After being introduced to the technique by a pair of Russian masters, founder Herman van Hulsteijn finally undertook the meticulous Japanese urushi painting technique (this involves layering foils of precious metals underneath translucent lacquer, ultimately creating a rich, glowing finish). And Vanhulsteijn’s team created custom handlebars, pedals, and brake levers.
Exclusively for Sotheby’s Dutch designer Herman van Hulsteijn created a very special edition of just 9 extraordinary Vanhulsteijn bicycles covered in a coat of Japanese urushi lacquer and gold leaf.
The curve is the single most distinguishing feature of this bicycle, stretching from the saddle toward the handlebars in front and terminating at the rear wheel at the back. It appears as if the rider is floating in mid-air. This particular bike design grew out of Hermans need to create “a good looking cycle”.
And do note that today the Vanhulsteijn bicycles are still handcrafted completely out of stainless steel in the middle of Arnhems working-class quarters by a small team of craftsmen, using the latest techniques and high quality parts.
For this occasion, Vanhulsteijn teamed up with two Russian artisans who specialize in Japanese lacquer techniques called urushi. This particular style of lacquer, Tsugaru Nuri implements several layers of gold leaf to achieve a stunning, rich effect that contrasts beautifully with the industrial parts of the bike. The layer of precious metal glows underneath the lacquer and creates an enormous feeling of depth whereby the pattern almost appears to be three dimensional. A pleasant side effect of this ancient Japanese technique is that every bike will have a naturally unique pattern.
Beside the frame, Herman van Hulsteijn designed the signature parts like the elegantly shaped brake levers and pedals himself. Every single part that has no lacquer on it was carefully polished by hand to highlight their shape. The ray-skin upholstery of the saddle and handle bar tops off the luxury look of the bike. Ultimately the bicycle is finished off with the Vanhulsteijn logo’s and number in the Maki-e technique: different grain sizes of gold dust sprinkled in urushi lacquer.
Urushi is the sap of the urushi or lacquer tree (rhus vernicifera). It is a member of the sumac family (anacardiaceae) and native to China, Korea, Japan and the eastern Himalayas. The sap of this tree contains a resin (urushiol) which, when exposed to moisture and air, polymerizes and becomes a very hard, durable, plastic-like substance. Urushi is in fact a natural plastic. The process of applying the lacquer is long and labour intensive: independent of the size of the surface it takes on average 6 months to carry out the finishing. In some cases 60 layers are applied and polished by hand. Depending on the kind of lacquer the time it takes a single layer to dry can take from 2 hours up to 3 months. Due to its fascinating characteristics which are both sustainable and esthetically beautiful, urushi is still used for a wide variety of purposes.
All in all, you can easily imagine that this isn’t just a good looking bicycle, but probably the ultimate masterpiece.
All photos are courtesy of Hanne van der Woude.