Unrivalled, dense, clear, sonorous and luminous, born of a ball of fire and the breath of man, Saint-Louis crystal vibrates with all the talent inherited from History and extraordinary creative fantasy inspired by current trends.
In 1767, Louis XV gave Münzthal the prestigious name of Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Royal Glassworks). Fifteen years later, the formula for producing crystal was discovered by François de Beaufort. The Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis was renamed the Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis. Since 1829 the manufacture is exclusively devoted to the production of crystal-glass.
Today, Saint-Louis crafts every day crystal pieces created by master glassmakers and glass cutters among Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. They all have a unique expertise, enriched from generation to generation. Thanks to advancements in chemical and mechanical processes, some invented in the 19th century, Saint-Louis also introduced the most advanced techniques in coloring, hot shaping and cold cutting crystal in the most sophisticated pattern engravings and gold ornament.
If, as Paul Claudel wrote, “glass is solidified breath”, then crystal is a spark of the human soul. Crystal glass was introduced in France by François de Beaufort, director of the Verreries Royales de Saint-Louis in 1781. Like glass, it was a material born of the earth and forest of the Vosges, in a cradle of fire, to which lead was added for weight, sonority, and light. The potash material was added to a very fine white sand – originally plant ash, now chemically produced. Colored crystal is obtained by adding metal oxides to this mixture: nickel oxide for purple, cobalt oxide for Saint-Louis blue, copper with gold chloride for ruby red.
These coloring processes, passed down from an ancient alchemy, continue to be the object of probing research in the secret confines of the laboratory, where scientists also try to improve the composition and fusion of crystal glass. While today, electricity and gas have replaced the wood and coal in the furnaces, the work of the craftsmen has remained practically unchanged.
Saint-Louis: a name in human expertise: The village was entirely built and developed around the glassworks. The patriarchal village has carried on its cultural heritage for four centuries from generation to generation.
Today, Saint-Louis employs glassmakers coming from all over Europe to be trained in the vocational schools of Moulins and Sarrebourg. Students begin their apprenticeship at the age of sixteen and undergo a painstaking training program for six to eight years. Humbled and passionate about their craft, these master-craftsmen are divided into categories of skill: the glassmakers, the glassblowers, the cutters and the engravers. They all begin at the bottom of the ladder and end up as part of an elite, a status earned by merit (many of Saint-Louis’ workers hold the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Best French Craftsmen).
The ‘Hot-Glass’ workshop of Saint-Louis is where the continuous-casting tank furnace is located, and where crystal fusion takes place at 1,350°C. Resembling an incandescent lava, the molten glass is deposited in the “gathering” areas where it is freed of its impurities by the .
Then begins a performance with a fluid yet a never repetitive choreography; a silent, coded narrative, where breath replaces speech, and the minimal gestures are mystical. The glassblowers are like tyrants with the finesse of ballerinas. They are men with lung power, whose breath kisses and kindles the orange mass at the end of the blowpipe; then they place the molten glass in a mold of beech wood or steel, where, in a fury of flames and steam at 900°C, the initial form of the object, the parison, is pressed.
In a matter of seconds or minutes, working in small groups, the glassworkers perform a series of rapid sequences in which the eye, the hand and the mouth are the tools of the trade. There are also shears that cut, trim and open; wooden pallets that fashion and straighten; pincers that hold, stretch and twist; but the glassblower’s skill lies in his ability to blow and turn the rod at the same time while measuring the effects on the crystal, now at 600°C. This living, vibrant material has not yet finished with heat: placed in an annealing furnace, the objects gently solidify, passing from 450°C to an impeccable cold temperature. Glasses cool in two to three hours, vases in three to four days, the time necessary to eliminate thermal stresses.
At Saint-Louis, “coldwork” takes place in the cutting, engraving, gilding and polishing workshops. Like the glassblowers working with “hot glass”, the master cutters and decorators make full use of their hands, right down to the tips of their tools. It’s a craft of art and excellence. Each drinking glass and tea cup, vase and decanter is chiseled with a series of polished, refined, ever-perfected gestures: thirty to thirty-five different operations go into producing an engraved, agate-polished glass decorated with fine 24-carat gold.
Compasses, bitumen of Judea, buff wheel, pumice stone, diamond, acid baths… From the rough draft to the final polishing, from the first model to the final turns of the buff wheel, by chipping away at the crystal, the cutters and engravers working with “cold glass” release the fire it holds within. In contrast to the instinctive breath and blow of work with Heat, lung-burstingly maintained in the great hall, meticulous Cold imparts a studious atmosphere to the workshops. From this clash, both angelical and diabolical, crystal glass derives its prestige, and Saint-Louis its signature.