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Collecting Guide: Lalique

Specialist Joy McCall answers 7 key questions for prospective buyers of the legendary French glassmaker’s exquisite pieces

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  • What distinguishes Lalique from other glassmakers?

You only have to look at a piece by René Lalique (1860-1945) to realise that the designer had a unique approach to glassmaking. There’s a clarity and precision in his designs that pieces by his contemporaries and imitators lack; Lalique was able to control glass masterfully, using the material to realise his creative vision.

Lalique first began to experiment in the early 1900s, having enjoyed a successful career as a jewellery designer working in some of the world’s top ateliers. Glass became the focus of his work for the next 40 years — the artist embracing changing styles including Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism.

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  • What were his favourite subjects?

A Bacchantes vase, no. 997. Designed 1927. 9¾ in (24.8 cm) high. Estimate £15,000-25,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Bacchantes vase, no. 997. Designed 1927. 9¾ in (24.8 cm) high. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Calypso plate, no. 414. Designed 1930. 15 in (38 cm) diameter. Estimate £2,200-2,800. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Calypso plate, no. 414. Designed 1930. 15 in (38 cm) diameter. Estimate: £2,200-2,800. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Lalique’s inspiration was always nature, whether it was the human body — particularly the female form — birds, fish or plants. Although he returned to the same subjects, each new interpretation of them was distinctive.

The fan-tailed fish on his Formose vases, for example, dive across the surface of the glass, while the large fish on the Poisson vases overlap to form patterns.

A Sirene car mascot, no. 831. Designed 1921. 4 in (10.1 cm) high. Estimate £1,500-2,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Sirene car mascot, no. 831. Designed 1921. 4 in (10.1 cm) high. Estimate: £1,500-2,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

The female figures he depicts, on vases, plates or as car mascots, are mythological and timeless — in the case of the Sirène car mascot, above, a solitary figure in contemplation.

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  • How should I start a collection?

A Renard car mascot, no. 1182. Designed 1930. 3⅛ in (8 cm) high; 8¼ in (21 cm) long. Estimate £200,000-300,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Renard car mascot, no. 1182. Designed 1930. 3⅛ in (8 cm) high; 8¼ in (21 cm) long. Estimate: £200,000-300,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

An Archer car mascot, no. 1126. Designed 1926. 4¾ in (12 cm) high. Estimate £1,000-1,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

An Archer car mascot, no. 1126. Designed 1926. 4¾ in (12 cm) high. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Although factors affecting value are a consideration, the designer’s work is so varied that a personal collection can be shaped to your own taste and budget, from around £500 upwards to nearer £50,000. Those beginning a collection might also consider buying by object. Lalique designed a huge variety of pieces, including lighting, vases, bowls, plates, decanters and glasses, car mascots, scent bottles, jewellery and statuettes, to name but a few. As well as being a designer, he was a super salesman, selling a vast quantity of pieces on the international market, and establishing a reputation for quality and luxury that continues more than 60 years after his death.

Some collectors aim to collect particular designs in every colour produced — the Perruches vase, for example, is available in tones including teal, lime, amber, electric blue, cased red, emerald, cased yellow, cased jade and opalescent.

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  • Why do prices vary for the same design?

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 7 in ( 17.8 cm) high. Estimate £1,000-1,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 7 in ( 17.8 cm) high. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 6 ¾ in (17 cm) high. Estimate £2,000-3,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 6 ¾ in (17 cm) high. Estimate: £2,000-3,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

It can be confusing to discover two seemingly similar items priced with different pre-sale estimates. Different colours have different values, with clear and frosted pieces usually less expensive than coloured works. The rarity of a particular colour for a given design also affects its commercial value, as, of course, does the number of people seeking a specific colour at any given time. In some instances, it’s possible that there are only a handful of similar vases.

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 7 in (17.8 cm) high. Estimate £5,000-8,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Formose vase, no. 934. Designed 1924. 7 in (17.8 cm) high. Estimate: £5,000-8,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Cased pieces — consisting of two or more fused layers of glass, rather than a single layer, such as the red Formose vase above — are also more likely to command a higher price. The process of casing made production more costly, resulting in works that are less translucent, with a greater depth of colour. Shades of a single colour may vary too, and, on some occasions, a piece may feature staining — all of which can impact on value.

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  • How important is condition?

Cracks, chips, nicks, bruises and filled drill-holes should be noted. Damaged glass is almost impossible to restore, although attempts are made to rectify issues that have arisen.  

Damage to exceptionally rare works, however, can be considered less significant than damage to designs that are easily available. On occasion, pieces are polished or cut down in an effort to make them appear more presentable than they would be with obvious flaws.

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  • What is the significance of age?

Lalique items may be re-signed to appear older than they actually are. Pre-war works, made during René Lalique’s lifetime — he died in 1945— are usually signed R. Lalique, regardless of whether they are engraved, wheel-engraved, stencilled, moulded or intaglio.

Post-war works are normally just signed Lalique France, and are sometimes accompanied by the letter in a circle. Unlike marks, staining added to an item at a later date does not seem to impact its value negatively, but may in fact have a positive effect — probably because, in some instances, it is difficult to establish when a stain was added, and also because staining may add definition to the design as it appears on the surface.

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  • What is alexandrite glass?

A Tortues vase, no. 966. Designed 1926. 10¾ in (27.3 cm) high. Estimate £15,000-20,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Tortues vase, no. 966. Designed 1926. 10¾ in (27.3 cm) high. Estimate: £15,000-20,000. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Graines vase, no. 1042. Designed 1930. 8 in (20 cm) high. Estimate £1,500-2,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

A Graines vase, no. 1042. Designed 1930. 8 in (20 cm) high. Estimate: £1,500-2,500. This lot is offered in Lalique on 16 May 2017 at Christie’s in London, South Kensington

Alexandrite refers to the colour of the glass. It is dichroic — showing different colours when viewed from different directions. Under natural light the glass of the Tortues and Graines vases above appears to be an olive-grey colour. However, when illuminated under electric light — or photographed in a studio setting, as here — they appear to have a peach tone.