The story of Val Saint Lambert glass is one of brilliant highs and crushing lows. The glassmaker was founded in Seraing, Belgium in 1826—in a Medieval Cistercian Abbey (founded in 1202, whose monks had been driven-out by French Revolutionaries in the 1790's). The simple, utilitarian abbey was deserted and laid in ruins, but the remaining architecture was soon renovated to house the glassworks.
The founders of the new Val Saint Lambert glassworks had previously built another company, Vonêche, which had quickly become the finest glass maker in all of the French Empire—under the patronage of Napoleon Bonaparte. It operated from 1802 until the emperor's defeat at Waterloo (Belgium) in 1815. Napoleon's defeat resulted in shifting borders, new alliances and retaliatory import duties which precipitated the founding of a new company (Val Saint Lambert) in the derelict abbey structures.
The exceptional quality and design of their crystal resulted in booming business. Val Saint Lambert developed markets in Belgium, Netherlands, Tsarist Russia, and in New York. At its peak (c. 1900-1914), Val Saint Lambert employed 5,000 craftsmen and produced 120,000 pieces a day. They built 200 houses for their workers to live in. The self-sufficient compound had its own school, general store and post office. The local church was expanded to accommodate the many workers.
Val Saint Lambert distinguished itself during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. At one point, the director of Val Saint Lambert came to the United States to visit his American customers and observe his American competitors. He was impressed by the high quality of the (many) American glassmakers—especially the highly-cut pieces being made in the States (known by the terms "bright" or "brilliant" glassware). This resulted in a "bright period" in the Val Saint Lambert product line.
The company's success was not without its challenges, however. In 1914, German World War One troops poured-into France through Belgium (leaving a field of death and destruction). The assassination of the Russian Tsar (1918) and Russian Revolution devastated an important market for the glassmaker. American sales helped keep the company afloat—that is, until the Stock Market Crash of 1929. And Nazi bombers destroyed much of the glassworks in World War Two.
Despite repeated destruction by world events beyond its control, Val Saint Lambert has continued to succeed in producing some of the world's finest crystal. Even to this day, one can visit the (remains of the) Cistercian abbey in Seraing, which was the company's original workshop in 1826. A glass museum provides a wonderful overview of Val Saint Lambert's excellence for almost two centuries.
The fourteen glasses, shown above, were made by Val Saint Lambert in the Sixties or Seventies. The pattern, known as "Riviera Clear" was made from 1961 to 1982. Although the shape has a classic, Eighteenth Century look, its simple, hand-cut panels give it a top-quality, Modernist sensibility. A faceted stem adds a little sparkle (and ease of handling). Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248