René Lalique – A Giant Among Giants

René-Jules Lalique was born a rural 19th-century man in Aÿ-en-Champagne in the Marne region of France in a time before light bulbs, telephones, washing machines, and electricity. By the middle of the 20th century, Lalique had completed two careers: jewelry design and glassmaking. Part of Lalique’s genius lay in combining artistic talents with foresight and innovation, becoming a world-class industrialist. Lalique was a visionary who embraced changes in technology to move from one-of-a-kind jewelry making to glassmaking and then to the use of mass-production techniques.

Budding Artist

At the age of twelve, Lalique entered the Collége Turgot to study drawing and sketching. He was soon an apprentice goldsmith to leading Parisian Art Nouveau jeweler and goldsmith Louis Aucoc, learning jewelry-making techniques while attending evening classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Two more years of study at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Sydenham, London, England, improved his graphic design skills, and a naturalistic approach to art further developed.

Innovative Jewelry Design

At the age of 25, after gaining recognition as an independent designer for well-known jewelry houses such as Cartier and Boucheron, Lalique opened a business and designed and made jewelry and other glass pieces. For many years Lalique concentrated exclusively on fine jewelry, on bright and lustrous parures (a set of jewels designed to be worn together) sparkling with diamonds, designing many in finely wrought gold. Then Lalique broke with jewelry-making tradition by using innovative materials in jewelry pieces. Lalique made the materials used central to the designs, combining gold and precious gemstones such as opals, diamonds, pearls, and amethysts with semi-precious stones, ivory, horn, mother-of-pearl, enamel, and glass. Materials were chosen for their power, light, and color; precious gemstones were only used for what they brought to each piece artistically, not necessarily for their value as gems. Lalique registered the signature “RL” stamp and engraved the unique pieces created in the design workshop with these letters.

The Inventor of Modern Jewelry

Over the next decade, Lalique won many competitions, exhibited work, and created jewelry for well-known entertainers such as actress Sarah Bernhardt. Lalique’s desire to “create something that had never been seen before” earned the accolade of the “inventor of modern jewelry.” René revolutionized jewelry styles, became a favorite with leading socialites, and was admired by the most distinguished of fellow jewelers. Lalique’s work was commissioned by the great courts and collected by the world’s wealthy. When Lalique took part in the 1900 Great Exhibition in Paris, it was the crowning moment of a brilliant career as a jeweler. It was also the year Lalique was named Officer of the French Legion d’Honneur.

Perfume Bottle Designs

As Lalique’s work gained wide-spread popularity, another workshop opened in Paris, transitioning from jewelry to enamel and glass. First experiments and designs using glass date from this era. Lalique was best known for creations in glass art. Lalique opened a retail shop in Paris, where jewelry and glass objects were for sale. Perfumer François Coty was so impressed by René’s designs that Coty asked Lalique to design glass bottles for the perfume industry. Their work together revolutionized the industry, making it possible to offer perfumes in attractive bottles at affordable prices. Lalique increasingly worked on designs for the perfume sector, finally devoting efforts entirely to more industrial techniques of glass production. René Lalique, Art Nouveau’s master jeweler, became an Art Deco master glassmaker.

Career Expansion

Lalique brought talent to creating just about anything that could be made with glass, including car mascots (hood ornaments), statues, light fixtures, and other objects. Perhaps the most widely known and often noticed works are the art glass Lalique vases. The 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris marked the climax of a career as a glassmaker and a triumph for the Art Deco movement.

Cire Perdue Technique Revolutionized Glassmaking

After glassmaking for several years, Lalique founded the Verreri d’Alsace glassworks at Wingen-sur-Moder in Alsace in north-eastern France, a region with a strong and historic glassmaking tradition. It is to this day the sole remaining Lalique production facility. During World War I, the factory manufactured practical items, such as plain glass bottles and containers for hospitals and medicines. This period also saw a time of growing and varied production of René Lalique glass objects from one-of-a-kind molded and cire perdue (“lost wax”) vases to ashtrays, cachets, and tableware.

Cire perdue is a technique whereby the pieces are made by first carving a design into a block of wax. A clay mold is formed around the wax and left to dry. Once the mold is dry, the wax is melted and allowed to run out of the mold. Molten glass is poured into the mold for a solid piece, or blown into the mold for a hollow piece. After the glass cools, the clay mold is carefully broken open, revealing the glass piece. This technique revolutionized glass production, as, before this, molds were made of metal and were hard to break open without damaging the glass inside.

Crystal, Jewelry, and Fragrance

Upon the death of René Lalique in 1945, son Mark took over the company, bringing Lalique into the age of crystal. The past decade has seen the launch of a new division, Lalique Art. The l’Odyssée du Feu Sacré collection marked the rebirth of Lalique jewelry. Marc’s daughter Marie-Claude Lalique became the company’s CEO, renewing the tradition of jewelry design and developing the Lalique fragrance business. Lalique Parfums combines creativity in bottle design with a quest for exceptional quality fragrances. With the launch of the Noir Premier collection, Lalique presented an exclusive collection of five fragrances in signature perfume bottles.

Lalique Tableware, Perfume Bottles, and Vases

Today the most prevalent Lalique auction item is tableware, comprising the greatest volume of auction sales. Perfume bottle collectors value Lalique bottles most highly. Lalique vases are another popular auction item. Unique Lalique jewelry items lead most auction sales records. Collectors who would like to add some of Lalique’s works to their private collection may want to attend an art auction at an auction house in Dania Beach, Florida.

Selling the Works of René Lalique

Do you have works by René Lalique that you are interested in selling, appraising, or cosigning? Call Joshua Kodner today, and ensure you receive the true value of your property.