Crystal in Colour: A History of Daum
Dating back to 1878, Daum is at the forefront of luxury crystal manufacture. Using rare and ancient techniques to create their iconic pieces, they specialise in the pâte de cristal process to form their instantly recognisable designs which have been celebrated for over a century. Often imitated but never equalled, this practice is what keeps the brand at the head of their industry. We take a closer look at the history of Daum and exactly how the eye-catching crystal pieces are made.
Originally a glassworks created by Jean Daum in Nancy, France, the brand was at the heart of the French decorative arts industry from when it launched in 1878 which formed the basis of Daum’s noble credentials. The arrival of Jean’s son Antonin to the Art Department in 1891 led to the start of the unique enterprise which would soon be sought after the world over. Daum’s first vases were adorned with finely cut flowers which were precursors of the Art Nouveax style which would become a signature look for the brand, closely followed by the Art Deco style in the 1920s.
In the 1930s, crystal was introduced to the brand by Antonin’s son Michel Daum. Made of a blend of glass and lead oxide, Daum were commissioned to produce the glassware for the ocean liner Normandie entirely from crystal, which led to the new material replacing the traditional glass pieces the factory produced. The new material offered new design possibilities and in 1968 the brand reworked the historic pâte de verre technique, altering the ancient tradition to use crystal instead of glass.
Incredibly rare, the technique dates back to 5000BC as pieces of pâte de verre have been discovered in pharaoh’s tombs over the ages. Originally found by the brand in 1900, it was adapted into the process we know today in the second half of the 20th century. Formed of a paste made of crystal fragments with a 30% lead content, the technique boasts shapes and contours which cannot be obtained with blown glass or crystal. Giving each piece a sculptural quality, the designs manage to achieve translucency whilst maintaining intense colour in a myriad of subtle shades.
The first step of any Daum piece is the sketch which is transformed into a clay model by the sculptor. The volume, details and expressions are worked to perfection and once the sculpture is finished it is covered with a rubber elastomer which when set forms a perfect negative mould of the piece. Hot wax is then poured into the hollow mould and set creating a second sculpture of the design. The wax sculpture can be also be chiselled and shaped to perfection to obtain a perfect reproduction of the original before it is immersed and encased in heat resistant plaster.
The block of plaster containing the wax model is then placed in an oven, making the wax melt and run out of the plaster through specially-created drainage holes, this process is called the ‘lost wax’ technique. Once all of the wax has run away, the now hollow mould is then filled with fragments of crystal of different sizes and colours called groisil. The mould is placed back in a kiln to fuse the crystal together in a paste. Each piece undergoes a series of finishing operations before proceeding to quality control to check the materials and colour distribution.
The final stage of the process is the etching of the Daum signature and this extensive practice is carried out in the making of each and every Daum piece. The nuances of colour that take on an ethereal feel are based entirely on the groisil combinations ensuring that every item is entirely unique.
A selection of Daum sculptures are now available at Amara to discover the exquisite craftsmanship of the pieces first hand.