Founded in 1586 in the forestry region of the Vosges in France, the manufacture of Saint-Louis gave birth to an entire village built and developed around its glass guilds. In 1767, two centuries after the village's inception, the highly regarded manufacturers were bestowed with royal warrants and with the name of Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis, by Louis XV, for the exceptional quality of their glasswork.
If, as Paul Claudel wrote, “glass is solidified breath”, then crystal is a spark of the human soul. Unrivaled, dense, clear, sonorous, and luminous, born of a ball of fire and the breath of man, Saint-Louis crystal reflects millennia of glass-making history and the time-honored techniques mastered and improved from one generation to the next.
It is at the Saint-Louis foundry that crystal was introduced to France in 1781, by master-glassblower and former director François de Beaufort. Mr. de Beaufort discovered the crystal formula: adding lead to the glass substance to give the material more weight, sonority and light refraction virtús. The Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis was then renamed the Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis, and since 1829 has been exclusively devoted to the production of crystal.
Each year some 300,000 pieces are produced here by some of France’s highest skilled artisans. Among Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, the glassmakers and glass cutters of Saint Loui produce everyday objects, as well. The renowned crystal manufacturer has gained worldwide recognition for the quality of its crystal but also the advanced crystal-coloring, hot-shaping and cold-cutting techniques they developed in the 19th century. Colored crystal is obtained by adding metal oxides to the pure crystal substance, such as nickel oxide for purple, cobalt oxide for Saint-Louis blue, copper with gold chloride for ruby red. These ancient coloring processes 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.
Today, Saint-Louis scouts and hires glassblowers, master-cutters and engravers from all over Europe, trained for six to eight years in the vocational schools of Moulins and Sarrebourg near the manufacture. The crystal fabrication comprises multiple phases and skills, divided into two main categories of savoir-faire: in the ‘hot-glass’ workshops, where the crystal substance is fused and blown to its final shapes, and the ‘cold-glass’ workshops, where the final pieces are cut, engraved, or gilded.