Design Classics

Design Classics #21: The Russell Hobbs K2 Kettle

9th May 2012
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Think of a kettle and the chances are that something chrome and curved springs to mind. Probably with a red button sticking out of its black plastic handle. This is the Russell Hobbs K2. The world’s second (the first was their K1) fully automatic kettle. A item which has achieved iconic design status and which celebrated its 50 anniversary in July 2010.

The chances are that at least one generation of your family will have had the K2. During the 1960s and 1970s it was the best selling kettle in Britain and, at around £7 when the weekly average wage was £14, it was top of many wedding present lists. They were built to last. Russell Hobbs has reports of K2s still going strong after 30 years, and although they are now extremely rare, collectors will pay up to £200 for a K2 in mint condition.

Cast your mind back to the 1950s. The British were a nation of tea drinkers, but for the most part, they were sticking a kettle on the gas hob and waiting for the whistle. There were a few electric kettles around, but they weren’t automatic so you still had to remember to turn them off before they boiled dry or caused a fire. Then, in 1956, Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs, a salesman and an inventor, who had already designed the automatic coffee percolator, came up with the K1. They used a controlled jet of steam from the boiling water to knock the switch and turn the kettle off. It was a huge success and K2 was launched in 1960.

“It was the same technology but it was just updated for style reasons,” says Jason Steer, head of marketing at Russell Hobbs. “The K2 was around for 20 years and it very quickly became the best-selling kettle of the next two decades. Couples put it on their wedding lists and they lasted for years.”

One couple recently wrote to Russell Hobbs to announce the retirement of Reg, their K2, after 30 years service. “He was bought by my wife as she prepared to go to university in 1979 and we guess he has boiled some 50,000 times. He has comforted us and our kids with countless cups of tea at the important times of our lives; exam results, engagement, weddings, births and deaths.”



first published in The Independent

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  • Joanna Bankier 27th August 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Somebody walked off with with the electrical cord to my K2, red switch button kettle. Any idea where I might find a replacement?

    writing this from the Bay Area in California
    and hoping you or somebody out there might help


    • Kate Watson-Smyth 27th August 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Oh no! Can anyone help Joanna with a replacement cord? I’m not entirely confident but you could try contacting the company directly. During the anniversary year they were very keen to hear from people who still owned them.

    • MARGARET SPECTOR 27th August 2014 at 5:19 pm

      This company on Ebay had lots of spare parts

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  • michael Davis 9th July 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I have been using the russel hobbs k2s on 240 volts in canada for many years (it boils twice as fast as the 110v kettles we have to use in north america). Suddenly, the shut-off switch has ceased to cut the power supply. On close examination the shut-off mechanism is still working perfectly and the supply contacts open fully. How is it possible it continues to boil and I have to remove the plug to shut it off? Please can anybody help. I can’t get another 240v kettle here.

  • Marc 15th February 2013 at 1:56 pm

    I thought my Russell Hobbs K2 had broke, but on closer inspection it was just the fuse that had gone. I changed the fuse and gave it a bit of a clean and it’s back in business. Properly well built piece of kit – why aren’t all appliances as dependable as this?

  • Stephen Nicholas 11th December 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Amazing, I am a proud owner of the K2 kettle too. Am always complimenting on how well the crome has lasted on it, maybe it was electro plated, yet is as hard as nails. Like many, mine was first a wedding present to my parents and is to this day in daily service, thats 52 years now! Will never sell it, as it has many memories attached to it now.

  • LEON EDWARDES 5th September 2012 at 11:23 am

    The K2 what do I say a wonderfull kettle I was in the Electrical Trade for 40years and sold many K2 kettles over the years and still have one working very well and should it die, will replace with a New K5

    • mrs m spector 14th April 2013 at 1:44 am

      I have a K2 and it is still working but sometimes does not boil. I keep adjusting the screw. I am sure there is not much wrong with it . As you are/were an electrician do you have any ideas

      • Kate 14th April 2013 at 7:28 am

        Hello, I’m afraid I’m not an electrician, nor ever was, but perhaps someone else can help? Do make any suggestions below.

  • Mark Thompson 25th August 2012 at 8:45 am

    Ive just inherited a k2 series kettle of my gran with the date 1978 it’s still in original box with tags on it and Gaurantee you would think it was bought yesterday as new does anyone know where I could take it to get it valued

    • Steven B 25th August 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Good ones go for £30 on eBay. One with the original box could go for more. One sold or £60 recently, check out eBay completed listings.
      best regards

      • Kate 31st August 2012 at 10:19 am

        Hi Steven, thanks so much for replying to Mark so promptly. Unlike me (I was away). I’m quite surprised that they don’t fetch more than that, but it’s still a lovely thing to have with the original packaging and tags.

    • Kate 31st August 2012 at 10:20 am

      Hi Mark, I hope you saw the response from Steven. He’s an expert at this sort of thing. Do let us know if you decide to sell. I should think it’s a lovely item to keep though.

  • Kim 24th June 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I can’t believe this……we still have one of these kettles and it’s perfect, we use it in the workshop. It has outlived about 10 or so kettles in 32 years and is still our trusty standby in the kitchen when the others break. Absolutely bomb proof bit of kit!

  • Steven B 15th May 2012 at 8:26 am

    I love the K2. My parents had one in the 70s and it lasted well into the 80s. They were a significant investment in the 50s and 60s, but it was the only kettle that could turn itself off.

  • Limanda limanda 9th May 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Grew up with this kettle. Never knew they cost that much but wow how they lasted.

  • Naomi 9th May 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Wow – this brings back happy memories – this kettle is the first one I ever used – I used it to make my first ever cup of tea! My parents had it for years!

  • Mrs D 9th May 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Just had the a shiver of nostalgia at the site of the old Russell! Happy Days!

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