Founded in 1764 with the permission of Louis XV of France, Baccarat is an art glass manufacturer that has transcended eras and fashions. Over the years, Baccarat has produced just about every form of art glass and glassware imaginable. It may be most famous for its ornate paperweights, but it has also designed crystal and glass vases, perfume bottles, chandeliers, boxes, and other decorative objects.
Because of the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon, Baccarat and other French glass manufacturers were a bit behind the rest of the world when it came to crystal. Early Baccarat productions were concentrated on stemware, windowpanes, and mirrors. In 1816, however, Baccarat got around to producing lead crystal and reformed its glassware factory nestled in tiny Baccarat, France, in the eastern Lorraine region, to become a crystal factory. The company used a blend of sand, potash, and lead to create crystal that quickly became a symbol of high-quality French decorative art.
In fact, just seven years after it began producing crystal, Baccarat was commissioned to create stemware for King Louis XVIII. Since then, the company has, on a variety of occasions, been hired to produce crystal for royalty and heads of state, whether it was stemware for Charles X and Franklin Roosevelt or vodka glasses for Czar Nicholas II. Not only was Baccarat's crystal gorgeous, it was also refractive, luminous, and heavy, thanks to its 32-percent lead content.
Baccarat expanded quickly, and it already had an overseas market in 1841 when it released its flat-sided Harcourt set—this signature Baccarat designs continues to be produced today. In 1846, the company began producing millefiori paperweights, whose interiors held captive everything from flowers to birds. By 1855 Baccarat was an industry leader. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris that year, it was awarded the Grand Medal of Honor. Today collectors struggle to definitively date Baccarat paperweights from that era, as they are considered some of the greatest examples of the form ever made.
The design of a particular Baccarat piece can usually be closely tied to the era when it was made. For example, Baccarat glass and crystal from the 1870s reflect the influence at the time of Japanese design. At the turn of the century, Baccarat produced curvy Art Nouveau glassware; in the 1920s, Baccarat glass featured geometric Art Deco cuts.
Aided by the development of a new workshop, the 20th century also brought a boom in the production of perfume bottles for Baccarat. In 1907, the company was producing more than 26 times as many perfume bottles a day than it had just ten years earlier. By the middle of the century, Baccarat was expanding globally, opening a retail outlet in New York in 1948, among other places.
Despite being more than two centuries old, Baccarat continues to innovate. In 1979 it released its Massena cut-crystal stemware and tumblers, and in 1993 Baccarat produced its first line of fine jewelry.
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