Unrivalled, dense, clear, sonorous and luminous, born of a ball of fire and the breath of man, Saint-Louis crystal vibrates with all the talent inherited from History and extraordinary creative fantasy inspired by current trends.
By letters patent dated 1767, Louis XV gave Münzthal the prestigious name of Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Royal Glassworks). Fifteen years later, the formula for producing crystal was discovered by François de Beaufort. The Verrerie Royale de Saint-Louis was renamed the Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis. Since 1829 the manufacture is exclusively devoted to the production of crystal-glass items and introduced the concept of a set of glasses for the dining table with the famous Trianon service.
Today, Saint-Louis signs every day crystal pieces created by master glassmakers and glasscutters among Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. They all have a unique expertise, enriched from generation to generation. Thanks to advances authorized by chemical and mechanical processes, for some invented in the 19th century, Saint-Louis also introduced the most advanced techniques in coloring the crystal, hot shaping, cold cut, the most sophisticated patterns engraving and gold ornament.
If, as Paul Claudel wrote, “glass is solidified breath”, then crystal is a spark of the human soul. Crystal glass was introduced in France by François de Beaufort, director of the Verreries Royales de Saint-Louis in 1781. Like glass, it was a material born of the earth and forest of the Vosges, in a cradle of fire, to which lead was added for weight, sonority, and light. To this fine white sand was added potash – originally plant ash, now chemically produced – as well as minium, or red lead.
And that is still the formula for clear, or colourless crystal. Coloured crystal is obtained by adding metal oxides to this mixture: nickel oxide for purple, cobalt oxide for Saint-Louis blue, copper with gold chloride for ruby red.
Yet these colouring processes, passed down from an ancient alchemy, 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. But this is the extent of scientific innovation in crystalmaking, for although electricity and gas have replaced wood and coal to fire the furnaces, the work of the craftsmen and -women has remained practically unchanged.
The village was entirely built and developed around the glassworks. It was a patriarchal village, having subsisted for four centuries on this one, vertically transmitted hereditary role, fulfilled with pride. The current registers of the factory contain names that were inscribed in them two hundred years ago.
But times have changed, and Saint-Louis now employs many glassmakers trained in the vocational schools of Moulins and Sarrebourg. Students begin their apprenticeship at the age of sixteen and undergo a lengthy, demanding training period of six to eight years. At once humble before and passionate about their craft, these artists are divided into two areas of skill: the glassmakers, or glassblowers, and the cutters and engravers. They all begin at the bottom of the ladder and end up as part of an elite, a status earned by merit (many of Saint-Louis’ workers hold the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Best French Craftsperson). In their hands, the future of Saint-Louis is fashioned day after day, forging a path between heritage and contemporariness.