Lalique: A Glass Act
In 1922, in the sleepy French village of Wingen-Sur-Moder, a fire was lit. No longer able to meet demand for his jewellery and glass designs, René Lalique swapped his atelier outside Paris for a factory in Alsace – and it’s there, in blazing 1,200°C furnaces, that Lalique crystal is crafted to this day.
Renée Lalique was in his sixties when he opened his factory and already an accomplished artist, having played a leading role in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. Trained in jewellery, first in Paris then in Crystal Palace (where else?), he began his career in 1880 Paris, full of fresh ideas.
First freelancing for celebrated jewellers including Cartier and Boucheron, Lalique started his own business in 1888. Taking inspiration from classical antiquity, Japonism, Byzantine and Florentine Art, nature and the female form (daring for his time), he set himself apart by combining gold and precious stones with materials little used at the time, such as horn, leather, enamel, semi-precious stones and glass.
Photo: Lalique SA
His avant-garde style soon captured the imaginations of the elite, not least the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, whose support – combined with a monumental triumph at the Paris Exposition of 1900 – catapulted him to global fame.
Lalique was no stranger to glasswork, but it wasn’t until 1907, following a chance encounter with perfumer François Coty, that he began creating flacons – and his passion for the craft truly took form. He quickly diversified, designing vases, tableware and statuettes, before finally opening the Verrerie d’Alsace (Alsace Glassworks) in Wingen.
Hiring skilled artisans from the region, Lalique equipped the factory with the latest technology and, using boundary-pushing techniques likes press-moulding and glassblowing with compressed air, created pieces like the now-iconic Bacchantes and Languedoc vases – still two of the brand’s bestsellers.
Of course, today’s renditions are made of crystal. After Renée Lalique died in 1945, leaving the factory to his son Marc, the company transitioned from glass to high-end crystal. This led to greater experimentation with finishes – and the contrast between clear and satin surfaces is what continues differentiate Lalique from other crystal brands.
Photo: Séquences Studio
Today, 100 years since the first furnace was ignited, the factory has doubled in size and some 250 artisans create between 350,000 and 400,000 pieces each year. Working hand-in-hand with acclaimed artists, architects and designers (including Zaha Hadid, Damien Hirst and Terry Rodgers), Lalique painstakingly creates its own moulds before glassmakers begin the hypnotising process of gathering, shaping, reheating and casting molten crystal.
Then begins retouching, cutting, sculpting, engraving, sandblasting, polishing and painting. Each piece goes through as many as 40 steps, with standards so high that only 50 per cent of finished items make the cut.
Thus, the founder’s spirit lives on. Historic designs are reimagined in new hues and sizes, and through the continued evolution of techniques, artist collaborations and new ventures in hospitality, food and wine, Lalique’s passion for sharing art has reached heights even he couldn’t have foreseen.
Photos: Séquences Studio
The Bacchantes: 1927-2022
The Bacchantes, with its depiction of neoclassical nudes, was first created by Renée Lalique in 1927 – and it has been in production ever since. Starting out in opalescent, amber or smoked glass, it now features Lalique’s signature clear and satin crystal interplay in a variety of colours, the latest of which – from the new Into The Blue collection – has been released to celebrate the factory’s centenary.
Shop the Into The Blue range in-store in Home & Furniture, Third Floor.
Bacchantes Vase, Photo Cyrille Robin, Œuvre Mathieu Lehanneur, Église Saint-Hilaire © Adagp, Paris
- 1,800The number of Bacchantes vases crafted each year.
- 30hHours’ work required to produce each vase.
- 25Number of people involved in the process.
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