Rene' Lalique: The Art Nouveau Master

Jewelry and Glassware Originating in France

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

René Jules Lalique is considered to be a master in the realm of Art Nouveau wares, both in terms of the jewelry and the glassware he designed. He is known the world over and revered among collectors who pay dearly to own his highly valued early works.

Lalique's Early Years​

Born in the Champagne region of France in 1860, he moved to the suburbs of Paris with his family when he was just 2 years old. As a young teen, he studied drawing at College Turgot, and he started an apprenticeship with distinguished Parisian jeweler and goldsmith Louis Aucoc in 1876, according to Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles (Krause) edited by Noah Fleishman.

He moved to London in 1878 where he continued his education and worked on his graphic design expertise. Upon returning to Paris in 1880, he designed jewelry for well-known houses such as Cartier and Boucheron, among others. Several years later, his drawings received the honor of being displayed at the Louvre in the National Exhibition of Industrial Arts.

By the end of 1885, Lalique had taken over Jules Destapes’ jewelry workshop. His designs at this time used translucent enamels known as plique-à-jour, semi-precious and precious gemstones, ivory, tortoiseshell, and other materials. The pieces he created were marked R. Lalique or simply Lalique.

“In the early 1890s, Lalique began to incorporate glass into his jewelry, and in 1893 he took part in a competition organized by the Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs to design a drinking vessel. He won second prize,” according to Warman’s.

His First Parisian Shop and Beyond

The first retail shop Lalique opened in 1905 was near Parisian the perfumery of Francois Coty. Lalique designed labels for Coty first, and then bottles beginning in 1907. While these were Lalique’s first perfume bottle designs, he went on to create many others for different perfume companies.

By 1911, after years of glass experimentation, Lalique partook in his first show focusing solely on glassware and he abandoned the production of jewelry. His first glass factory shut down during World War I, but a new one was built in 1921 in the Alsace region of France where it still operates today producing crystal wares.

Lalique designed his first “car mascot,” better known as a hood ornament, in 1921 for a French car maker. Thereafter, he made 29 different styles for well-known car brands such as Bentley, Bugatti, and Rolls Royce which are highly collectible today. These showpieces reflect the sculptural quality of Lalique’s early work, as do other glass pieces made during this period.

René Lalique died in 1945 when he was 85 passing his legacy on to his family. The glass business continued first with his son, Marc, at the helm. His daughter, Marie-Claude Lalique Dedouvre, then ran the company until she retired in the early 1990s.

Many associate glass pieces with a frosted or light acid finish, frequently with a bluish milky tinge to it, with Lalique. However, just as with the jewelry, collectors relish finding rare colored glass with the Lalique mark as well.

Customers can still purchase high-quality Lalique glass at the second showroom opened in Paris in 1931. Over time, the company made many molded pieces that are sometimes hard to distinguish from the early hand cut wares. As the Grovers mention, “these examples are evidence of the detail given to the manufacture of each mold, no mean feat in itself.” 

Lalique Glass Marks

Are all Lalique glass wares marked? In a word, yes. In fact, Ray and Lee Grover state in Carved and Decorated European Art Glass (Tuttle), “All his pieces are marked, usually with raised block lettering. It would be a mistake to attribute unsigned work similar to his as Lalique in origin, as this was contrary to the company policy.” So, if you find a frosted glass piece and it isn't marked, it's safe to assume it is not Lalique's work.

A recommended resource for more on identifying and valuing these wares is Warman’s Lalique Identification and Price Guide by Mark F. Moran.