Some of his notable commissioned work include the design of decorations for the legendary Orient Express train and the ocean liner Le Normandie, the luminous fountain representing the springs of France mounted on the esplanade of Les Invalides in Paris, the doors of the palace of Prince Asaka Yasuhiko in Tokyo, and the cross, altar and windows of Notre Dame de Fidelite church in Calvados.
Upon Rene's death in 1945, his son, Marc, propelled the shift from mid-range, utilitarian glass to high-end crystal, and the Lalique factory has manufactured only crystalware since. 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, cullet - and metal oxides for coloured crystal such as cobalt oxide to obtain blue are mixed in proportions that remain secret. With 230 employees, including six with the highly competitive title of Best Craftsman of France preserving ancestral savoir-faire, the 20,000 sq m factory produces half a million handerafted items annually
Forged in fire
It takes over a dozen years to qualify as a master glassmaker, and the finished product depends on the alchemy between the creative team's sensibility and the artisans' skills. Eleven in- house designers in Paris use traditional techniques such as drawing and modelling, and new technologies, thanks to digitalisation and 3-D printing, before the production process begins.
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 (1.400 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.
In the cold-glass workshops, once retouching, cutting, sculpting and engraving are carried out manually, the pieces 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 style; playing with light and shadow, it gives relief to pieces.
7. Zaha Hadid’s Manifesto vase in midnight blue.
8. Green Lalique vase designed by artist Terry Rodgers.
9. Dancing elephant in amber, designed by Rembrandt Bugatti for Lalique.
10. The Prism exhibition was launched this year at the Lalique museum.
11. Rene Lalique’s son, Marc, helmed the company, following Rene’s death in 1945.