A mesmerising trip to Baccarat’s fiery furnaces

A top jewellery blogger journeys behind the scenes to see the creation of a new crystal collection

As someone who writes aboutjewellery, I’m no stranger to sparkle. Nevertheless, I wasn’t quite preparedfor the dazzle on display during a recent trip to the home of French crystalbrand Baccarat.

It has been almost 250 years sinceLouis XV gave Prince Bishop Cardinal Louis-Joseph de Laval-Montmorencypermission to found a glassworks in the eastern French town of Baccarat. Since then, thebrand’s stemware and chandeliers have graced the palaces of 19th-century maharajahs and tsars, while its art-deco-era perfume bottles forBoucheron, Cartier, Dior and Guerlain are sought-after collectors’ items.Collaborations with the likes of Philippe Starck, Kenzo Takada and MarcelWanders have ensured that the firm keeps pace with contemporary designaesthetics.

Aside from a few one-offs by GeorgesChevalier in the 1930s, however, it was not until 1992 that Baccarat began toproduce jewellery collections, albeit sporadically. The past few years haveseen projects with fine jeweller Aude Lechère and Lanvin jewellery supremo Elie Top, among others.

In November 2011, the company appointedDominique Delale as vicepresident of jewellery and accessories. Under her guidance Baccarat is evolving its jewellery offering, and Ihave come for a sneak preview.  

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The first stop on my trip is theParis-based Maison Baccarat. This former home of infamous socialite Marie-Laurede Noailles was given a Starck makeover in 2003 and is now aglittering palace filled with cut-crystal objets and gilded surfaces. It’s here that Imeet the chic, and rather sweet, Delale.

She talks me through the designs forthe new spring/summer 2013 collection, B-Mania – which will launch at BaselWorld in late April and be in stores from May. Itis a stylish riff on the iconicHarcout crystal cut first conceived by Baccarat in 1841. Most striking are the midnight-bluefloral ring and pendant in silver and “mordore” crystal (first picture), a large geometricsilver cuff and ring with tactile curves (second picture) and a long silver necklace withcolourful crystal and silver charm pendants – a fun piece that lets the ownercreate her own combination of jewels to tell a personal story. A secondrange, Kaleidoscopic, which is for men, will also launch in 2013.

It’s a scenic three-hour train journeyfrom Paris to Baccarat, which is like stepping back in time. A château – myhome for the night – overlooks a tree-lined square surrounded by the bijouxgrace-and-favour homes of glassworkers and their families, many of whom haveworked for the company for generations. At the opposite end of the square, facingthe château, the factory stands tall.

Our night visit there is avisceral experience – hot and loud. It’s the domain of master glassblowers (third picture),cutters and engravers and their apprentices, who use rudimentary tools such aswooden paddles, shears and tweezers to craft elaborate works of art from moltenblobs of glass heated to temperatures in excess of 1,400°C.Keen to avoid a stint in the local A&E, I pass up the opportunity to give glassblowing a go, and turn my attention instead to the unprepossessingmixtures of coloured oxides that,under extreme heat, yield a palette of sky blue, pink, green, cobalt,amethyst, amber and onyx crystal. The whole process is mesmerising, a littlescary and really quite magical: the vitreous equivalent of alchemy.

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It’s here that we see prototypes ofthe forthcoming B-Mania collection being tested – and retested. No scratch, crack or bubble escapes the eagle eyes of the glasscheckers. In fact, such is the emphasis on quality control that until the mid 20th century a checker had to declare any form of romantic involvement with a craftsman. As I handle the dainty crystalelements that form the centrepiece of Baccarat’s foray into an exciting newarena, I eagerly look forward to seeing the finished pieces next year.  

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