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Rene Lalique: the genius of the jewellery world

The noble splendour of crystal, the shine of jewellery, the subtle scent of French perfume, the charm of Art Nouveau and Art Deco — these are the associations with the Lalique word. This famous brand, symbolizing luxury and sophistication, was named after its creator, René Jules Lalique, a remarkable artist and designer. He introduced new materials and subjects into jewellery, revolutionized glass making and patented 16 of his own technologies. Lalique also proved to be an outstanding marketer, he introduced the mass production of art glass, created the new directions in the market and changed along with the world he provided with beauty.
The son of a dressmaker and wine merchant, René Lalique was born and raised in Champagne, in the land of ancient castles and vineyards. When the boy was two years old, the family moved to Paris, but they regularly came to his hometown of Aÿ for summer vacations. In 1872, the young René entered the College of Turgot. Four years later, after the death of his father, René became a student of the leading Parisian jeweller Louis Aucoc, a member of the family dynasty, whose Aucoc company was patronized by French monarchs, and later Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugénie. The Aucoc company specialized in silver and glass products, they produced elegant travel cases — exquisite sets of everything you need for a long journey. This gave young Lalique an excellent opportunity to study jewellery, glass production and design from scratch.

René Jules Lalique. 1903 photo

While working for Aucoc, Lalique attended the Paris School of Decorative Arts. In 1878, he went to London for two years, where he honed his graphic design skills at the Crystal Palace Art School. Here students were taught such subjects as watercolour, drawing, modelling and oil painting. At Crystal Palace, the young artist’s love for natural motives has reached a new level and has become one of the brightest creative hobbies that would glorify him in the future.

René Lalique. Sketches for jewellery. 1894—1896
In 1880, twenty-year-old René Lalique returned to Paris, full of new ideas. Working in his relative’s workshop, he created designs for jewellery, and took plastic lessons from the sculptor Justin Lequien at the same time. It didn’t take long for Lalique to work as a freelance designer for many French jewellery companies, including Cartier and Boucheron, and also to acquire the private clientele. 1884 brought René Lalique his first recognition: his drawings and sketches were presented at an exhibition of applied art in the Louvre. They say that the famous Parisian jeweller Alphonse Fouque, saw the work by Lalique and said: "At that time I did not know a single jewellery designer, and finally we have one!"
Two Peacocks pendant, 1897—1898
Brooch. Diamonds, glass and enamel. 1899–1901
Brooch. Chrysoprase and pearls. Ca. 1898—1899
Beyond the Boundaries brooch. Diamonds and glass. Ca. 1897—1898. © Christie’s Source
Pendant. 1905
Jewellery by René Lalique
One of Lalique’s customers offered the young jeweller to be his partner. Lalique&Varenne company did not last long, as Lalique received a better offer from jeweller Jules Destape, who appreciated René's skill and commercial acumen. Soon Lalique headed the Destape’s workshop and received the right to have his own brand. He had tremendous opportunities to experiment with new materials and designs, which would later make him one of the most famous jewellers of the Art Nouveau era.
René Lalique. Orchid brooch. Gold, silver, opal, enamel. 1898—1902
Lalique Museum, Lalique Museum Hakone, Japan. Source
In 1885, Lalique married Marie-Louis Lambert, the daughter Georgette was born, but family happiness did not last long, and the couple parted. Lalique completely immersed himself in work. He introduced new materials into his jewellery: using ivory and horn, enamel and ornamental stones, Lalique marked the transition of jewellery from an exquisite gemstone setting to a multi-faceted work of art. All the materials he used were subordinate to the design of the product, justifying both its cost and its artistic value. Landscapes and portraits, exotic birds, bouquets of flowers and nude
The nude is the genre focused on the aesthetic aspect of the naked human body. The term traces its origin to the Latin nudus (“naked, bare”) and is cognate with the French nudité (“nudity”). Read more
female figures appeared on brooches, pendants, tiaras. Ivory cameos stood next to the diamonds, coloured glass and pearls sparkled on horn crests, inlays of semi-precious stones were framed with gold and emeralds. It was a revolution, it was a violation of all the principles of jewellery making. And it was a high art soon appreciated all over the world.
  • René Lalique. Comb. Ca. 1902. Orsay Museum
In 1889, the Paris Salon du Champs-de-Mars brought Lalique even more fame: they talked about him, he was scolded, he was extolled, but all this hype played into his hands. Many women wanted to receive jewellery "from Lalique", but Sarah Bernhardt became one of his main customers who contributed to the jeweller’s huge success. The actress was at the zenith of her fame, Paris was full of her posters, they talked about her, they imitated her. Bernhardt was a welcome guest in the best Parisian salons and one of the fashion trendsetters. Lalique’s massive jewellery looked bad on high-necked dresses, and fashion designers followed his lead: models became more graceful, fabrics more flowing, and women more naked.
Grioza Princess tiara for Sarah Bernhardt. Designer Alphonse Mucha. Jeweller René Lalique. Opera Theatre Museum, Paris
The Divine Sarah liked Lalique’s exquisite jewellery, their decorativeness and flowing lines, oriental stylization reminiscent of Japan, Egypt and China. Lalique’s brooches and wide necklaces, tiaras and rings, heavy bracelets and large earrings sparkled and shimmered in the ramp light, making Sarah Bernhardt irresistible, and René Lalique world famous. Later, jewellery for the actress was created by the artist Alphonse Mucha and the jeweller Georges Fouquet.
Sarah Bernhardt in the stage costume of Cleopatra. Jewellery made by René Lalique. 1890
Sketches of jewellery by René Lalique for stage images of Sarah Bernhardt
On 9 December 1896, in Paris, Sarah Bernhardt celebrated thirtieth anniversary of her acting career. A gala banquet took place at the Grand Hôtel, then the actress performed excerpts from Racine at the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
theatre. Finally, she sat on the throne and received verse praises from five poets. Each guest received an illustrated album and a silver medal engraved by René Lalique depicting the actress. This ivory medal is one of a kind, Lalique created it for his friend, the artist Georges Clerin, who was then the recognized lover of the Divine Sarah.
Brooch of gold, enamel and emeralds by René Lalique, ca. 1896. Dedicated to Sarah Bernhardt. Collection of the Comedie Francaise
René Lalique. Decorative brooch for Sarah Bernhardt. Gold, enamel, diamonds and chrysoprase
René Lalique. The cover of the program for Sardou’s Theodora play (1902). Sarah Bernhardt as Empress. 1894. Source
René Lalique. Comb created for Sarah Bernhardt. Designer Alphonse Mucha
René Lalique. Orchid brooch. Rubies, enamel, pearls, mother-of-pearl, gold.

René Lalique and his second wife, Augustine Alice Ledru

When Lalique met Augustine Alice Ledru, he was still married. She was the daughter of the sculptor Auguste Ledru, who was known for his bronze figurines and Art Nouveau vases. Like Lalique, Ledru adored nude female nature, and many of his works echoed the works by his future son-in-law in some way.

  • René Lalique. Relief portrait of Alice Ledru. Glass Museum, Corning, USA
  • René Lalique. Young woman with pine branches. 1900. A Woman’s Profile — Alice Ledru
One way or another, René and Alice fell in love with each other. In 1892, Alice gave birth to his daughter Suzanne, and only a year later, the artist finally divorced his first wife, Maria Lambert. In 1900, the couple had a son, Marc, two years later they formalized their relationship. Alice received a fairly good art education, was well versed in art and its modern trends. She was said to have worked on some of the sketches for jewellery made in her husband’s workshops. Lalique could always count on her advice and all kinds of support in his endeavours. Unfortunately, this union did not last long, Alice died in 1909.
  • Necklace designed by René Lalique for his second wife Alice Ledru. Opals and amethysts. Ca. 1897–1899. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
He was back to work again. In the wake of his commercial success, in 1890, René Lalique opened a new store on rue Teresa, near the Paris Opera. The increased prosperity allowed the jeweller to expand his creative possibilities and begin his first experiments with glass, which attracted him since the days of his work for Louis Aucoc. Colour, shape, shades, processing methods and design possibilities — all these aspects of glass have become objects of close attention to René Lalique. He took his first steps in a new direction in his country house in the village of Clairfontaine, not far from Paris. His experimental work earned him acclaim, but there was no income yet.
René Lalique’s booth at the World’s Fair in Paris, 1900. Paris, Museum of Decorative Arts | © MAD, Paris.
The Art Nouveau jewellery collection shown by Lalique brought him a tremendous success, which he further consolidated at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1897. René Lalique received the Grand Prix and was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour for his exposition at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. That was a worldwide triumph, which meant new customers. Monarchs and aristocracy appreciated the genius of Lalique’s jewellery, his symbolism
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more Symbolism is an art movement that has been reflected in painting, literature and music. It emerged in the 1870s-1880s in France, later spread to Belgium, Norway, and the Russian Empire. It reached the peak of popularity at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Symbolism is characterized by sadness, introspection and understatement: as if an artist came to quiet despair, but he was too shy to talk about these feelings, so he painted them.

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, his innovation, the courage of design ideas and its virtuoso embodiment.

The three F’s: female images, flora
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more
and fauna became the main motifs that made the jeweller’s name famous.

His ability to express the spirit of fin de siècle, the end of the century, the belle époque, permeated with individualism and rejection of accepted norms in exquisite jewellery, was much in line with the needs of the wealthy public.
René Lalique. Winter Landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
brooch, 1899—1900 Gold, opaque enamel, glass, pearls
Around this time, Lalique got a rich admirer, financier and oil tycoon Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian. A passionate collector of beauty, Gulbenkian fell in love with Lalique’s art, considering his works to be masterpieces of jewellery; "I can only be satisfied with the best," he said. During their friendship, the tycoon acquired more than 150 jewels and designer goods, sometimes he could immediately buy an entire new collection. Today, his extensive collection of works by René Lalique can be seen at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon among other 6,000 exhibits.
René Lalique. Dragonfly Woman corsage brooch, fragment. Ca. 1903
René Lalique. Dragonfly Woman corsage brooch, fragment. Ca. 1903
René Lalique. Rooster tiara
René Lalique. Cicada brooch
René Lalique. Parrot vase
René Lalique. Orchid pendant. Ca. 1899—1900
René Lalique. Woman’s Face pendant. Ca. 1898—1900
René Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Continuing his experiments with glass, in 1905, René Lalique met the perfumer François Coty, who by that time had already become famous for his first created personalized perfume Rose Jacqueminot. It is curious that Coty received his first commissions for the new perfumes after he accidentally broke a bottle in one of the stores, which refused to cooperate with the perfumer. The scent was so beautiful that visitors began to demand the seller to sell them the perfume immediately.

First of all, Coty ordered Lalique to develop a design for his bottles, which at that time were quite nondescript, like pharmaceutical ones. But soon Coty decided that his perfume should be distinguished not only by its scent, but also by its appearance. The success of Rose Jacqueminot perfume in a new bottle by Lalique with a cork in the form of a blossoming rose surpassed all Coty’s expectations: that was how a long and fruitful collaboration between the perfumer and the jeweller began. Lalique "dressed" all the famous Coty’s perfumes — Cyclamen, Ambre Antique, Styx, Chypre, L’Origan, Le Muguet — and later the perfumer commissioned him to design his new store on 5th Avenue in New York.

René Lalique. Perfume bottle Le Baiser du Faune (Kiss of the Faun) for the Molinard company. 1928
René Lalique. Eucalyptus bottle
René Lalique for Coty. The bottle for L'Effleurt (The Touch) cologne is made in the ancient Egyptian style. 1908
René Lalique. The jeweller created the perfume bottle Je Reviens (I’ll be back) after the skyscraper drawings by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
René Lalique. Perfume crystal glass bottles of different years. Source
Following Coty, other perfumery houses came to Lalique: the idea of the elegant bottles showed its commercial viability, and commissions came one by one. Roget & Gallet, Worth, Molinard, Guerlain, Lelong, Houbigant — the perfumes of these companies were soon presented on the market with exquisite designs by René Lalique. Lalique himself was absorbed in his new glasswork, which he had been striving for in recent years. Soon his glass-blowing workshops ceased to correspond to the volume of the orders, and Lalique transferred part of his production to the Legras factory. In 1909 he rented a glass-blowing factory and later bought it out.

The Kiss brooch was created by René Lalique for a charming French woman in memory of their whirlwind romance, which began in London around 1904. Lalique adored women, idolized women and had affairs on the side at times. This relationship brought him a boy, René Le Mesnil, who was born in 1907. The back of the brooch reads: "I dream of kisses that last forever!" When Lalique was 65 years old, his third life partner, Marie Anère, gave birth to his son Jean Raymond, and in 1927 his daughter Georgette. In total, René Lalique had six children.

René Lalique, the "father" of new design trends, dreamed of "creating something that had never been seen before". Times changed, and he gradually moved from jewellery to glass making. By 1912, the maître entirely focused on glass production, adding the art of creating new glass formulations and its processing methods to his design talent. Each of the perfume bottles by Lalique was a work of art and was met with delight by the public.
In October 2012, the bottle of The Sirens (1905) was sold at an auction in Tokyo for record $ 370 thousand.
Crystal became one of his favourite materials. They tell a beautiful story about how, in his youth, René, who loved to draw, painted beautiful nature, but could not capture the clouds. And now, many years later, he finally found the material, which made him able to convey the airiness and changeability of the clouds movement — the crystal glass.
René Lalique. Night lamps

"Women and nature are my main source of inspiration", Lalique repeated many times. Beautiful women’s faces and silhouettes appeared in all of his works now and then — jewellery, perfume bottles, vases. One of the most famous Lalique’s vases, Bacchae, still remains a cult work of art. The designer managed to convey the delightful plasticity of dancing women’s bodies, reminiscent of ancient goddesses.

From 1909 to 1912, Lalique created several unique vases. The artworks that were created using the technology of "disappearing wax" (Cire Perdues) existed in a single copy — such was the production technology. In total, about 700 items were created, and each of them was the unique and, accordingly, very expensive work of glass art. The "disappearing wax" technique was used by Lalique to create complex three-dimensional shapes, such as his famous Eight Parrots and Roses vases. The catalogue of his works featured more than 300 serial vases, which created using moulds or casting.
René Lalique. Roses vase
The expansion of production was prevented by the First World War: the plant produced goods necessary for the military, including ordinary bottles and vials for medicines, and later closed. It was not until 1921 that Lalique reopened his new glass factory in Alsace, in the Venjean-sur-Modé town with a long historical tradition of glass production. Today it is the only Lalique factory in the world.
Starting in 1925, René Lalique became interested in another design direction: he began to make car mascots that decorated the car hoods. One of his first mascots was the Cinq Chevaux (five horses) developed for Citroën. In the next 6 years, another 30 car mascots were released, including one personal Levrier 1 for the Prince of Wales' car.
Lalique created the figures themselves, as well as their mountings and special lighting that could be adjusted using colour filters so that the mascot glowed while the car was moving. It was incredibly luxurious for that time. Today, René Lalique’s mascots are a rarity, the pride of collectors. So, in March 2012, an auction of RM Sotheby’s took place, at which a collection of 30 car mascots was sold for a record amount of 805 thousand US dollars.
Spirit of the Wind mascot, 1928
Cinq Chevaux (five horses) mascot for Citroën
Comet mascot, 1925
Levrier 1 mascot is a greyhound figurine created for the Prince of Wales
Car mascot figures by René Lalique
In 1925, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Decorative and Industrial Arts was held in Paris, and, of course, this significant cultural event was not without René Lalique. He created the design and decoration of the Sevres pavilion, the central composition of which was the glass fountain "Spring of France".
Lalique became interested in architectural concepts and started with his own home in Paris on Cours la Reine. He decorated the front entrance with doors with glass inserts depicting pine branches and cones, which continued on its walls. It was also a publicity stunt, since it housed an exhibition hall and the artist’s workshop.
  • The door of the house at 40 Cours la Reine, owned by René Lalique
  • Source
In the early 1920s, Lalique expanded his glass production to include design and production work for the interiors of several ocean liners, including Paris (1921), Île-de-France (1927) and most famous Normandy (1935), which was said to be the largest object ever driven by man. In 1927, Lalique designed and produced a number of architectural decorations for the Oviatt Building in Los Angeles, a completely Art Deco building.
Interior of the Orient Express train, 1929
Interior of the Orient Express train, 1929
Architectural projects by René Lalique
Lalique gained enormous fame as an interior designer. In the same 1927, he was invited to design the interiors for the Orient Express restaurant cars. In 1929, he made decorations for the famous Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Several years later he was commissioned to decorate several churches, including St. Matthew’s in Millbrook, Jersey, which is today known as the Glass Church. The master also made glass doors for the Imperial Palace of Prince Asaka in Tokyo (currently the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Museum).
The interior of the Normandy liner restaurant, for which Lalique created chandeliers and columns. 1935
During the Second World War, Lalique’s main factory in Alsace and most of his business had to be closed. The master was very worried about his priceless moulds in the occupied territory. Just a few days before his death, he received the news that his factory in Wingen had been liberated by the Allied forces, and all moulds survived. This was a great consolation for Lalique in the last days of his life. He died on 1 May 1945 in his Parisian home — in the house with the famous glass door panels at Cours la Reine. The glass designer was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery, and a glass crucifix by his own design was placed on his headstone.

The father’s business was taken over by his son Marc Lalique, who continued his father’s traditions and worked a lot with crystal. In 1977, the designer’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude Lalique, became the head of the company; she returned to the production of jewellery in the Lalique corporate style, and in 1992 she launched perfumery fragrances on the market, the first of which was Lalique de Lalique. In 2008, Lalique was acquired by the Art & Fragrance Swiss group lead by Silvio Denza, which is currently developing its global development and increasing its crystal glass production capacity.

Sacred Fire Odyssey necklace © Air de Prod. Source
The l’Odyssée du Feu Sacré jewellery collection was presented to the public in 2012 and marked a return to the traditions laid down by the founder of the company, the amazing jeweller and designer René Lalique.
In 2011, the company began to develop its design direction. The Lalique Maison collection, created in the Art Deco style, emerged as a result of the company’s collaboration with renowned designers Lady Tina Green and Pietro Mingarelli. In the same year, another division, Lalique Art, was launched, which collaborates with prominent contemporary artists, foundations and talented designers to create unique works of art. The artists Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor have already tried their talents in working with crystal.
Damien Hirst. Eternal Truth. 2017. The symbol of peace, the dove with an olive branch in 18-carat gold, was created in 20 copies. The statuette costs 58,000 euros. Source.
Lalique’s Victoire de Samothrace figurine was created in collaboration with the Yves Klein Archives using the ancient technology of “disappearing wax”
Damien Hirst. Eternal Immaculate. 2017
Anish Kapoor. Untitled. 2016. Marble, Lalique crystal glass. Source.
During his long career, René Jules Lalique has mastered many professions and reached unprecedented heights in each of them. An artist, jeweller, glass blower, stylist, designer, architect — Lalique had an amazing imagination and left a rich heritage behind. The successors of his work still use a huge baggage of artistic ideas, industrial recipes, production principles, which were the raison d'être of the enterprising Frenchman.