When I think about a world globe, many positive things come to my mind. To me, it’s at the same time an elegant decoration object, a way to feed my thirst for knowledge of geography, and a medium to remember the countries I visited.
That’s why, when I saw for the first time the handmade world globes of Orbis Terrae, I had to know the story behind their manufacture and to meet with their maker, Gaël. We spoke about his background and his passions. Moreover, he showed me his know-how.
The story of Orbis Terrae
Out of interest in maps, travels, and artistic creation, Gaël started to make world globes, with no other training than practice. During his first years of activity, he spent a huge number of hours improving his design skills.
Before taking the plunge and working full-time on his craft activity, Gaël made a career in aeronautics. He was an engineer in Angoulême, Charente. Back then, he allowed a part of his free time to Orbis Terrae, in parallel with his paid employment. In 2021, he quit his job to focus on his business only.
Gaël has developed his activity step by step and with patience, which I admire. The number of orders skyrocketed in the last few months, thanks to articles in local media and tradeshows. But, as he says, he doesn’t want to ‘conquer the world’.
Patience: an essential skill to craft handmade world globes
Orbis Terrae has a premium positioning, which translates into detailed work and quality materials. The objects are available in 3 sizes and in several sober and elegant colours. My favorite ones are “Petroleum” blue and “Cognac” brown. Plus, a base allows the rotation of the sphere.
Gaël paints watercolours on the globes and offers to customise them. Thus, his clients sometimes ask him to add on the map places that they love or drawings that remind them of their travels and hobbies. In Gaël workshop, I saw for instance a globe with a camel painted on the Sahara.
In history, world globes often represented power and world domination. For example, on top of the colonne Vendôme, a Parisian monument, one can see the emperor Napoleon I holding a globe. Coronelli’s globes, made in the 17th century, have huge dimensions. They have remained one of the most famous globes that were ever made. Former French president François Mitterrand, keen on history and interested in geography and geopolitics, wanted to acquire globes after his election in 1981. He chose the French architect Ferdinand Pouillon to design them. The objects with a diameter of about 1,20 meters are inspired by Coronelli’s globes.
The former president highlighted on his globes several major places of his life, such as Jarnac, his birthplace located just a few kilometres away from Cognac. You can still see a globe in Mitterrand’s birth house, which is open to the public, or in Élysée palace if you plan to visit it during the European Heritage Days.
In Gaël’s workshop and office, in Cognac, I discovered with wonder his work tools. As soon as I stepped into the workshop, I saw some of his shown handmade world globes. Some of them were already finished, other ones half-painted.
The making requires time. For each globe, the shipping time varies between 10 and 16 weeks, depending on its size. Below are the steps:
- Making the sphere: Gaël moulds two plaster half-spheres. Then, he puts them together and sands them to obtain a spherical, resistant, and stable object.
- Printing the map: Gaël uses software to edit a planisphere with the necessary customisations. He then divides it into almond-shaped spindles which he prints.
- Applying the spindles to the sphere: after cutting the spindles, he glues them on the globe. It’s the most delicate step because any mistake could make a crease and waste several hours of work.
- Painting: Gaël then paints watercolours on the globe. I am amazed when I learn that he paints mountain chains in trompe l’oeil.
- Finishing: the dried globe receives several coats of protecting varnish. Finally, Gaël adds gold-leafed decoration on the poles and equator.
Gaël’s encounters with keen travellers
Gaël’s passion for travel is one of the reasons why he created Orbis Terrae.
Pierre le reporter: « Where does your passion for travels come from?
Gaël: When I was younger, I travelled abroad a lot during my studies, and later for my job. I spent 5 years as a student in England, more precisely in Newcastle and London. After I graduated, I did a world tour during which I visited people I met during my studies. For example, I went to Malaysia and Singapore with friends that were from there. »
Gaël has realised that the encounters he made while traveling were what he liked the most. Thus, travelling has become a way for him to meet exciting people. Moreover, he believes that he doesn’t have to go to the other side of the world to have wonderful encounters.
On this topic, I recently realised that the place where I am or the country where I live is not so important. What matters is my state of mind and the people I meet. Let’s take the example of my vacation in Barcelona a few weeks ago. Even though I visited several stunning monuments in the city, one of the things I liked the most was carpooling with Spanish people I didn’t know. Discovering their hobbies and aspirations, as well as chatting with them in Spanish, was a great enrichment for me.
Gaël has amazing encounters thanks to Orbis Terrae because he exchanges with his clients, who are often great travellers, to customise their globe. That’s what he likes the most about his job.
Despite his premium positioning, his clients come from various social backgrounds. There are two ideal customers:
- A thirty-year-old living in a big city who buys him a small globe to decorate his flat.
- A very rich person near the end of his working years who enjoys customising a globe with his passions.
Pierre le reporter: « Could you share an example of original customisation for a client?
Gaël: For a rich foreign client who has a passion for old airplanes, I draw airplanes. He sent me a picture of his globe at home, in a room where he puts his aircraft models. »
What’s next for Orbis Terrae
The number of customers has quickly increased over the last few months. Gaël doesn’t know if this trend is going to continue in the coming months and years. Whatever happens, he will continue at his own pace and doesn’t plan to hire any employee.
Pierre le reporter: « What are your plans for the future?
Gaël: I want to find a bigger workshop than the one I currently work in to have enough space for raw materials and finished products. Plus, I will continue exhibiting at tradeshows because they help me to find clients, and I would like to start collaborations with artists so that they make creative globes. »
To know more about the globes that Gaël crafts, you can visit the Instagram page of Orbis Terrae.
And to you, what do world globes represent? Do you own a handmade world globe? To share your thoughts, add a comment!