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Cheat sheet on Lalique, one of the world’s great crystalware brands

history and profile of lalique the crystalware brand from france

Now entering its 131st year, Lalique has earned a reputation as one of the world’s great crystalware manufacturers, with its mastery of traditional techniques and understanding of light, transparency and colour that result in the creation of precious works of art.

THE PERSON BEHIND LALIQUE: RENE-JULES LALIQUE

Whether it was jewellery, tableware, perfume bottles, vases, objets d’art, luxury car mascots, furniture, lighting, wall decorations or architectural elements, visionary artist Rene-Jules Lalique — born in 1860 in Ay in the Marne region of France — was outstanding in everything he designed. He left his mark on the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements and was hailed as the father of modern jewellery design. He was beloved both by royalty and the artistic elite.

Rene apprenticed with jeweller Louis Aucoc and studied gold smithing and design at the Decorative Arts School in Paris, before working for celebrated brands like Boucheron, Vever and Cartier. He started his own business in 1888. He had said: “I work relentlessly, with the will to arrive at a new result and to create something never seen before.”

history and profile of lalique the crystalware brand rene-jules lalique

Rene was inspired by classical antiquity, Japonism, Byzantine and Florentine art, nature and the female body. The avant-gardist ornamented his creations with unconventional materials, combining gold and precious stones with semi- precious gems, enamel, glass, leather, horn, ivory and mother- of-pearl. His philosophy was this: “Better to seek beauty than flaunt luxury.”

Tired of his jewels being counterfeited, Rene then moved into the glassmaking industry — even though he was at the height of his jewellery career in 1912! He then concentrated solely on glass, and by 1920, he became known as a master glassmaker. In 1921, he built a glassworks factory in Wingen-sur-Moder, Alsace – the only Lalique crystal production facility in existence today, which was well-forested at a time when wood-fired ovens were used.

The Pendentif 4 libellules. Photo by Studio Y Langlois.

Eschewing the multilayer, multicoloured glass produced by other glassmakers, he favoured clear and colourless glass and created forms displaying simplicity, balance and symmetry, by experimenting with the effects of transparency, opacity and opalescence inherent in the material. He filed 15 patents between 1909 and 1936.

After his death in 1945, his son March propelled the shift from mid-range, utilitarian glass to high-end crystal. The Lalique factory has manufactured only crystalware since.

Leurs Ames pour D'Orsay by lalique crystalware Leurs Ames pour D'Orsay, created in 1913.

WHAT ARE LALIQUE’S CRYSTALS MADE OF?

Crystal is glass containing at least 24 per cent lead oxide, the ingredient that gives it its weight, brilliance and sonority. Other raw materials of silica, potash, lead oxide, cullet – and metal oxides for coloured crystal such as cobalt oxide to obtain blue – are mixed in proportions that remain secret.

Eleven in-house designers in Paris use traditional techniques such as drawing and modelling, and new technologies, thanks to digitalisation and 3D printing, before the production process begins.

HOW ARE LALIQUE’S CRYSTAL PIECES MADE?

A single piece may require up to 40 steps. Lalique painstakingly fabricates moulds by machine, then adjusts them by hand before glassmakers in the hot glass workshops bring molten crystal in electric or pot furnaces to extremely high temperatures (1400 deg C). After gathering, shaping, reheating and casting the crystal in the mould via various techniques (including blowing and pressing), the workers anneal it for one week, as otherwise the thermic shock would cause it to crack, shatter or explode.

lalique crystal and glassware history and profile The process of applying enamel paint to the glass creations.

In the cold glass workshops, once retouching, cutting, sculpting and engraving are meticulously carried out manually, the pieces are polished or satin-finished by sandblasting or plunging in acid baths. The parts that have received protective surface treatments remain clear, whereas the uncovered parts become frosted. The contrast between transparency and satin finishing is Lalique’s signature style; playing with light and shadow, it gives relief to pieces. Enamelling and gold or platinum painting add touches of colour before the item is recooked at around 500 deg C, running the risk of deformation.

Characteristic of Lalique, these cold glass operations showing extreme attention to detail represent two-thirds of the time spent on the manufacturing of each object. After final checks, the Lalique name is hand-applied to certify authenticity and quality.

lalique crystal and glassware Orient Express Lalique's Bouquets de Fleurs crystal creations on the walls in the cabins of the Orient Express.

THE NUMBERS

- Approximately 50 per cent of all products are rejected during the hot glass procedures and five per cent during the cold glass ones.

- Items undergo at least 10 rigorous checks throughout the manufacturing process to ensure they satisfy quality standards in terms of technical (absence of defects) and aesthetic (faithfulness to the designer’s intentions) criteria.

- Created in 1927 by René Lalique, the best-selling Bacchantes vase decorated with female nudes in bas-relief calls for 30 work hours by 25 craftsmen.

lalique crystalware glassware process Creation of Lalique's glass and crystal pieces requires an entire team of artisans, from firing to finish.

- The large Anémones vase in particular requires seven hot glassworkers, and eight persons for cold glass operations.

With 230 employees including six with the highly-competitive title of Best Craftsman of France preserving ancestral savoir-faire, the 20,000-sqm factory produces half a million handcrafted items annually.