Brand design - Bombay Sapphire and premium spirits packaging

Packaging Professional magazine
18 Nov 2010
Hand-crafted Limited Edition bottle designed by Webb deVlam, in London, UK, which references the iconic Bombay Sapphire faceted square footprint

In the world of premium spirits packaging, strong branding, luxury and unique features are a given. Design consultancy Webb deVlam, London, UK, navigates Bombay Sapphire gin’s distinctive history, culminating in a novel limited edition line.

Anyone who knows drinks packaging or drinks gin would instantly recognise the strong branding cues that are synonymous with Bombay Sapphire. First there is the signature translucent blue glass bottle, formed with the faceted square; then there is the famous image of Queen Victoria emblazoned on the label on the front of the bottle. The more discerning eye will also note the images of the gin’s 10 botanical ingredients. The origins of Bombay gin can be traced back 250 years to 1761, when distiller Thomas Dakin created his gin recipe in Warrington, in the North of England. The use of Carterhead stills, in which the botanicals are suspended in a basket on the neck of the still, rather than macerated in the spirit, gives the gin its distinctive, delicate and aromatic character. The name Sapphire came later, inspired by the 60-carat Star of Bombay Sapphire discovered in Sri Lanka and given to silent movie star Mary Pickford by her husband, Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

Next year, Bombay Sapphire is marking its 250th anniversary of the recipe with a Limited Edition crystal glass bottle designed by Webb deVlam in London, UK, with the stopper from Garrard, the jewellers, under the direction of its Creative Director, Stephen Webster.

Finding a platform

This is not the first time that the Bacardi-owned brand has created exclusive luxury packaging. In recent years, it has commissioned designs for prestige packaging from Karim Rashid, as well as cocktail glasses from names such as Eva Zeisel and Tom Dixon. These have featured in advertising campaigns as part of a strategy to associate with aspirational, culture-conscious consumers across the globe.

In 2009, Bombay Sapphire launched a gift carton that featured an optical illusion using a foil laminate supplied by API foils. This was an innovative process that required precision printing. It was the first time that the Fresnel lens-printed foil laminate technique, which creates a 3D dome effect illusion, had been applied to packaging in the drinks sector. The Reign carton went on to win a number of packaging and drink industry awards.

Earlier this year, Bombay Sapphire packaging again employed the foil lens technique, marrying it with a bespoke carton to emulate the facets of a cut gemstone. In both cases, the designs were created by Webb deVlam in London, UK.

Lending a hand

Webb deVlam has worked with Stephen Webster, Creative Director of Garrard,  to deliver his concept for the stopper as the final flourish for the Limited Edition. Initially, there will be 350 crystal glass decanters made in specialist workshops in the UK. The project is defined by small, handmade batch production techniques.

Specialist craftsmen at Langham Glass, in Fakenham, UK, used a pioneering glassblowing process, blowing the internal blue glass into a form that is unique to each individual bottle. In turn, the blue inner bottle is surrounded in diamond-faced clear crystal glass, where the square cut facets refer to the original bottle. Metaphorically, it communicates the notion that ‘there’s something inside’. Langham Glass also made the crystal stopper – shaped like a crown gem, into which a double-diamond sapphire-blue crystal is set at the apex. The stopper’s shape makes a link with Garrard as the crown jeweller.

Appearing to float within the glass walls, the 3D emblem of Queen Victoria and images of the 10 botanical ingredients have been 3D laser-etched by Laser Crystal, a specialist company based in Dorset. The crystal is delicate and required highly skilled laser engraving. It is the first time that the technique has been applied in the drinks packaging sector.

Handmade craftsmanship presents the professional packaging designer with a particular challenge because every hand-blown bottle is slightly different. To accommodate the large tolerances in the bottle’s neck, Webb deVlam has designed a bespoke sealing ring. A shrink tamper band below the ring of jewels set around the stopper provides tamper evidence and discretely holds the stopper in place.

Working with premium pack manufacturers MW Luxury Packaging, in Shepreth, UK, Webb deVlam has developed a protective case, which serves as a presentation gift box. Made with a soft touch finish of Corvon, the pack has a reinforced inner foam lining that acts as a plinth to display the bottle. The outer shape replicates the Bombay Sapphire bottle shape, and brand name and logo are applied using foil and embossing.

Finally, a booklet charts the project’s development – from early concept sketches to the final result – and records the brand’s history, its relationship with Garrard, and authenticates the exclusive anniversary production with a certificate.

Webb deVlam regards this project as probably the most prestigious packaging execution that it has ever worked upon. Its development – in less than 12 months – has required the skills of its team of 3D product, packaging and graphic designers.

Webb deVlam’s Design Director Dominic Burke explains, ‘We have been doing things that are totally experimental, using technologies in ways that have never been attempted before. Engineering has been part and parcel of the development process, integral to the success of the design. It has been incredibly exciting to challenge packaging boundaries and innovate in the prestige spirits category. The result demonstrates and communicates the underlying sense of the soul of the brand.’

Further information

Webb deVlam, 82 Great Suffolk Street, Bankside, London, SE1 0BE. Tel: 020 7202 4720