Rolls-Royce Motor Cars PressClub · Article.
SPIRIT OF ECSTASY PRESS KIT
05.02.2021 Press Kit
The Spirit of Ecstasy has graced the prow of Rolls-Royce motor cars since 1911. Today, she remains one of the world’s most famous symbols, a true icon embodying beauty, luxury, style and perfection.
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- Iconic design with a history almost as long as that of the marque itself; now one of the most famous, instantly recognisable and desirable luxury brand emblems in the world
- Origins and inspiration still a matter of conjecture, centred around two main theories
- Design first registered as the ‘official’ Rolls-Royce mascot in 1911; Centenary (2011) marked with an exclusive Collection car, plus images by leading photographer Rankin
- Until 1939, every figurine was hand-finished by Sykes and his daughter Josephine
- The ‘Whisper’ and other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines are on permanent display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu
Origins of an icon
Today, the ability to add all manner of Bespoke details to their Rolls-Royce motor car is one of the marque’s principal attractions for its patrons. But in fact, this merely continues a desire for personalisation that emerged in the marque's very earliest days.
Rolls-Royce was founded in 1906. By 1910, it was already an established custom among owners to decorate their car radiator caps with specially commissioned mascots. To the great displeasure of General Managing Director, Claude Johnson, these were often in the form of cartoonish animals or comical characters. He therefore decided to create an ‘official’ mascot that would protect the company’s products from what he decried as these ‘unsightly’ additions.
Among Johnson's wide social circle was the motoring pioneer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. As founder and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine, his lordship employed an illustrator, Charles Sykes, who was also an accomplished sculptor. In 1911, Johnson commissioned Sykes to create a new mascot for Rolls-Royce.
This much is known and agreed upon. Yet remarkably, given her immense fame and global reach, the precise origins of, and inspiration behind the Spirit of Ecstasy are still a matter of conjecture a century later.
Around that time, (the precise date remains a mystery) Sykes had produced a mascot for Lord Montague's Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost: an aluminium statuette of a young woman in fluttering robes, which he named 'The Whisper’. In one version of the story, on receiving Johnson's commission, Sykes subtly reinterpreted it to create what became known as the Spirit of Ecstasy.
An alternative view is that on a trip to Paris, Johnson had been impressed by the artistry of the Grecian marble statue of ‘Nike of Samothrace’, Goddess of Victory, sculpted in 190BC and exhibited in the Palais du Louvre since 1883. Standing nine feet (2.75m) tall, she is depicted as a winged deity descending from the heavens, draped in a flowing tunic and mantle. (Sadly, the vicissitudes of Time and fortune have deprived her of both arms and her head.) Some authorities have suggested that it was from this ancient Hellenic masterpiece that Johnson asked Sykes to draw his inspiration.
The Spirit of Ecstasy's final form lends credence to both theories. She appears as an ethereal young woman leaning forward eagerly, her arms stretched back behind her, with flowing robes appearing to give her wings. Her serene expression offers no clues to the mysteries that still surround her.
The mark of excellence
The design was registered as the company’s intellectual property in 1911 and became both a defining feature of the Rolls-Royce brand and one of the most famous, iconic and desirable emblems in the world. Originally a statuesque seven inches (c. 18cm) tall, the Spirit of Ecstasy today stands a mere petite three ¾ inches (9.5cm) high.
In the 1970s, some countries tried to ban the mascot on safety grounds. In Switzerland, for example, customers weren’t allowed to display her at all, and on receiving their cars found her languishing in the glove compartment. Rolls-Royce’s typically elegant and ingenious solution was to mount the mascot on a spring-loaded base, allowing her to sink into the radiator out of harm’s way at the merest touch. This retraction mechanism has evolved into a smooth, graceful movement known as ‘the rise’ and is a standard feature on every Rolls-Royce motor car hand-built at Goodwood.
As the marque's most important and recognisable emblem, the Spirit of Ecstasy is offered to patrons only in carefully selected finishes: solid silver; 24-carat gold-plated; illuminated; uplit; and black carbon fibre.
Spirit of Innovation
Until 1999, the figurines were made by ‘lost wax’ casting, which dates back over 5,000 years. Amazingly, Charles Sykes himself, assisted by his daughter Josephine, personally cast, inscribed and finished every Spirit of Ecstasy right up until 1939.
In preparation for the launch of Phantom in 2003, BMW Group rejuvenated the Spirit of Ecstasy by introducing the modern investment casting process, working with a specialist company in Southampton, England.
The first step was to digitally ‘map’ the original Spirit of Ecstasy, manipulating and enhancing individual details to create a perfect three-dimensional computerised image. To ensure even the finest details were precisely replicated, the injection mould was formed by skilled craftsmen using cutters measuring just 0.2mm in size. This cast tool was used to produce a highly accurate wax model of the figurine, which was then coated in ceramic. After this coating had dried, the wax was melted away, leaving a perfect mould from which the new cast would be taken.
Each figurine is made by filling the mould with molten stainless steel, at a temperature of 1600°C. Once the steel has cooled, the mould is opened to reveal the Spirit of Ecstasy in all her glory. The final transformation takes place in the Finishing department, using a process called peening. The casting is blasted by millions of stainless steel balls, just 17 thousandths of an inch (0.04mm) in diameter, which help to polish the surface without being abrasive. After machining, a final mirror polish and stringent quality assurance checks, the completed figurine takes her rightful place above the iconic Rolls-Royce grille.
Examples of Sykes' work including the original ‘Whisper’, a mascot made for Lord Montagu’s own Rolls-Royce and other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines are on permanent display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
Celebrating in Style
In January 2011, the company launched The Spirit of Ecstasy Centenary Collection to mark its famous mascot's 100th anniversary. Limited to just 100 Bespoke Phantom models, the collection featured exclusive body colours, leather combinations, wood veneers and interior details. All featured a specially commissioned Spirit of Ecstasy in solid silver, with six hallmarks (including two designed specifically for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars) on a black-gold plated illuminated base. Rolls-Royce also commissioned leading British portrait and fashion photographer Rankin to produce a series of 100 images inspired by the figurine.
The MUSE of the marque
The Spirit of Ecstasy was created by a highly respected artist and illustrator Charles Robinson Sykes (1875-1950). Many of his wonderful designs for advertisements and magazine covers are conserved in London’s world-famous Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A). That foundational link with the world of fine art lives on, with the Spirit of Ecstasy serving as a muse and source of inspiration for the Rolls-Royce brand.
In 2016, innovative Belgian designer Charles Kaisin created an installation comprising 2,500 miniature origami pieces, all made from silver paper folded into the shape of the Spirit of Ecstasy; pieced together, they recalled the iconic figurine.
The marque’s longstanding relationship with the art community has been further strengthened through MUSE, The Rolls‑Royce Art Programme. As part of this unique initiative, the biennial Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge invites established and emerging creative practitioners to re-imagine her distinctive form in a material and manner of their choosing.
Looking into the future
In 2020, the Spirit of Ecstasy took on a new life and appearance as part of a wider update of the Rolls-Royce brand identity. Known as The Expression, she appears ethereal and regal, yet with a highly contemporary, technological edge that reflects the company’s vision as a modern House of Luxury.