Collecting Lalique Glass

23 Aug 2011

Arguably, Rene Lalique-designed glass is among the most desirable of modern collectables and selling Lalique glass can be very lucrative. Its opulence, brilliance and sensuousness put it quite apart from any other modern glass from the first half of the 20th century.

Rene Lalique was born in 1860 in a small village of Ay in north-eastern France. The village, by the way, is famous for being the centre of Champagne production, and is often referred to as Ay-Champagne. At the age of 14 Lalique was apprenticed to a well-known Paris jewellery maker and goldsmith Louis Aucoc, and spent two years with the company.  By the age of 30 he had become one of France’s leading jewellery designers. It is important to note that despite achieving an unquestionable level of success at such an early age, Lalique never ceased to experiment and expand his horizons. Thus, in middle life he turned more and more to glassmaking.

His earliest glass pieces were fabricated by hand, using a casting technique called ‘cire perdue’, or lost-wax, which was primarily and almost solely a metalworking technique employed by sculptors and jewellery makers and very rarely if at all applied in the process of glass making. He modelled a vessel or a figure in soft wax, and then cast it in plaster. Allowing the plaster to set, he heated the cast to make the wax run out, thus leaving behind a mould into which he then poured or blew molten glass. Each mould had to be broken on order to free the final glass object; therefore, these early glass creations were unique and have become exceptionally sought after by collectors.

Luckily for the collectors, Lalique was very much fascinated by the possibilities of mass production. He was convinced that standardised assembly line techniques – such as blowing glass into reusable moulds made of metal, or using a stamping press to shape molten glass – should be employed in fine and artistic glassware production. Eventually, he got such an opportunity in 1907, when a French industrialist-turned-perfume maker Francois Coty commissioned Lalique to create a label design for one of his new scents for the company he established only a few years earlier. The artist not only presented Coty with the requested label but also with a perfume bottle of his own design and suitable for commercial mass production.

This collaboration with Coty created a very prolific and long lasting partnership that ran well until 1940, when the outbreak of war forced Lalique to close his factory. Until then he designed a great variety of perfume bottles that now represent a highly collectable niche market of their own.

However, not only perfume bottles and containers were produced during that period. Lalique manufactured bowls, vases, plates, decanters and carafes, paperweights, statuettes and powder boxes for ladies dressing tables and more. These items soon became very popular gifts and particularly desirable wedding presents of high taste and style.

For a select clientele Lalique also manufactured small editions of decorative glass to be incorporated in architectural fittings, such as panels and chandeliers. High Art Deco car mascots to decorate automobile radiators of Rolls- Royce,, Bugatti, Bentley, Isotta Fraschini, Hispano Suiza, Citröen and other car manufactures of the time, is another group of items he produced in this period.

Lalique was a major player in the evolution of decorative art styles. His earliest products are designed in the flowing, floral Art Nouveau style of the turn of the century. By the early 1920’s his designs became more robust, streamlined and geometrical, thus establishing him as a leader of the emerging Art Deco movement.

Although Lalique pieces were produced in large quantities, the colour varies from item to item. Many objects were blown of coloured glass, thus contributing to the unevenness of the hues achieved. However, in addition, a lot of the glass was hand coloured, wiped with stains or even enamelled. Red, amber, blue, green and black pieces are particularly sought after by the collectors. Very rare and desirable are the items in which details are highlighted with fired enamel colours. The difference that the colour creates in pricing is clearly demonstrated by the auction results for the same shape pieces, where plain objects fetch half or third of the price paid for coloured examples. Depending on what you have, selling Lalique glass can earn you a substantial sum of money.

For the beginning collector the most affordable Lalique objects usually come from the tableware range – wine glasses, small scent bottles, dressing table powder bottles and containers. And because the name and the value of Lalique objects is rather universally known and they are very recognisable, it is quite difficult to find a true bargain, unless the person selling Lalique glass mistakenly overlooks the style and signature of the famous maker.

However, one does need to possess a solid fundamental knowledge to spot the characteristic features of his style. Due to Lalique’s success he had many imitators. He died in 1945 and his name continued to be used on produced items by the family who kept the business going. Many of the original moulds have been used and therefore, successful collectors have to make themselves familiar with the signature changes as well as stylistic developments.

In the last 20 or so years fakes – some exceptionally good – have flooded the market. Therefore, one must proceed with caution and not take the research lightly. Rene Lalique marked most of his items with R. Lalique signature. He did employ a variety of letter styles and also, rarely, omitted the initial R. Modern trademark of the luxury glass Crystal Lalique is still employing the word Lalique, with or without the initial R and complimenting it with France.

Many imitations of Lalique glass were produced in the eastern European glass region, notably in the Czech Republic. The majority started after the war in the 1950’s. Many of the objects are extreme lookalikes; they are not identical copies, but rather closely inspired imitations. Often the differences can be spotted by comparing them with the original Lalique catalogue he published in the 1932 that contains several hundred objects.

Deliberate forgeries are also found on the market. They are exceptionally well executed by those who have original objects at hand, create their moulds and subsequently artificially age the pieces by manually creating a layer of wear on glass. One of the tools to be employed in recognising these fakes is looking at their provenance. These objects have always been rather highly priced; therefore, a common sense in their story judgement is to be employed.

If you’re looking to start collecting Lalique, or want to buy or sell antiques or sell jewellery in general, make sure you do your research.