in Vienna, all that glitters is not gold ....
by Jeff Moorhouse & Frances Moorhouse
The storefront at Kammerstrasse 26 in Vienna is unique in that it is a last remaining example of original Ring Road architecture dating from 1895. The company behind these doors is a glass making dynasty founded in 1823 by a talented craftsman, Josef Lobmeyr Sr. From his modest beginning, the Sr. Lobmeyr grew successful by first moving to larger premises within a year, and then being honored with a commission to provide crystal to the Imperial Courts of Austria.
Today, Lobmeyr isin its sixth generation as a business continuously owned and operated by the family. For nearly 200 years the Lobmeyrs have placed great faith in craftsmanship, excellence in design and values shared from one generation to the next. On this day, I would have the pleasure of meeting Andreas Rath, the Managing Partner of Lobmeyr.
Like many of his countrymen, Rath is an affable sort, professional in every sense of the word with an obvious appreciation for the traditions that are commonly held within the greater Lobmeyr family. This is also a man who knows his company. He can detect signature nuances in the techniques of individual craftsmen. He knows that every Lobmeyr glass must pass through at least 24 pairs of hands and four quality controls . . . the last of which, before finally being made available in the store, is always by a member of the family.
On the forefront of design
A close relationship between Stefan Rath and Josef Hoffmann and the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte, led Lobmeyr to the center of a new revolutionary movement in art and design in 1910. This was a totally “Modern Movement”, where shapes became geometric, often lighter, more reduced. Stefan Rath demonstrated his courage and candor from the outset by working with this group of radical designers. Their designs challenged not only the prevailing taste, but also the material glass, whether in the “architectural” style or as delicate muslin glass. This period is an important chapter in Lobmeyr’s history and self-image.
Many of the creations from this period became milestones in the style history of glass. In addition to Josef Hoffmann, there were other outstanding designers such as Oswald Haerdtl, Ena Rottenberg, Michael Powolny and Oskar Strnad. Together they prepared the way for the enormous Parisian “Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in 1925, resulting in the Art Déco movement where the Jury awarded Lobmeyr the Grand Prix.
The technique of melting quartz sand and shaping objects of enduring cultural value dates back to the fourth century before Christ. Achieving the quality of glass we take for granted today, was a slow process. Mankind has always been fascinated by glass with its transparency, shiny surface and its play with light and reflection, glass has properties otherwise only found in diamonds or rock crystal.
This fascination for crystal has been the driving force behind Lobmeyr for almost 200 years. Through six generations, the properties of crystal have been tested and researched and its handling and forming possibilities explored. Thus we have learned how to make the magic of the material enduringly visible. We concentrate on the virtuous technical handling of this challenging substance, on lovingly crafted details preferring a subtle shine to that of a “loud” glitter. Regardless whether wafer thin blown muslin glass, or glass that owes its shape to cutting – Lobmeyr reinstates the beauty of this omnipresent material, bringing elegance and refinement back to everyday life.
Tradition in design
In 1856, Ludwig Lobmeyr introduced a startlingly simple design with his “Trinkservice No.4” (Drinking set No.4) – still a design icon today. In 1883, Lobmeyr delivered the first electric chandelier – a worldwide sensation – to Vienna’s Imperial Palace. In the 1950s Hans Harald Rath designed the first chandelier using Swarovski glass. Adolf Loos’ water set with a cut base in 1929 anticipated the simple drinking glass still valid today, whereas a more recent product, “Liquid Skin” (2001), completely dissolves the conventional form.
Generations of know-how and a rich archive – the Lobmeyr chandelier workshop has over 10,000 cast models. This allows the authentic recreation of every style of chandelier, while also serving as a source of endless possibilities for new ideas.
The body of the chandelier and its supporting components is the frame. In the Lobmeyr brass-welding workshop the middle column, chandelier arms, rings and other parts are constructed; even today all of these elements are still bent and formed by hand. Old techniques such as the hammering of the “Nockerlprofil” for authentic baroque chandeliers and a special kind of knurling for impressing delicate ornaments and patterns often used in the French Empire period are still in use today.
Equally important is the surface finishing of the metal, not only for its visual effect, but also for the durability of the finished product. Diversity is also important: a variety of gilding techniques are available, as well as 17 shades of gold. As soon as the framework has been completed, work begins on the chandelier’s “dress” – its crystal pendants.
Though the workshop has a large variety of pendant shapes for almost all chandelier styles, special commissions are no rarity. Here we also prefer hand-cut crystal, due to its improved shine. Finally the pieces are linked together manually – a piece of wire is inserted between two crystal buttons or drops, twisted and cut – as this is the most durable method and above all, also the most visually pleasing.
Even an excellent glassblower needs many years of experience to create muslinglass. The glowing melt hardens rapidly. It must be worked quickly and assertively. Those watching glassmakers working in this way are always amazed at their speed and virtuosity. Stunning also the precision with which similar series are shaped by hand – and yet the treasure of hand-blown glass lies in its minimal irregularities. Muslin glass appears delicate, but is remarkably resilient thanks to its inner elasticity and formal construction. In manufacture the glass is first blown into wet wooden moulds. The resulting steam forms a “cushion” between the wooden mould and the glass and is also responsible for the incomparable shine of the finished piece. Stem and foot are joined free-hand by the master craftsman. After careful cooling the annealed glass bubble is cut and the rim is smoothed and polished.
Working at the Wheel – Cutting and Engraving
With the form-giving cut, the man-made crystal from the glass works is removed. The object to be fashioned is pressed against wheels of varying shapes and using a variety of abrasives. A Lobmeyr drinking glass requires up to 15 different wheels. The finish is also critical. The industrial acid polish is not used as it removes the precision of hand cutting. Instead, the glass is brought to shine using a special polish in three steps on rotating felt and cork wheels.
An exceptional decorating technique is copper wheel engraving. An abrasive is applied to the edge of a copper wheel and the glass pressed against it. An experienced engraver can create every required shade and pattern by varying the rim profile and size of the disk, speed of rotation, abrasive and order of cuts. Lobmeyr engravings include everything from the simple monogram to a diverse range of decorations as well as large, elaborate pieces of work, the “paintings” on glass. Knowledge of this craft has become increasingly rare and requires time and patience: An engraved letter requires an average of one hour’s work. Pieces demanding over 1000 hours of engraving are no exception.
We are indebted to Andreas Rath for the generosity of his time, his patience in explaining Lobmeyr techniques and in particular, the appreciation for old style craftsmanship, great design and the Lobmeyr regard for its clietele.
References, J. & L. Lobmeyr Wien
Public and official orders
Kaiser Franz Joseph I und Kaiserin Elisabeth, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und Sophie, Kronprinz Rudolf, Haile Selassie von Äthiopien, Fürst Franz Josef von und zu Liechtenstein, König Gustav V. von Schweden, Königin Isabella von Spanien, Prinz Ludwig von Bayern, Königin Juliane der Niederlande, Duke und Duchess of Kent, Kronprinz von Thailand, Familie Habsburg-Lothringen, König Hussein und Königin Nuur von Jordanien, Maharadscha von Bavnagar, Königin Elisabeth II von Großbritannien, Fürstin Metternich, Prinz Coburg, Prinzessin Maja al Ibrahim von Saudi Arabien, Prinz Alfred Auersperg, Prinzessin Hohenlohe, Familie Prinz Thurn und Taxis, Fürst Fürstenberg, Fürst von und zu Schwarzenberg, Familie Herberstein, Familie Esterhazy, Familie Batthyany, Familie Rothschild, Bundespräsident: Theodor Körner, Adolf Schärf, Franz Jonas, Rudolf Kirchschläger, Kurt Waldheim, Heinz Fischer, Bundeskanzler: Leopold Figl, Julius Raab, Josef Klaus, Konrad Adenauer, Bruno Kreisky, Wolfgang Schüssel, Wiens Bürgermeister: Karl Lueger, Helmut Zilk, Michael Häupl, Präsident Ali Zulfikar Bhutto Pakistan, Präsident Barrios de Chamorro Nicaragua, Präsident Marcos Philippinen, US Außenminister John Foster Dulles, US Gouverneur Arnold Schwarzenegger
Philip Johnson, Victor Gruen, Clemens Holzmeister, Josef Hoffmann, Oswald Haerdtl, Adolf Loos, Otto Prutscher, Carl Witzmann, Gustav Peichl, Hannes Lintl, Hans Hollein, Matteo Thun, Fritz Wotruba, Erich Boltenstern, Peter Noever, Agnes Baltsa, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Irmgard Seefried, Olive Moorefield, Gwyneth Jones, Leontyne Price, Paul Sacher, Kathleen Battle, Vl. Malakov , Herbert und Eliette von Karajan, Rudolf Bing, George Pretre, Eberhard Wächter, Jose Carreras, Gundula Janowitz, Peter Alexander, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Andre Previn, Richard Strauss, Sir Elton John, Billy Wilder, Patrick Duffy, Nadja Tiller, Peter Falk, Helmut Lohner, Josef Meinrad, Curd Jürgens, Walter Reyer, Marianne Nentwich, Fred Liewehr,, Hugo von Hoffmansthal, Helmut Kräutner, Susi Nicoletti, Otto Preminger, Max Reinhardt, Christl Schönfeldt
Important private customers
Fam. Honda, Emil Underberg, Paul Guerlain, Franz Burda, Fam. Mautner-Markhof, Fam. Piech-Porsche, Fam. Meinl,, Fam. Pappas, Fam. Hatschek, Fam. Harmer/Wenckheim, Fam. Thonet, Fam. Rothschild, Helmut Horten, ,Phillipp Reetsma, Giovani Agnelli, Rudolf Drasche, , Baron Thyssen, Fam. Du Pont, Frederick Koch, Fam. Flick, Fam. Mayr-Melnhof, Artur Krupp, Patricia Gucci, US Ambassador Ronald Lauder, Henry Rockefeller III, Director General UN/IAEA Mohamed El Baradei
Hotel Sacher Wien, Hotel Bristol Wien & Salzburg, Hotel Ambassador Wien, Loos-Bar Wien, Palais Coburg Wien, Hotel Marriott Japan, Restaurant Apicius Ungarn, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong
Theatres, concert halls and opera houses
Theater in der Josefstadt Wien, Burgtheater Wien, Vienna Theater an der Wien, Musikvereinssaal Wien, Vienna Kammerspiele, Schloßtheater Schönbrunn Wien, Volkstheater Wien, Palais Ferstel Wien, Theater in der Josefstadt, Staatsoper Wien, Opernhaus Graz, Altes Festspielhaus Salzburg, Innsbruck Landestheater, Salzburg Landestheater, Salzburg Stadttheater, Bregenz Theater am Kornmarkt, Klagenfurt Stadttheater, Graz Schauspielhaus, Saalbau Essen, Pfauentheater Zürich, Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz München, Residenztheater München, Baden-Baden Casino, Neue Stadthalle Bayreuth, Landestheater Coburg, Megaron of Music Athens, New Municiple Theater Luxemburg, New Metropolitan Opera New York, Opera at Kennedy Center Washington, Heinz Hall Pittsburgh, Fukui Harmony Hall, Symphony Hall Fukuoka, Act-City Concert Hall Hamamatsu, Amuse Kashiwa Crystal Hall
Governmental buildings and palaces
Parliament Wien, Rathhaus Wien, Bundeskanzleramt Wien, Office of UN Secretary General New York, Hall of the Surpreme Soviet Moscow, Brunei Town Lapau Parliament, Parliament of Kemel Pascha Ankara, International Activities Plaza Fukui, Hofburg Wien, Schloß Schönbrunn Wien, Schloß Belvedere Wien, Schloß Herrnchiemsee, Palaces of the rulers Kuwait, Kings Residence Kuala Lumpur, Residence and Palace Jakarta, Kings Palace Katmandu, Palace for H.R.H. Prince Salman Riyadh, Samama Palace for H.M. King Khaled, Al Khobar Palace for H.M. King Khaled, Palace of the Khedive Cairo, Palace for H.M. the Daraiya Saudi Arabia, Palace for H.M. the King Adis Abeba
Hotels and Restaurants
Hotel Sacher Wien und Salzburg, Hotel Imperial Wien, Hotel Bristol Wien, American Bar by Adolf Loos Wien, Demel sugarbakery Wien, Café Prückel Wien and many other Vienna Cafés, Österreicher im MAK Wien, Pasadena Ritz Carlton Hotel, Hotel Bayrischer Hof München, Romain d’or Nagoya, Hotel New Ohtani Makuhari, Hotel Kokusai 21 Nagano, Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel, Kashima Central Hotel, Hilton Hotels (Vienna, Paris, Tunis, Athens), Ritz Hotel Lissabon, Palace Hotel St Moritz, CaféZauner Bad Ischl, Hotel Europa Innsbruck, Café Bazar Salzburg, Café Tomaselli Salzburg
Stephansdom Wien, Franziskanerkloster Salzburg, St. Pölten Dom, Minoritenkirche Linz, Chorherrenstift Klosterneuburg, Kirche der Barmherzigen Brüder Graz, Walfahrtskirche Maria Taferl, Klosterkirche Ossiach, Wakaf Masjid Kampong Kiarong, Brunei, Extention of Mosque Mekka, Old Friday Mosque and Extension of Mosque in Medina (prototypes), Synagoge Gibraltar, Mosque Cairo, Church of the Redemptorists Istambul Important private customers: Villa Cardone Fort Lauderdale, Residence of Sheik Al Rumaih, Residence of Sheik Al Salehiya, Haus Wagner Salzburg, Haus Helmut Horten, Haus Schallok Starnberg, Villa Swarovski Wattens, Curd Jürgens Wien, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal Wien