The Enduring Value of Baccarat Crystal

Baccarat calls itself the world’s most renowned crystal manufacturer, and after two and a half centuries in operation, few would argue that claim.

The company’s chandeliers have illuminated the grandest palaces, halls and restaurants around the world. Its crystal stemware has graced the tables of monarchs, presidents and popes. Its bottles have held the most expensive fragrances.

An assortment of Baccarat Harcourt glassware. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Main Auction Gallery

The company now known as Baccarat began modestly in 1764 in the town of Baccarat in the Lorraine region of France, which has a tradition of glassmaking. The glasshouse’s early output consisted mainly of utilitarian soda glass. A change in ownership in 1817 led to the production of lead-crystal glass.

Awarded a gold medal at the National Exhibition of Industrial Products in 1823 for its crystal, Baccarat’s first royal commission was a table service for King Louis XVIII and the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

This Baccarat Louis XV-style dore bronze chandelier from the turn of the 20th century sold for more than $50,000 at Dallas Auction Gallery in 2009. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Dallas Auction Gallery

On a visit by King Charles X in 1828, Baccarat honored the French monarch with a cut crystal pitcher bearing the arms of France and Navarre in gold.

In 1832 Baccarat opened its first shop in Paris at 30 rue de Paradis. Festooned with chandeliers, it is billed as a temple dedicated to crystal.

The company was awarded a second gold medal at the 1839 National Exhibition of Industrial Products, this time for its colored crystal. Eight years later, the company introduced its now-famous Baccarat Red, using 24K gold powder as the key ingredient in the formula.

Based on a commission by French sovereign Louis-Philippe, Baccarat introduced its iconic Harcourt crystal tableware line in 1841. Baccarat describes the design thusly: “The purity of its crystal exemplifies the Baccarat signature, with its generous base perched on a wide, hexagonal foot and its gently curved facets catching and enhancing the light.”

Antique Baccarat paperweight, 1848, complex cane and millefiori with a rare choufleur carpet ground. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and S.B. & Company.

Baccarat also produced fine paperweights decorated with colorful millefiori and glass cane elements from 1845 to the 1880s.

World’s fairs held in Paris in 1855, 1867 and 1878 helped to spread Baccarat’s appeal worldwide. The company was awarded the grand prize in 1867 for a 7-meter-tall chandelier and a monumental pair of cut-crystal vases. Baccarat won the grand prize again in 1870 with a rotunda-shaped crystal temple as large as a Victorian gazebo.

The international exposure prompted commissions from the Ottoman Empire and Nicholas II of Russia. In 1909, Japan’s imperial house ordered the Beauvais tableware service from Baccarat, a masterpiece of simplicity, embellished by the imperial emblem: a stylized chrysanthemum flower, wheel engraved with a matte finish.

A close-up shows the detail of the engraving on one of a pair of vases created for the International Exposition of 1867. Baccarat’s Jean Baptiste Simon worked for two years on the twin vases titled ‘The Allegory of Water’ and ‘The Allegory of Earth.’ Image by Nitot. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

The 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris ushered in Art Déco, or Art Moderne, and Baccarat’s young designer Georges Chevalier propelled the company’s product lines into modernity “thanks to luminous transparency of the crystal and the lightness of the decoration.”

Surviving the global Great Depression and World War II, Baccarat opened its first boutique in New York City in 1948. Celebrity customers included playwright Arthur Miller, who purchased a Baccarat Soleil clock for the Manhattan apartment he shared with his wife, Marilyn Monroe.

In 1971 Baccarat turned to Italian designer Roberto Sambonnet, who created blown crystal in perfectly controlled organic forms. The company also updated its palette with pop-art colors.

Large vase at the Baccarat exhibition at Petit Palais of Paris in 2014-2015. Image by Yann Caradec. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

The Louvre Museum marked the glassmaker’s 200th anniversary with a retrospective in 1964. Baccarat celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2014-2015 with a retrospective exhibition of more than 500 pieces at the Petit Palais Museum of Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Collectors and connoisseurs appreciate all things Baccarat, no matter the vintage: glasses, plates, centerpieces, animal sculptures, perfume bottles, lighting and even jewelry. Baccarat’s objects of desire are evocative of all forms of elegance.