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Wax works for the hippy icon that never died

IN 1963, Edward Craven-Walker invented the Lava-lamp. It was to become an icon of the hippy generation. Despite the passing of that era, however, the Lava-lamp has survived as a design classic. The curious product is a light that illuminates a glass case containing melted wax in a liquid filling.

Today the company is thriving, and this year it picked up a second Queen's Award for exports. After declining during the 1980s, it was taken over by the businesswoman Cressida Granger in 1989. Renamed Mathmos, after the subterranean force in the cult Sixties film Barbarella, the company at that time employed four people to make around 10,000 lamps a year. Last year, the 150 employees at the firm's factory in Poole, Dorset, made 800,000 lamps. Mr Craven-Walker, now in his eighties, still serves as a company director.

Exports made up around half last year's turnover of £18m. Half of its overseas sales were to Germany; Mathmos runs a "virtual" German office at its London headquarters, staffed with German speakers.

Ms Granger said the lamps are popular with young people living away from home, who want something "funky" to decorate their independent living space. "Chaos. That's its appeal," she said. "It's the unpredictable movement of the wax."

Along with many other international trade winners, she said last year was made tough by the high value of the pound. "I say 'yes' to the euro, tomorrow please."

Mathmos is about to enter the United States, a market it has stayed out of so far. Also coming up is the launch of the new completely translucent "Fluidium" lamp, which the firm hopes will help it stay ahead of the Lava-lamp's many imitators.