Aluminum, zamak, stainless steel, solid, or liquid, or even as coffrets, ornaments, accessories, and decorations: in premium luxury products, metal remains a material of choice. First published in Formes de Luxe's Winter 2022 issue, we round up the latest trends in all things metallic, be they embossed, debossed, engraved, etched, or applied with hot or cold techniques on paper.
Cold or hot foil stamping gains in precision
What is a luxury case without gold? At Wauters, foil stamping is (also) done using a cold process. In 2021, the company invested in a cold foil stamping station and a latest-generation offset press. The goal is to offer customers an alternative that saves time—by simplifying the gilding process, cold lamination allows higher production rates—and energy, by eliminating the need to produce a gilding iron tool.
In addition to environmental and technological advantages, the process delivers unbeatable precision. "We can achieve unparalleled levels of detail," says Frédéric Ansart, Sales Director at Wauters. "Not to mention that with the predicted elimination of polyester films, cold stamping could be used in other areas, notably all-over metallization."
And yet brands overwhelmingly continue to request hot stamping (90% of decorations). While habit plays a part, it’s also a question of result. Hot stamping is brighter and sharper. I don’t think cold stamping could replace hot stamping in the hearts of professionals—or brands. Especially since it is highly dependent on the quality of the support material. On uncoated cardboard, for example, cold stamping is impractical: the mordant soaks into the support, preventing the metal from adhering properly.
The same preference for hot stamping has been observed at Rissmann, which continues to work mainly with the technique: "The metal is brighter. We work it flat, embossed, or debossed, or even with prismatic effects. From an environmental standpoint, we know that only a very thin layer of aluminum will remain on the finished product, and that the PET backing is removed after transport. Even so, it is our responsibility, of course, to inform our clients of their options: currently, brand specifications are based on recycled and/or FSC papers. Combining these materials with hot-stamped areas that are too large—which would make it impossible to recycle the product—can be counterproductive." Ansart adds, "Remember that on a 300g case with all-over stamping, gold represents less than 1% of the case’s total weight. In France, all that shines is systematically rejected during optical sorting. It’s high time the system was refined."
Gold hotstamping on a gift box © Rissmann
At Dior, Chloé & L'Occitane, aluminum goes for a refill
In the selective perfume segment, eco-recharges made of recycled aluminum are becoming increasingly popular. "A number of projects are being developed for launch in 2023," says Hugo Beristain, Sales Director for Envases Group. "Brands seem more and more receptive to the environmental advantages of recycled aluminum, which is also making headway on the bodycare market. A recycled aluminum bottle can divide a product’s carbon footprint by five—and without sacrificing any of its features." The PCR aluminum bottle, adopted by L’Occitane and sold under the name Bouteille Forever (in a version that can be refilled at fountains installed in a hundred or so boutiques around the world), has also been embraced by The Body Shop, which has 400 refill stations worldwide. But for perfume, home refill systems remain the most popular choice.
100% PCR aluminium refills from Chloé ©Envases Group, Chloé
Béristain explains: "Globally speaking, refills are given luxury, but minimalist design—this typically means offset printing on custom lacquer backgrounds. But any type of finishing is possible: hot stamping, matte and gloss finishes, tactile effects, expanding inks that can create braille, deep embossing, etc." At Envases, these techniques are all integrated into the production line and have been adopted by brands such as Nina Ricci (for its Nina mists) and Paco Rabanne (for its Fame deodorant spray). "Using our exclusive Integrated Silk Screen technology, we are able to combine a large number of finishes on these bottles (matt and gloss, foils, offset)," says Beristain. And Envases has begun applying this technology to the skincare segment, with a cosmetics solution scheduled for launch in 2023.
The enduring appeal of metallization
"Some brands—like Paco Rabanne—have always been associated with metal," says Bruno Pierrain, CEO at Prad. "Others use the material sparingly, but it is essential to luxury codes. As rechargeable options become commonplace, we are seeing more metallization on glass jars and bottles in cosmetics; the longevity of these containers justifies the increased investment." And while metal still tends to mean gold or silver, "in perfumery we’ve seen demand for transparent metallization, shading, and depth; True Oud by Carolina Herrera and Platinum by Coach are two examples. These variations can only be achieved using liquid metallization." A top technique at Prad, it uses less energy than vacuum metallizing, says Pierrain. “‘Light’ metallization is attractive for sustainability reasons: glassmakers don’t like ceramic in their cullet, and when it comes to recycling, only sufficiently transparent glass makes it through the optical sorting process."
Metallized flacons from Carolina Herrera (left) and Coach (right) ©Prad
Laser etching, reminiscent of goldsmithing is also popular. In the next few years, the French start-up Auressens could reshape the metallization market—without metal. Grégory Dupeyre, its co-founder and CEO, says: "We have replicated the effects typically obtained with gilding, galvanizing, and vacuum metallizing using coatings free of metallic particles and pigments that have the advantage of being applied by spraying at room temperature." Auressens' secret weapon: organic pigments that form a light-reflective material. "These colorants have unprecedented optical behavior. Once applied, they auto-assemble to form a non-conducting coating that looks just like metal," says Dupeyre. Effects include mirror, satin, glitter, dichroic, and iridescent, all of them available in custom colors. The pigments produce both the color and the metal shine, and offer a wide range of shades without additional colorants. The technology will be initially available on non-porous materials like glass, plastic, and ceramic, while applications for paper and cardboard are in the works.
Metal coffrets gain in sophistication
The coffret-bird feeder in copper anodized aluminum created by GPA for Redbreast is one example of how packaging can become a work of art. "The laser-engraved chevrons are reminiscent of a bird’s plumage,” Toby Wilson, head of GPA Global’s Luxury department, explains. "The fact that we master a range of advanced techniques to obtain a variety of extremely detailed decorations on metal means we can enhance less noble metals such as tin, now included in the premium category." GPA’s coffrets for Jack Daniel’s, Tanqueray, and Johnnie Walker are just several examples. And while tin remains associated with so-called accessible luxury, Wilson says, "Today we can do fantastic things with tin, which is mostly recyclable and recycled. Broadly speaking, I believe that metal has its place in sustainable luxury packaging: it has credibility with brands and consumers. We need to make this a reality by opting for responsible sourcing and embellishment methods."
Coffret-bird feeder in copper anodized aluminum, ©GPA / Redbreast
The sales team at Pure Trade, experts in promotional metal coffrets, says, “For a release or a limited-edition—for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Saint Valentine’s Day—they are an ideal solution, especially given the growth of increasingly deep embossing and multilevel embossing that creates more textured and tactile effects.” Deepening debossed decorations—which may come with embossing on round or square shapes, as on the Azzaro barrel case created for The Most Wanted—is more common than creating coffrets with complex multi-stamped designs, such as the racing cars made for Wanted and Wanted By Night by Azzaro. It is often combined with color and gold printing.
Pure Trade's The Most Wanted coffret for Azzaro, ©Azzaro
Gold also appears against a ruby red lacquer background on the Armani collector’s display box (containing 24 lipsticks) with the brand’s logo and metal clasp also in gold. “With the exception of a very few companies,” says the sales team “brand labels are almost invariably adorned with gold or silver metal effects that are also found on gift accessories (key rings, pocket mirrors, cushion holders, bags, etc.) in the form of hot stamping, embroidery, or metal ornaments that we generally make in Zamak for an optimal finish.”
Glenfiddich takes a high-tech approach to metal
In addition to two coffrets designed by Zone Creations (one in aeronauticsgrade aluminum and the other in copper-lined Jesmonite), GPA Global designed an exquisite ‘cage’ to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the collection Time Re:Imagined by Glenfiddich: ensconced in laser-engraved aluminum—embossed and treated with a two-tone finish to create a shaded effect—the decanter seems to be floating, as if weightless within a braid of metal ribbons.
Toby Wilson says, "This coffret appears to be relatively simple to make, but in terms of development, it may be one of the most complex cases— and the most exhilarating—that we have ever made. “The beauty of metal is that it stands on its own: its weight, sensory appeal, and qualitative aspect make it distinctive without the need for multiple embellishments. Which is an advantage from a sustainability standpoint."
Time Re:Imagined by Glenfiddich ©GPA Global / Glenfiddich
Available in hinges, clasps, and ornamental plates, metal has become an almost obligatory component in the prestige coffrets it is used to enhance. "The choice of metal and finishings is intrinsically linked to brand codes and intended use. For the rest, we advise our clients on the sustainable aspect of such and such finishing process. However, in the very high-end sector, where containers hold exceptional spirits intended to be passed from one generation to the next, they are clearly not meant to be thrown away."
Suppliers vaunt zamak's long life span
Zamak, a metal alloy composed of a zinc base with elements of aluminum, magnesium, and copper is "luxury’s paramour," says Thomas Diezinger, co-CEO of TNT Global Manufacturing."— "And for good reason," adds Jean-Pierre Trescartes, head of Segede. "Because of its absolute plasticity, zamak can be used to create the most complex shapes," he says. "Its mechanical resistance and sensorial properties make it a high-quality choice, both for its weight and cold-touch feel." TNT Global Manufacturing has developed extravagant caps for Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Louboutin, and Penhaligon’s. The latest in Penhaligon’s collection features a cap made of five hand-polished, gold galvanized Zamak components. Segede, meanwhile, produced the sculptural, chrome-finish cap for Baerg Marti’s 3454 Beyond Balsamico vinegar.
Baerg Marti’s 3454 Beyond Balsamico vinegar ©Segede / Balsamico 3454
Whether it be TNT’s oxidized cap for Dries Van Noten, black coating with tone-on-tone engraving (Anomalia), or Segede’s shiny gold (Camus), gunmetal (BDK) and velvet effect (Glenfiddich) creations, zamak is a material of choice for both suppliers. "Take the customizable cases for By Far’s Daydream fragrances, for example," says TNT’s Diezinger. "While the cases are lacquered aluminum, we insisted that the belts be made of zamak to ensure their resistance over time."
Its durability is a selling point to those who promote zamak as a sustainable material. "A galvanized zamak cap for a refillable product will show no signs of wear over six, eight, or ten reuses," explains Diezinger. And ultimately zamak can be recycled without losing any of its mechanical or aesthetic qualities. "It’s one thing to say that zamak is recyclable. It’s another thing to ensure that it is recycled effectively: in two years, the recycling stream that we set up with Cèdre and REAZN has reprocessed more than five tons of zamak."
The same is true for Segede, which works with Genlis Métal: "More and more prestige brands are using recycled zamak in their closures," says Trescartes, “I’m thinking in particular of Courvoisier, Alfred Giraud, Meukow... These companies have chosen to display the ZP5 recyclability mark on the back of their caps." He adds: "All the caps we offer contain at least 60% recycled zamak. And all of our production waste is remelted to be incorporated into new production."
Dries Van Noten fragrances with oxidized caps ©TNT / Dries Von Noten
Metal's cold touch & design potential a fit for applicators
In the field of applicators, the line of 3D-printed metal tips produced by Cosmogen for its Fresh range innovates with five stainless steel applicators designed as a jewelry collection. "The idea was to explore forms and textures so the applicator becomes a vehicle for the brand to distinguish itself while enriching the customer experience beyond the cold effect traditionally associated with metal tips. With additive manufacturing, we can quickly develop exclusive custom shapes," explains Maud Lelièvre, Marketing and Communication Director at Cosmogen.
3D-printed metal applicator tips ©Cosmogen
Beyond their esthetic and sensory qualities, the five products were designed to deliver an additional functional benefit. "Each applicator is hollowed out/curved to a different degree to adapt to various formula viscosity levels and to ensure a more precise dose. They each also have a solid area to preserve the benefit of the cold effect." This line of thinking, focused on added cosmetic benefit, is also found in the new range of removable and reusable applicators/dispensers made of textured Zamak designed for Tense tubes. These applicators are now available in a gold version. "Each textured element delivers a targeted massage function, or a peeling, tightening, smoothing, deep stimulation, or microcirculation effect. And the texture can be customized to create a unique sensory signature." Whether using gold or silver anodized aluminum for the Needle Tube, a tip inspired by cosmetic surgery (and which can now be unscrewed for reuse, similar to the stainless steel Fresh’n Reuse, itself now available in a textured version) or stainless steel for the iconic Ridoki rollerball, revisited and eco-corrected with its handle in recycled PET. There is no doubt that metal is in continual reinvention mode!