The materials of the London Underground

For Alice Made This’s collaboration with Transport for London, two materials were selected to form the cufflinks and desktop valet – vitreous enamel and steel. Both these materials are used abundantly across the London Underground, steel primarily for construction and vitreous enamel for the iconic signage. A closer look at the properties of these materials reveals why they are used in construction and how they are suitable to make refined and precise accessories. 

Underground | Alice Made This Vitreous enamel first appeared in 1500 BC in Cyprus, and it was at its most important during the Middle Ages. From the 19th Century onwards, it has been applied to industrial materials and metal consumer objects. Enamelling is mostly used in jewellery and decorative art, for example the famous Faberge Eggs, but it also used on objects such as fridges and dishwashers. Enamel is made through a process called firing, where powdered glass is fused to a substrate. The powder melts, flows, and hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating on metal, glass or ceramic. Most modern industrial enamel is applied to steel. It is this firing process that makes enamel hard and scratch, fire and chemical resistant. Colour is obtained through the addition of various minerals and as enamel is glass rather than paint, it does not fade under ultraviolet light. For these reasons, vitreous enamel has long been used for all the signage on the London Underground, including the famous roundel. The fact that vitreous enamel is hard, easy to clean, and durable makes it the perfect material for a desktop valet, as it will withstand a lot of use without showing any signs of age.

The earliest known production of steel was in 1800 BC and by 650 BC, large quantities of steel were being produced in Sparta. Steel is an alloy of iron and other elements, primarily carbon, and is used widely in construction because of its high tensile strength. To stop corrosion, at least 11% chromium is added, creating stainless steel. However, carbon steel accounts for 90% of production. Steel is in fact one of the world’s most recycled materials, with a global rate of 60%. Due to steel’s durability, strength, toughness and weldability, it is used in the railway industry, for wheels, the body of passenger rail cars, and for the tracks. Steel is ideal for railway rails because it can withstand high stresses, and so the rails wear away very slowly to avoid cracking. The strength of steel and its high polish finish make it perfect for creating a pair of elegant and timeless cufflinks.

Steel cufflinks | Alice Made This