This history of Baccarat spans two hundred years, numerous wars, and unsurpassed advancement in crystal design and manufacturing. Baccarat is a small French town of 600 situated 250 miles east of Paris. In 1764, slightly prior to the French Revolution, Monseigneur de Montmorency-Laval, the Bishop of Metz, petitioned King Louis XV to allow him to open a glassworks factory on the banks of the River Meurthe. The reason for the Bishop’s interest in opening a glassworks factory was that he owned thousands of acres of old growth forests. In order to turn a profit on the deforestation of his land, the Bishop needed to find some industry that would consume lots of firewood.
In 1765, the Compagnie des Cristalleries de Baccarat was established. The Bishop employed the influence of the church to locate an investor to build the factory. His next move was to find an architect and technician to run the factory. A man named Antoine Renaut was hired to oversee the building and running of the Baccarat factory.
Baccarat flourished in the coming decades. By the beginnings of the French Revolution, the company employed a work force of 400 people. It must be noted that Baccarat was opened during the age of reason and enlightenment. The managers at Baccarat decided to employee many of the social concepts concerning individual rights and human dignity that arose from the new social philosophies of the period. A small utopian community was built at the Baccarat factory that housed over 70 families. Although Baccarat was ahead of their time in concerning themselves with the welfare of their employees, their motives were not entirely altruistic. The firing of glass at the time was still an imperfect art and was influenced by many factors, including the weather. It was important to have Baccarat’s master craftsmen very close to the factory in order to produce the best possible product. During this time, the company mainly produced bottles, mirrors, and window panes.
Baccarat met a formidable challenge at the beginning of the French Revolution. Economic instability was common in France at this time, however, the situation worsened as the country collapsed into civil war. France’s economic situation continued to worsen with the Napoleonic wars that swept across Europe during the early 19th century. By 1816, inflation caused the company to operate at a loss and the work force was reduced to less than 70 people. During that same year, the factory was sold to a Belgian expert in the production of glass. The purchaser, Monsieur d’Artigues, bought the company with 2,845 ounces of solid gold. Monsieur d’Artigues was an ambitious man who set his sight on making Baccarat one of the most prestigious names in glass in Europe and the world.
In 1838, a manager at Baccarat discovered a way to produce full-lead crystal that could be colored. The formula was one of the company’s most closely guarded trade secrets. However, the information was leaked to the Bohemians living in the area who produced similar works to those of Baccarat. There was no competition between Baccarat and the Bohemians however, as the Bohemian interest was purely artistic and they philosophically were not interested in making a profit. The factory continued to grow in prestige throughout the remainder of the 19th century.
By the end of the 19th century, Baccarat had earned the reputation of being the “Crystal of Kings.” This title is one that the company bears to this day. Baccarat’s stemware and objects d’art adorned the tables of the late Czar and Czarina of Russia, the Emperor of Japan, the late Sultan of Turkey, the King of Siam, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the last three kings of France – Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philippe, all the Presidents of the French Republic, the Late Aga Kahn, Pope Benedict XV, President of the Republic of Chile, the former king of Portugal, the late king of Spain, the King of Greece, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the late Wilhelm II of Germany, the US State Departments’ many legations and European Embassies, all of the Maharajahs of India, and King Ibn of Saudia Arabia.
For display pieces for the famous Paris Exhibition of 1889 (the same exhibition during which the Eiffel Tower was built), Baccarat created two of its most popular pattern
Gascogne . Today,
Harcourt is one of the Pope’s stemware patterns at the Vatican. Despite their growth and popularity, Baccarat would soon face a number of new challenges.
In Europe, World War One began in 1914. France was invaded by the Germans on the country’s north and eastern borders. France would remain occupied for the four-year duration of the war. During both world wars, the Baccarat facilities had to be converted to centers of war industry production. This flexibility is what allowed Baccarat to stay open through both world wars and retain most of their workforce. Little is known about the Baccarat factory between the years of 1918 and 1940. During this period, Baccarat lost its biggest source of revenue which was the aristocracy and gentry of Russia. Russia’s troubles began with the February Revolution of 1905 and culminated in the October Revolution of 1917. Russia would eventually collapse into civil war. Following the 1917 October Revolution, the Czar and Czarina of Russia were executed, as were many of Russia’s wealthiest individuals. Russia represented nearly 30% of Baccarat’s profits. It appears that the company recovered from the ravages of the First World War and continued to grow and succeed. Although France was physically devastated by a deadlocked war on its soil, its financial stability seemed secure. The peace accord written after World War One, known as the Treaty of Versailles (1919), imposed full responsibility for the war on Kaiser Wilhelm II and the people of Germany. The treaty specified that in addition to accepting full responsibility for the war, Germany would also have to pay war reparations to the League of Nations. France benefited most from this arrangement because nearly all of the World War One was fought on French soil. Despite this new influx of revenue, inflation would soon be on the rise and posing a challenge for Baccarat.
Many believed that World War One would be the “war to end all wars.” The years of restoration following the war were plagued by financial turmoil for most of Europe. To make matters worse, a deadly flu pandemic swept through Europe and many other parts of the world beginning in 1918. Conservative estimates claim that 25,000,000 people died from what would later be called the “Spanish Influenza.” Some have claimed that as many as 40,000,000 people died from this terrible disease. This deadly bug was not contained until the 1920s. Eventually, the world would be impacted by the 1929 crash of the New York Stock Exchange. Although recorded history of Baccarat from this period is scarce, one can easily deduce that they faced a number for formidable challenges to their growth and wellbeing.
Trouble again began brewing in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. Other European leaders granted the annexation of Poland to Germany with the proviso that Hitler not pursue other territorial conquests. Hitler’s promises were empty. He invaded France via the Maginot Line and marched into France’s northeastern territories through Belgium. Baccarat continued producing glassware products intermittently between the years of 1940 and 1942. In 1942, the Baccarat facilities were turned into a German concentration camp in which 20,000 prisoners were held before being shipped to Germany. One of these prisoners was Baccarat’s President, Professor Parisot.
The Second World War ended in 1945. Baccarat had sustained minimal damage and re-opened. Employees immediately set to work repairing the historic factory. Steady but conservative growth through the coming decades would ensure Baccarat’s success. Today, the Baccarat showroom is located on the rue de Paradis in Paris. The town of Baccarat now has 6,000 residents, most of whom work at the factory. Baccarat provides a series of shops, housing, a school, gardens, a chateau, public park, individual family vegetable gardens, and a chapel for its employees. Many of the families living in Baccarat have been living there for centuries and almost everyone is employed or works as an apprentice at the historic factory. Replacements, Ltd. carries a large variety of patterns from Baccarat, including the 180 year old
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