BUSI­NESS

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Aline Lara Rezende

If even Em­peror Franz Josef ad­mired your hand­i­work, you must be do­ing some­thing right. The Vi­en­nese com­pany Lob­meyr has been cre­at­ing crys­tal glass­ware for six gen­er­a­tions.

As you step in­side the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, you travel back to the glo­ri­ous days of el­e­gance, lux­ury and crafts­man­ship of fin de siè­cle Vi­enna. Gazing around the con­cert hall, which is surely one of the most beau­ti­ful in the world, the bril­liance of the dé­cor is al­most over­whelm­ing, golden col­umns sup­port­ing an or­nate pan­elled ceil­ing, the lay­ered pipes of the or­gan gallery, and the rows of red vel­vet arm­chairs, be­neath the mag­nif­i­cent bell-shaped crys­tal chan­de­liers glow­ing from high above.

These re­mark­able chan­de­liers be­long to a long list of splen­did works of the justly renowned Vi­en­nese firm Lob­meyr.

This famed man­u­fac­turer has cre­ated pieces for pres­ti­gious clients around the world, both in­sti­tu­tional and pri­vate, from gov­ern­ment build­ings to places of wor­ship. In Vi­enna, Lob­meyr chan­de­liers light the Hof­burg and Schön­brunn Palace, and the lob­bies of the Bris­tol and Sacher Ho­tels. They light prom­i­nent build­ings across the world from Vi­enna’s Staat­soper to the Metropoli­tan Opera in New York, from the Aus­trian Par­lia­ment to the Krem­lin, from Saint Stephan’s Cathe­dral to the mosques in Mecca and Me­d­ina.

A tra­di­tional Aus­trian crys­tal man­u­fac­turer with al­most 200 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in glass­mak­ing, Lob­meyr cre­ates ev­ery­thing from table­ware to wall sconces, can­dle­sticks to chan­de­liers. A fam­ily busi­ness founded in 1823, be­cause of their qual­ity Aus­trian-bo­hemian glass pro­duc­tion and tech­nique, they soon be­came the cho­sen crys­tal pur­veyor to the court. Today, the com­pany con­tin­ues to be man­aged by the fam­ily, now in its sixth gen­er­a­tion.

What would Vi­enna’s palaces be with­out their bril­liant chan­de­liers, gleam­ing mir­rors and fine crys­tal glasses? Unit­ing crafts­man­ship and in­no­va­tion, the Vi­en­nese com­pany Lob­meyr has made them shine for 200 years

AN IN­NO­VA­TIVE GLOW

Lob­meyr’s his­tory is steeped in tra­di­tion but also in in­no­va­tion. A big sen­sa­tion was the first elec­tric crys­tal chan­de­lier in the world. De­vel­oped with Thomas Edi­son for the Vi­enna Hof­burg Palace, the chan­de­lier was com­mis­sioned di­rectly by Em­peror Franz Josef for the In­ter­na­tional Elec­tri­cal Ex­hi­bi­tion held in Vi­enna in 1883.

“Franz Josef was afraid of gas light­ing, and did not want to have it in the Hof­burg,” ex­plains An­dreas Rath, one of the three cousins cur­rently man­ag­ing the com­pany. “So, he was first among the Euro­pean mon­archs to pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of elec­tric­ity.” None­the­less, the com­pany will still makes an “un­plugged” ver­sion on re­quest, like the one in the Grand Fer­di­nand Ho­tel lobby, the only can­dlelit chan­de­lier still op­er­at­ing in Vi­enna.

Lob­meyr is also world fa­mous for the crafts­man­ship and mas­tery of their glass­blow­ers, which can be seen in their del­i­cate muslin glass. Less than a mil­lime­ter thick, it cre­ates in­com­pa­ra­ble drink­ing glass sets al­most too beau­ti­ful to use. An­other high­point in their his­tory of glass­ware in­no­va­tion was the first modern mar­tini glasses,

a highly pop­u­lar 1925 glass­ware de­sign called “am­bas­sador,” and the Adolf Loos wa­ter tum­bler, the first drink­ing glass with­out a stem de­signed for fine din­ing. A com­plete break with tra­di­tion at the time, this nov­elty launched a sweep­ing cul­tural shift that brought us the glass­ware we are so ac­cus­tomed to today.

The tra­di­tion of in­no­va­tion con­tin­ues with con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers from Aus­tria and be­yond, among them Polka, Marco Dessí and Stu­dio For­mafan­tasma.

FAM­ILY AF­FAIRS

Today the com­pany is led by three cousins: An­dreas, Leonid and Jo­hannes Rath, each re­spon­si­ble for a dif­fer­ent branch of the com­pany. An­dreas for re­tail and the clas­sic Lob­meyr store on Kärntne Strasse; Leonid for glass­ware, crys­tals, and con­tem­po­rary de­sign; and Jo­hannes for the chan­de­liers.

“In our father’s gen­er­a­tion, we were not so much de­sign driven,” says Jo­hannes. So while their name is “mostly grounded in the old stuff,” they are mov­ing care­fully into newer ar­eas, with suc­cess he cred­its to Leonid’s new ap­proach.

Since the first Vi­enna De­sign Week in 2006, Lob­meyr has part­nered with an emerg­ing designer to cre­ate a prod­uct or in­stal­la­tion to­gether. “It is not meant to be com­mer­cial,” ex­plains Leonid, rather “an en­counter” be­tween a designer and the world of glass crafts­man­ship. The cho­sen de­sign­ers spend six months work­ing within Lob­meyr’s work­shops, and come out with a project to­gether. The results: “un­ex­pected and ex­cit­ing!”

THE GLASS CEL­LAR

The ex­quis­ite Lob­meyr glass ar­chives are lo­cated in the base­ment of one of their build­ings in the 3rd dis­trict, where some sal­vaged pieces of or­na­men­tal glass have been stored for more than a cen­tury. Ev­ery­where you turn, his­tory winks at you from the shelves. Jo­hannes points at one, part of a chan­de­lier in the Aus­trian Par­lia­ment, a re­fined baroque an­gel sculp­ture un­pre­ten­tiously lay­ing around there.

The pa­per ar­chives, on the top floor, con­tain ref­er­ence sketches and let­ters with de­sign­ers of ear­lier years. “As we con­cen­trated more on the early modernists,” says Leonid, “it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to learn in de­tail about how the re­la­tion­ships with Hoff­man and Loos de­vel­oped, and to find out more about the peo­ple us­ing Lob­meyr glass.”

This is the un­pol­ished side of the busi­ness, with half-fin­ished glasses ev­ery­where, and crafts­man con­cen­trat­ing amid the din of their loud ma­chines, hands and clothes dirty with sand, mud and dust. All three cousins visit the work­shops ev­ery day, and know ev­ery one of their em­ploy­ees. Those who come to work with them stay for a long time.

The cousins also know how to op­er­ate the ma­chines, and oc­ca­sion­ally make a piece or two. Jo­hannes can mount a chan­de­lier, An­dreas worked for three years in the work­shop, and Leonid in­spects ev­ery piece of glass be­fore it leaves the shop.

LIGHT­ING THE WAY

This is a cus­tomer-cen­tred busi­ness, and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships mat­ter. “Most of our cus­tomers buy our prod­ucts be­cause they feel they are au­then­tic, hon­est and sin­cere,” says An­dreas. “Here there is a qual­ity that they can­not find any­where else any­more. And this is some­thing that mat­ters a lot to them.”

They are also ben­e­fit­ting from a wider trend: “Just now, we are hav­ing a come­back of the ap­pre­ci­a­tion for things made by peo­ple, for peo­ple, and not printed out or laser cut by a ma­chine,” Jo­hannes says. “The hu­man fac­tor be­hind a hand­crafted prod­uct is present in the slight signs of im­per­fec­tion, and in the incredible time and skill ded­i­cated to get to a nearly per­fect ob­ject. In the end, this is the soul of our prod­uct.”

Jo­hannes is cur­rently work­ing with Tif­fany’s in New York, as they pre­pare their an­nual hol­i­day dis­play for their 5th Av­enue store. This year, around 20 minia­ture ex­act repli­cas of the Metropoli­tan Opera chan­de­liers will il­lu­mi­nate the win­dow of the world-fa­mous jew­elry shop. So from Vi­enna to New York City for Christ­mas, it’s mak­ing magic in the sea­son of light.

Baroque chan­de­liers like this one grace the halls of Vi­enna's Hof­burg. Their man­u­fac­turer, the Vi­en­nese com­pany Lob­meyr, still has the orig­i­nal mod­els in their ar­chives.

New York City's Metropoli­tan Opera has been lit by Lob­meyr chan­de­liers since 1966. They were ren­o­vated in 2008 (left). The busi­ness is led by the three cousins Leonid, Jo­hannes and An­dreas Rath (from left).

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