WHITE GOLD

Mak­ing Li­mo­ges porce­lain is a long process guided by the skilled hands of crafts­men who have mas­tered rare, cen­turies-old tech­niques, and adapted them to the new needs of the in­dus­try, en­sur­ing that it is – more than ever – syn­ony­mous with pres­tige and in

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Mak­ing Li­mo­ges porce­lain is a long process guided by the skilled hands of crafts­men who have mas­tered rare, cen­turies-old tech­niques, and adapted them to the new needs of the in­dus­try.

Li­mo­ges porce­lain is fa­mous the world over. Cre­ated 250 years ago, it is unique thanks to its his­tory, qual­ity, cre­ativ­ity and the tech­niques linked to its pro­duc­tion. Lo­cated in west­cen­tral France, the city of Li­mo­ges it­self is at the heart of a land of op­u­lent forests, fresh wa­ters and gen­er­ous white clay, which are in­gre­di­ents nec­es­sary for mak­ing porce­lain.

Although porce­lain orig­i­nated in China, its pres­ence in Li­mo­ges can be ex­plained by the dis­cov­ery of a kaolin de­posit of stun­ning pu­rity in 1768. Hun­dreds of man­u­fac­tures – such as Bernar­daud (to­day rep­re­sent­ing 80 per cent of pro­duc­tion in Li­mo­ges), Hav­i­land and Royal Li­mo­ges – were es­tab­lished there­after, mak­ing Li­mo­ges a hub of the French porce­lain-mak­ing in­dus­try. It has amassed spe­cific skills and pro­duc­tion pro­cesses that haven’t stopped evolv­ing, as pastes have be­come lighter, thin­ner and stronger.

The sin­gu­lar­ity of Li­mo­ges porce­lain lies in the con­ver­gence of its un­ex­pected prop­er­ties, which have tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated it with table­ware: pure white­ness, del­i­cacy, hard­ness, dura­bil­ity, translu­cency, im­per­me­abil­ity, crys­talline sonor­ity, ease of clean­ing, and the abil­ity to with­stand ex­treme tem­per­a­tures. in­al­ter­able once fired, it is im­per­vi­ous to air, wa­ter, hu­mid­ity and time. Be­long­ing to the ce­ram­ics fam­ily of earth­en­ware, stoneware, bone china and ter­ra­cotta, porce­lain is also re­garded as the most pres­ti­gious of its cat­e­gory.

Labour of love

Re­sult­ing from the sub­tle alchemy among var­i­ous min­eral com­po­nents fired suc­ces­sively at very high tem­per­a­tures, the re­al­i­sa­tion of a piece of Li­mo­ges porce­lain re­quires nearly 30 steps com­bin­ing state-ofthe-art tech­niques and ar­ti­sanal vir­tu­os­ity.

Crafts­men draw, shape, enamel, as­sem­ble, dec­o­rate or in­spect by hand, and rely in­tensely on their senses: sight, touch and hear­ing. Fol­low­ing the de­sign, the first step in porce­lain-mak­ing is to cre­ate the ob­ject in plas­ter at a scale 14 per cent larger than the ac­tual size of the fin­ished piece, due to shrink­age dur­ing fir­ing. This model serves to make the mas­ter mould, which is used to cre­ate mass-pro­duc­tion moulds in plas­ter, resin or polyurethane-coated steel.

Some­times, mul­ti­ple moulds are needed for one prod­uct; the num­ber can go up to more than 50 for the most com­plex pieces. The ba­sic recipe for porce­lain paste is 50 per cent kaolin, 25 per cent quartz and 25 per cent feldspar. This is di­luted in wa­ter, then ground, mixed, sifted and fil­tered. Pre­sented in slab form, it is then trans­formed into liq­uid, semi-hard or pow­der pastes, de­pend­ing on the man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique re­quired, such as cast­ing for hol­low pieces, cal­i­brat­ing for round and raised pieces, and iso­static press­ing for flat pieces.

Once re­moved from the mould, the ob­ject dries for be­tween 12 and 24 hours. Spouts or han­dles are added by hand, and fet­tling in­volves re­mov­ing seams that ap­pear where two or more moulds meet, or elim­i­nat­ing im­per­fec­tions.

Fire away

The first fir­ing in a gas-fired kiln takes 24 hours at 980°C to harden and de­hy­drate the piece. Then, it is hand-dipped pre­cisely and evenly into a glaze to be­come smooth and shiny, or left unglazed for a matte look known as “bisque”. The sec­ond 24-hour fir­ing at 1,400°C vit­ri­fies the paste and glaze.

The chal­lenge is to repli­cate the orig­i­nal draw­ing and shades as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble, as the colours of metal­lic ox­ides change dur­ing the fir­ing stage, and a de­vi­a­tion of just one de­gree can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure.

Tech­niques used de­pend on the type of dec­o­ra­tion: lines, fit­tings and valu­able pieces are hand-painted, while silkscreen-

printed de­cals are used for com­plex mo­tifs, which are trans­ferred man­u­ally to white porce­lain. In­crus­ta­tions us­ing acid en­grav­ing or gold re­lief some­times adorn be­spoke work.

Each ob­ject is in­di­vid­u­ally checked for qual­ity; over 25 per cent of pieces are re­jected due to stains, cracks, spots of miss­ing glaze or de­for­ma­tions, though some de­fects can be re­paired. The ar­ti­sans spend al­most onequar­ter of their time per­form­ing qual­ity-con­trol checks, such as tap­ping a cup lightly to lis­ten to its res­o­nance, so as to en­sure that it meets house stan­dards. It takes one week and over 50 peo­ple to com­plete a teapot, and an ad­di­tional three to five days for the dec­o­ra­tion.

Reign supreme

These days, we find orig­i­nal shapes and dec­o­ra­tions, de­signs that are in­creas­ingly ge­o­met­ri­cal, the use of bright colours, the in­tro­duc­tion of a new ty­pol­ogy of ob­jects (such as light­ing, fur­ni­ture, trin­ket bowls, per­fume dif­fusers and jew­ellery), and com­plex art­works de­signed by con­tem­po­rary artists.

All of these are push­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to sur­pass lim­its of cre­ation, in­no­va­tion and tech­ni­cal know-how, by ques­tion­ing a time-hon­oured ma­te­rial in an orig­i­nal way.

Ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 peo­ple are em­ployed di­rectly and 1,500 in­di­rectly in the Li­mo­ges porce­lain in­dus­try, a sec­tor in vi­brant health that of­fers job in both tra­di­tional and high­tech do­mains, with a turnover es­ti­mated at more than €80 mil­lion (S$127 mil­lion). The craft re­mains at­trac­tive to younger gen­er­a­tions, as the Li­mo­ges area boasts a wide-rang­ing and com­plete group of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions – spe­cialised art, de­sign and ce­ram­ics schools, re­search cen­tres such as the

ALTHOUGH PORCE­LAIN ORIG­I­NATED IN CHINA, ITS PRES­ENCE IN LI­MO­GES CAN BE EX­PLAINED BY THE DIS­COV­ERY OF A KAOLIN DE­POSIT OF STUN­NING PU­RITY IN 1768.

AFPI Li­mousin, ENSA Li­mo­ges, CFA Ce­ram­ics Li­mousin, Euro­pean Ce­ram­ics Cen­tre, as well as sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions ded­i­cated to the pro­mo­tion of ce­ram­ics re­search – grant­ing ac­cess to all lev­els of train­ing and ar­eas of knowl­edge, from ba­sic trades to ex­per­i­men­tal re­search.

Whether a dec­o­ra­tor, mod­eller, de­signer, physi­cist, chemist, de­signer, 3D de­vel­oper, com­puter graph­ics artist or en­gi­neer, all porce­lain-mak­ing pro­fes­sions are taught lo­cally in close con­nec­tion with the neigh­bour­ing ate­liers and busi­nesses of the porce­lain sec­tor, which pro­vide ap­pren­tice­ships, en­sur­ing that these an­ces­tral pro­cesses have a bright fu­ture.

TOP & RIGHT Pieces from Bernar­daud’s Divine Galon and In Bloom col­lec­tions.

LEFT The Lou­vre col­lec­tion by Bernar­daud.

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