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Vanhulsteijn Designs 9 Special Edition Japanese Lacquer and Gold Leaf Bikes for Sotheby's.

The Urushi Bicycle Project consists of 9 exclusively designed bicycles for Sotheby’s by Herman van Hulsteijn. Sotheby's approached the Dutch designer after seeing his unusual bikes on the internet with their distinctive curved frame. Herman van Hulsteijn suggested designing a tailor-made bike for them using an ancient process that had intrigued him for years.

The uniquely designed Vanhulsteijn bicycles are covered in a dazzling coat of Japanese urushi lacquer and gold leaf. The painstakingly elaborate process takes up to five months to hand apply the twenty layers of gold leaf and urushi lacquer to the frames.

It took an additional month to manufacture and polish the remaining components.

The results are stunning:

For this occasion Vanhulsteijn teamed up with two Russian artisans, Sergej Kirilov and Marina Korotkaja, who specialize in the Japanese lacquer technique. 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.

Needless to say all the bikes are fitted with the highest quality components available today which are listed below. 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.

From its first use in the making of bowls, plates, trays, sake cups, boxes, combs and other objects, the use of urushi developed along with Japanese culture. In Japan the urushi bowl or plate became a part of the harmony of traditional Japanese food. In the noble court culture classical styles took form. Maki-e and raden urushi techniques elegantly used gold and silver to ennoble furniture, make up accessories, toys and writing implements. Urushi also became an integral part of the harmony of Natsume (tea canisters), Kogou (incense burners) and other tools and utensils used in the tea ceremony. In the Edo period people adorned themselves with urushi medicine cases, combs and hairpins. Many of these objects can be found in museums and private collections today.

In the 20th century a number of designers working in France began to use Asian lacquer for furniture and other decorative arts. Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand are two of the artists who produced screens, furniture and paintings using Asian lacquer. Today, while many craftspeople still make beautiful lacquer ware, urushi has become an important material in the art scene in Japan and other parts of Asia. Contemporary artists are increasingly working with urushi, its colors, shapes and techniques in their paintings, art objects and jewelry.

This combination of contemporary design and traditional craft is made to order and tailor made to Sotheby’s clients in a limited edition of 9 bicycles. For further inquiries contact them at

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