Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever

You’ve probably heard about the Baccarat rose, a long-stemmed, deep red rose with velvet-like petals. Receiving one perfect Baccarat rose from someone definitely means that that person has very warm feelings for you ...

But did you know that Baccarat is also the name of a town in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in the French north-eastern Lorraine region? And that this town has given its name to some of the finest crystal in the world.

The history of Baccarat crystal starts in 1764 when Louis XV grants the Bishop of Metz the right to establish a glassworks at Baccarat.

But it would take till 1816 before the first real crystal was made. Little by little Baccarat conquered the world, and the rich and famous of this earth soon decided that they couldn’t live without a real Baccarat chandelier. Today you’ll find Baccarat chandeliers in national palaces, royal and presidential residencies, sumptuous private homes, theatres and opera houses and even cathedrals in France and South America.

One of the more impressive pieces is a chandelier with more than 200 light bulbs and a total weight of over 1,000 kilos. It was commissioned at the end of the 19th century by the Maharajah of Gwalior. And Tsar Nicolas II of Russia had 12 electrified candelabras made for the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Each candelabrum had a heighth of 3.80 metres.

In 1994, to commemorate its 230th anniversary, Baccarat created a real masterpiece which required all their technicians’ skills and expertise: a gigantic chandelier in pure 19th century style, with the following impressive characteristics:

- height: 5 metres
- diameter: 3 metres
- weight: 1,500 kilos
- 2,150 metres of electric wire

It took 15,000 hours to build it. We were lucky to see this masterpiece when we visited the Baccarat museum (sorry no photos!) in the late nineties during one of our annual Lorraine weekends. It hung in the middle of a darkened room. Instead of being high-up against the ceiling, it was suspended on eye-level, thus allowing the visitor to admire the intricate details. The light of several halogen spots was beautifully and delicately reflected by the thousands and thousands of facets of artistically cut and polished pieces of crystal, making the whole chandelier sparkle like a giant diamond.

There was a text panel with all the details about this work of art. I remember that it even mentioned the number of people and the time it took to clean it. I have forgotten the exact numbers, but I know that it was mind blasting.

One of my delicate Champagne glasses.

After visiting the Baccarat museum we made the mandatory stop at the gift shop, which in fact is a gigantic showroom. The whole Baccarat collection – from 19th century type coloured and engraved crystal to modern design pieces - was on display. I saw some elegant champagne glasses and decided to buy a set of six, until … I saw the prize: almost 500 old French francs, which is 3,000 old Belgian francs or 75 of current euros for just one glass! I quickly changed my mind and bought only two. As it was a timeless model, I could come back the following years and buy two more glasses each time, until I had my set of six.

I never did go back though, because the glasses turned out to be too delicate to use on a regular basis. The rim of the glass is paper-thin and you have the impression that it’ll break as soon as you try sipping your Champagne. When you wash and dry them – putting them in the dishwasher is completely out of the question – you have a tendency to put a soft pillow on your kitchen worktop, just in case the glass should slip out of your hands.

Today they sit in their original cases with velvet lining and I only use them on very special occasions! A waste of money, then? No, because as someone – who was it again? – once said: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.”

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5 comments:

chm said...

One of my great-great-uncle was at one time the CEO of the Baccarat factory. A few pieces came down my way. They are really nice.

Word verification is away from Romanian now. It's trakaski which in Polish means ski slope.

ladybird said...

Chm, Lucky you!

Do you think they have ski slopes in Poland? ;)

chm said...

You don't have to have the real thing to have a word for it.

For instance, in politicians' vocabulary you can find the words integrity, intelligence, tolerance, etc. and they don't have any. There's a perfect example in the USA today.

Word verification is soricles. He was a Greek philosopher who approves what I just said.

Nadege said...

After breaking 3 crystal champagne glasses because the water was too "warm" when washing them, I will never buy real crystal glasses again. I have few pieces of Lalique and Dome. I have bought Baccarat as gifts but not for myself. I decided that living in earthquake country was not a good idea anyway. I am decluttering now days and being smarter how I spend my money (as in saving).
The word verification is "foode"; I'd rather spend money on great"foode" restaurants and trips than expensive show pieces.

ladybird said...

Chm, Soricles? ... Ha yes! Aristoteles' kid-brother! ;)

Nadege, Crystal in earthquake country? Definitely not a good idea; it's like putting an elephant in a cupboard filled with china!