20 rue Cristalleries
The name Baccarat has become nearly synonymous with luxury. For more than 200 years, this company has produced and distributed some of the world's finest luxury crystal. With a catalog spanning some 2,500 items, Baccarat produces full-lead crystal tableware, jewelry, lamps, vases, carafes, decorative pieces, and home fittings, sold through its own retail stores and through third-party retailers. Among crystal manufacturers, Baccarat has pioneered the incorporation of computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques, as well as modernized production systems, without relinquishing its tradition of hand-crafted quality. Baccarat's artisans, who undergo an eight-year apprenticeship, have won numerous awards throughout the company's history. Beyond luxury goods, Baccarat also produces glass for mining lamps for the coal mining operations of Charbonnages de France.
Baccarat operates retail stores in Paris, New York, and Tokyo. In the mid-1990s, the company has begun expanding its retail activities, including opening new outlets--such as its minority position in a partnership with a private investor operating a Baccarat store in Lyon, France--with the goal of doubling its revenues by the year 2000. The company has also created a new subsidiary, Baccarat Pacific Limited, in Hong Kong, with the intent of entering the growing Chinese market. This subsidiary has opened the first Baccarat retail outlet in Peking.
The recession in the United States in the early 1990s, the lengthy financial crisis in Europe, and continuing economic troubles in Japan and other Asian countries in the late 1990s have combined to cripple the demand for luxury goods and to slow Baccarat's growth; however, after a number of years of losses, the company, led by its resurgent U.S. subsidiary, has returned to profitability, posting earnings of FFr 11.2 million on revenues of FFr 544.3 million in 1996. In that year, the company added 400 new products to its catalog. Vases and decorative pieces represented some 45 percent of Baccarat's sales; glasses and carafes added another 33 percent of sales, while lamps and furnishings provided 12 percent of the company's revenues. Since the mid-1990s, the Louvre group has been Baccarat's majority shareholder.
200 Years of Tradition
While much of Europe, including France, was engaged in the Seven Years War (1759-63), chiefly for control of the North American territories, the costs of the war were being felt closer to home. France's involvement in a succession of wars under the reign of Louis XV had left its economy devastated; by the middle of the Seven Years War, joblessness was rampant, particularly among the woodcutters and other craftsmen in the forest-rich northeast region centered around the city of Metz and bordered by the Meuse and Moselle rivers. At the same time, a number of notables had become concerned about the lack of glassworks in France, and especially French artisans capable of producing decorative crystal glass that could rival that of Bohemia--then, even more so than Venice and England, the chief center of fine crystal in Europe.
At that time in France, the existing glassworks operations were the province of the nobility; yet, while these operations attempted to mimic the qualities of Bohemia glass, the true Bohemian product remained the preferred choice for glass tableware, windows, and objects. By the end of the Seven Years War, however, the bishop of Metz, Monseigneur de Montmorency-Laval, had become convinced that his region, with the beech forests (for potash) and plentiful pure quartz of the Vosges mountains, as well as a ready supply of artisans, contained the raw materials needed to create a glassworks to rival the Bohemian, Venetian, and English masters. Apart from the need to provide work for the region, the bishop of Metz was also motivated by a degree of protectionism--with the French treasury depleted by the Seven Years War, the importation of Bohemian crystal, and the resulting exportation of French money, had become a burden to France. Montmorency-Laval petitioned Louis XV on behalf of Antoine Renaut to found a glassworks. Renaut's works would become the first glassworks in France operated by a non-nobleman.
The Verrerie Renaut et Cie was created in 1764 in the small village of Baccarat. Providing housing for some seventy artisans and their families, the factory restricted its initial production to flat glass for windowpanes and mirrors, and to the production of white glass à la Bohême. While the Renaut works provided a French alternative to the Bohemian imports, another famed French glassworks, Saint-Louis (founded in 1767 and still in existence in the 1990s), was bringing the production of a relatively new type of glass, lead crystal, to France. Modern lead crystal originated in England toward the end of the 17th century. The depletion of the English forests--in part to feed the furnaces of the kingdom's glassworks--had led to a ban, in 1615, on the use of wood as fuel. Coal was substituted; however, coal produced lower temperatures than wood, lengthening the fusion of the materials used to create crystal glass. This problem found a solution in the 1670s, when George Ravenscroft discovered that, by replacing the calcium oxide traditionally used in glassmaking, as well as some of the silica (sand) derived from quartz, with lead oxide, the resulting glass not only melted at lower temperatures, but also proved easier to cut and engrave, while producing a clearer, more luminous finished product. While 20th-century analysis would lead to the discovery that lead oxide had been an ingredient in glass pieces from the ancient Babylonian and later Chinese Han Dynasty eras, Ravenscroft continued to be credited with the inauguration of the modern lead crystal era.
Lead crystal only gradually imposed itself on the glass market over the next century. The glassworks at Baccarat continued to cling to the production of windowpanes and Bohemian-style white glass--responding to the need for the former and the consumer preference for the latter. By the beginning of the 19th century, however, lead crystal had supplanted the crystal glass of Bohemia and Venice as the glass of choice. At the same time, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, and a fresh series of wars, combined not only to ruin the Bohemian glass production abroad, but to threaten the existence of the Baccarat glassworks. In 1816, the factory was bought by Aime-Gabriel D'Artigues. Formerly director of the Saint-Louis glassworks (which had already begun lead crystal production in the early 1780s), D'Artigues had left France for Belgium, then under French rule, operating the Cristallerie de Vonêche. With Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and the resulting Belgium independence, D'Artigues was forced to return to France. Installing his glassworks at the Baccarat plant, which was renamed the Verrerie de Vonêche à Baccarat, D'Artigues converted production entirely to lead crystal. The Baccarat glassworks began crafting crystal tableware and objets d'art, while adding a level of design that would bring the company to international fame. Already in 1819, the company's clientele featured among the European royalty.
The Baccarat glassworks would achieve a reputation not only for its design excellence, but also for its continued refinement of lead crystal materials and techniques. Under D'Artigues, the glassworks had rapidly caught up with the level of quality produced by the prominent lead crystal makers in England, as well as by Saint-Louis. After D'Artigues sold the glassworks to his partners, the factory, especially under Pierre Antoine Godard, began a pursuit of "perfection" that would raise Baccarat to the peak of the craft. The glassworks name was changed to Société de Cristallerie de Vonêche-Baccarat in 1824; soon after, the name was changed again, to Compagnie des Cristalleries de Baccarat--which the company would keep until 1994, until the name was changed simply to Baccarat. Over the previous 150 years, the name Baccarat had become synonymous with crystal.
By the middle of the 19th century, Baccarat was already one of the most celebrated names in lead crystal. This success was due to several factors, but rooted in the Godard's desire to achieve "perfection." The company ceased its other glass-making activities to focus solely on lead crystal--so-called premium or full lead crystal, defined as containing a lead content of not less than 24 percent. Baccarat also set out to improve the quality of its crystal, starting with the raw materials. Looking beyond its own region, the company began importing the highest grade sand, red lead, and potash, from as far away as the United States. The company was also quick to adopt new techniques and tools, including the use of "decalcomania" (the use of decals) and impression techniques, and, later in the 19th century, photoengraving, mechanical cutting, and improved furnace designs.
If in the early years of the century, Baccarat adopted easily a number of classic crystal and glass types&mdash¯ong the company's first successes were its opaline glassware, a translucent glass meant to mimic the look of opal; around the same time, Baccarat also began producing agate glass, a specialty of the Bohemian glass-makers--the company also proved adept at creating the fashion, rather than merely following others in the craft. In the late 1830s, Baccarat pioneered the use of colored glass, adding various materials to its crystal formula to achieve layered color effects. In the 1840s, Baccarat introduced a new crystal, dubbed "dichroic crystal"--the addition of uranium oxide gave this glass the appearance of changing colors, depending on the light. The company also popularized another new name, a green-colored, opaque crystal, called chrysoprase, after the variety of quartz.
Another key element of Baccarat's success was its innovative relationship with its employees. The company set rigorous standards for its employees, including an eight-year apprenticeship. But from the beginning, Baccarat proved a model of social enlightenment. Already at the glassworks's formation, the company's artisans and workers were given housing within the factory's confines. In 1827, Baccarat began adding benefits far in advance for its era, including medical assistance for its employees and opening a school for its employees' children. In 1830, the company began offering pensions to certain of its workers; the following year, employees were offered a savings account, with a five percent annual interest rate. In 1850, Baccarat established a retirement fund for all of its employees, paying in one percent of workers' annual salaries. A second retirement fund was established at the end of that decade for the company's engravers. In 1890, lastly, the company established an unemployment benefits fund for its employees.
Yet, while its employees and its technical improvements formed the raw materials of Baccarat's work, its excellence in design would provide the company its fame. Among the company's early design triumphs was its Harcourt design of table service, first produced in 1828. The Harcourt design would prove lastingly popular--a set of the service produced in 1841 continues to be used by the President of France during official receptions. Another glass design, the St. Remy tulip-shaped glass, became a mainstay of champagne drinkers. The company's designs quickly became the favorites of European royalty. In the mid-century, Baccarat began branching out beyond tableware. In 1846, the company began producing paperweights, starting with the Italian-inspired millefiori style, but quickly extending the range to include sulfide paperweights featuring real flowers, insects, and other objects enclosed in glass. Toward the end of the century, Baccarat paperweights often featured cameo portraits of its famous customers.
Baccarat also began producing vases, urns, and other objects. But by the mid-19th century, the company was working on a larger scale as well, producing elaborate interior furnishings, such as chandeliers, candelabra, oil lamps, and large vases. Two Baccarat triumphs were unveiled at the 1855 Paris World's Fair: a 17-foot-tall candelabra and a 23-foot-tall crystal water fountain.
The Modern Years
While the 20th century brought mass-production techniques to manufacturing, Baccarat maintained its tradition of hand-crafted elegance and excellence. The dwindling numbers of nobility were replaced by a new breed of customers, including wealthy industrialists and heads of state. The rise of the United States as a world economic power was recognized by the company when it opened its first subsidiary, Baccarat and Porthault Inc., operating a Baccarat store in Manhattan in 1949. Another of the company's design triumphs followed three year later, when French artist Georges Chevalier created the famed Stag's Head design.
In the 1960s, Baccarat began modernizing its factory. A new furnace was installed in 1962. In 1967, the company installed the industry's first continuous-melting tank, which enabled Baccarat to create larger, single-piece crystal designs. One such design was the company's 200 pound "De la Terre à la Lune," a representation of the earth and moon displayed at the Lisbon fair in 1972; this piece was the largest crystal object ever made. On the financial front, Baccarat went public in 1978, reserving 11 percent of the company's shares for its employees.
The economic boom--and the high-flying atmosphere--of the 1980s led Baccarat to further expansion. In 1984, the company created another subsidiary, Baccarat Pacific KK, to tap the surging Japanese market. The following year, Baccarat launched a German subsidiary, based in Frankfurt. In that same year, Baccarat added computer-aided manufacturing and design techniques to its production process. The bulk of the company's work, however, remained the province of its craftsmen.
If Baccarat had ridden high on the 1980s, the start of the 1990s would prove more sobering. The reunification of Germany in 1989 led to an extended economic crisis in that country, forcing Baccarat to end its German subsidiary's operations. The war in the Persian Gulf, and the economic recession of the early 1990s would soon lead to Baccarat's own financial crisis. From revenues of FFr 488 million in 1991, the company's sales slipped to FFr 437 million the following year. The company was also struggling to maintain profitability, aided principally by the booming economies among the Asian countries. Despite the United States' recovery from the recession, the luxury mood of the previous decade had become tempered. Falling sales in the United States led the company to post a loss in 1994 of FFr 28 million on revenues of FFr 473 million.
Sales rebounded in 1995, however, limiting the company's losses to just FFr 1 million on sales of FFr 524 million. Baccarat was forced to reorganize, a move which included the laying off of a number of its workers. The reorganization proved successful in bringing the company back into profitability in 1996, when, on sales of FFr 544 million, the company posted a net profit of FFr 11.2 million. In that year, the company moved to expand its Asian presence, forming a Hong Kong-based subsidiary, Baccarat Pacific Limited. The new subsidiary's chief market was China; in that year the company opened a new magazine, in the shopping area of a Peking Hotel.
Baccarat, led by CEO Marc Leclerc, continued to maintain its tradition of hand-crafted excellence, while eyeing a doubling of its sales for the year 2000--an optimistic forecast given the free-falling economies of many Asian countries, including Japan, in 1997. Yet the slow European recovery from its extended economic crisis, and the booming U.S. economy of the late 1990s, offered at least short-term hope. For the long-term, Baccarat remained at the forefront of its craft and a name synonymous with luxury and elegance.
Principal Subsidiaries: Baccarat Inc. (U.S.); Baccarat Pacific KK (Japan); Baccarat Pacific Limited (Hong Kong).