay. This is done using a Dremel rotary tool. To ensure a snug fit for the mother-of-pearl pieces, the groove must be precisely sized and shaped. Once the groove has been prepared, the mother-of-pearl pieces are carefully inserted and secured in place with a small amount of epoxy or superglue. Finally, to ensure a smooth and even surface, the inlay is sanded and polished.

Back in 2010, I wrote an article detailing our inlaying process called Pearl Inlays. We no longer do that for Thor. The process is simply too labor-intensive for mass production. Instead, both the mother-of-pearl and the carbon fiber are now CNC-cut. Overall, CNC cutting is a more efficient and cost-effective method of creating mother-of-pearl and carbon fiber inlays, and it allows for greater design flexibility and a higher level of precision and consistency. The results are just as impressive:

 

CNC Manufacturing

We commissioned separate manufacturers to cut sufficient quantities of carbon fiber and mother-of-pearl for the current batch and future batches. Interestingly, there are companies that specialize in such services. For example, CNC-cut mother-of-pearl is now prevalent in the jewelry industry.

Yet, even using CNC, due to the small size of each mother-of-pearl piece and the delicate nature of the material, cutting mother-of-pearl is still a challenging task. I believe mother-of-pearl is much more difficult to cut than carbon fiber. Special care must be taken when cutting mother-of-pearl to avoid damaging the material. This may necessitate the use of specialized cutting tools designed to minimize the force applied to the material. It may also involve the use of a CNC machine with a diamond-tipped cutter, which is less likely to damage the material and offers a high degree of precision. Additionally, the process of cutting mother-of-pearl may require multiple passes and a slow cutting speed to reduce the risk of cracking or breaking the material.

 

Original Thor Prototype Logo

In contrast to our initial hand-inlaid prototype, however, the corners are now slightly rounded due to the diameter of the cutting tool used. I probably could have asked the manufacturers to use progressively finer cutting tools, but that would likely be more expensive. I realized, though, that this unexpected outcome is actually a positive change! I think the new design is more visually interesting and modern. As a result, I decided, from now on, to use the new rounded logo everywhere.

 

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MikeP
MikeP
7 days ago

Spectacular Joel…I agree, love the redesigned logo!!!

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