The name Lalique is synonymous with quality craftsmanship, luxurious products and scintillating style. Rene Lalique created a legacy of work which would live on long after his death and which today is collected by admirers from around the world. While prices can easily tip in the heady heights of thousands, even tens of thousands, don’t be put off! A steady nerve, keen nose and perseverance can help you find pieces for less then a £100, after that……the sky’s the limit!
Rene Lalique was born in 1860, in the small village of Ay, in the Marne region of France. It was a time before light bulbs, and telephones, automobiles and washing machines however by the time of his death in 1945 just two months before the dawn of the atomic age, he would have successfully mastered two careers spanning two different centuries in two dramatically different styles.
By 1900 at the age of 40, he was the most celebrated jeweller in the world and an Art Nouveau artist and designer of magnificent proportions. However by 1925, at the height of the Art Deco era he was to become the most celebrated glassmaker in the world with patrons ranging from stars of screen and stage to the highest Royal Courts of Europe. Lalique would leave his contemporaries behind as he turned from unique jewellery and objects d'art to the mass production of innovative and usable art glass.
During his career as a jeweller he had become increasingly intrigued with the artistic possibilities of glass. This fascination slowly developed into obsession resulting in an artistic output that would far outstrip his earlier jewellery work. By the time of his death the catalogue of his creations totalled over 1500 pieces ranging from daringly dramatic vases to monumental architectural works.
Lalique ignored the limitations of glass and through experimentation quickly became a master of the material. Capitalising on the mass production process’s of pressed glass manufacture it is estimated that in the 20-year period between the wars the Lalique factories produced well over 10 million separate pieces of high-quality glass (let alone the millions more made since his death).
In 1905, Lalique opened a retail store in the Place Vendome in Paris. Fortuitously, his new store was located very close to the shop of the perfume seller, Francois Coty. In 1908 Lalique was approached by Francois Coty to develop a range of decorative labels to attach to small simple scent files. Lalique grasped this opportunity and while creating the distinctively decorative labels he began developing bottles to apply them to! Prior to this perfume bottles were plain flasks holding expensive scents for the wealthy classes. The invention of synthetic oils turned production from limited to mass market and with it Lalique saw the potential to take a plain everyday object and turn it into an art object. He became the preeminent manufacturer of perfume bottles, designing and producing hundreds of bottles for dozens of firms. The highest selling Rene Lalique Perfume Bottle at auction is the rare 1936 Perfume presentation, "Tresor de la Mer" made in limited edition of 100 for Saks Fifth Avenue. It consisted of a glass pearl form bottle inside an opalescent glass oyster shell. A basically complete original example with tags and box sold for $216,000 in November of 2006 at Rago in New Jersey, the original retail price was just $50!
The next 30 years brought forth an incredible array of designs, which transitioned the florid foliate styles of Art Nouveau to the bold geometric forms of Art Deco. In all, over 300 vases are documented, all but a dozen or two being production models that were intended for sale to a growing international consumer base.
Lalique's vases are another highly popular auction sale item. In 2009, the 1909 vase Deux Cigales sold at auction for over $300,000, and highly coveted production vases such as the Serpent routinely achieve prices in the $10,000 to $50,000 range. At the same time, thousands of Lalique vases in lesser demand appear at auction all over the world making prices from the low hundreds to several thousands of pounds. Even to this day, there is an R Lalique vase for every taste and every budget in nearly every colour.
What to collect?
Despite the inherent fragility of glass, a great deal has survived meaning collectors have a great deal to choose from. Typical items include vases, bowls, glasses, figurines, car mascots, chandeliers etc. They can be clear, frosted, stained with colour (notably shades of blue, amber, green, red or black), or opalescent. The latter is created by adding phosphates, fluorine and aluminium oxide to the glass to make it opaque, and then minute quantities of pigment to create subtle tints of colour. This process in particular is very precisely controlled and as such particularly desirable with collectors.
Quite often the biggest problem most new collectors find when setting about putting a collection is which range to concentrate on. It may be that you are attracted to the hundreds of perfume bottles, a fair number being made for Coty, Molinard, Worth, Roger and Gallet and other French perfume houses. Some basic bottles can be found for under £200 but the more exciting are usually priced at between £500 and £2000. Original packaging adds significantly to the value.
Marks and backstamps!
Apart from some perfume bottles, almost every piece of Lalique bears an etched or impressed mark. Prior to René's death in 1945, it was either the signature R. Lalique, often with France in matching script; or R. LALIQUE in bold capitals, with the base of the L sometimes elongated under rest of the letters. After Rene Laliques death in 1945 the R. was dropped, and since 1950 all pieces have been marked – Lalique, France.
Fakes and forgeries!
There are some fakes out there, both recently made and contemporary to the originals. Some are rather crude, but others are highly convincing so it’s well worth cultivating a relationship with a recommended specialist dealer. Noticeable discrepancies to look out for include the use of wrong colours, overly thick rims and, where used, all-over rather than controlled opalescence; many fakes are also much lighter than the originals.
There is a marked premium on good condition, unless the piece is particularly rare. Cracks should be avoided as, however small at the outset, they invariably get worse (sometimes suddenly!). Chips and bruises to vulnerable rims and bases can be polished by a professional restorer, however, this can be costly and often disproportionately so! Also be mindful that restoration may distort the original proportions of the piece.
Lalique has been in fairly constant demand over the last 20 years, with prices, up until the recent international recession, rising consistently (notably for opalescent and coloured pieces with figural decoration). The primary reason for this may well be the fact that Lalique's distinctive modern designs and use of cool colours fit so well with many late 20th and early 21st Century interiors. Either way it remains a cool and safe investment, which will return years of pleasure and enjoyment!
Fieldings are delighted to sell a wonderful collection of Lalique in our forthcoming Decades Of Design on 24th and 25th May
Posted on 4 May 2022