THE ENDURING APPEAL FOR CRISTAL DE ROCHE
Of exceptional rarity and expense, rock crystal chandeliers appear only occasionally in 18th century sale catalogues and inventories. In 1687, the French gazette and literary magazine, Le Mercure de France, noted as part of Louis XIV's royal presents: 'un lustre de cristaux de roche à dix branches de fonte dorée ayant une couronne enrichie de plusieurs cristaux de roche et de Milan, le dessus garni de campanes, de boules et pièces de cristaux de Milan avec une grosse poire taillée à coste au milieu'.
But perhaps the most famous recorded reference in France was in 1697, when Louis XIV offered twelve grand 'lustres' in 'cristal de roche' to the King of Siam. Louis XV is also known to have possessed a chandelier with twelve branches delivered by Delaroue and Slodtz, in his chambre à coucher at Versailles. This was commented on by the duc de Luynes: 'on a mis dans la chambre du roi, un chandelier en cristal de roche d'une grande beaut et que l'on estime au moins a 100 000 livres'. A further rock crystal chandelier was included in the sale of the marchand Julliot in 1780 and the extensive description again underlines the esteem in which these princely possessions were held in the 18th century. It fetched 15,000 livres to the lustrier ordinaire du roi Alexis Delaroue. Finally, in 1793 a rock crystal chandelier ordered in Paris fetched the astronomical sum of 38,000 livres.
The premium paid for 18th century rock crystal chandeliers traditionally continues into the 21st century. A perfect example of the enduring appeal for such exquisite objects is the 32-branch chandelier reputedly from the hôtel de Chanaleilles, sold from the collection of Baron de Rédé at the hôtel Lambert, Sotheby's, Paris, 16 March 2005, lot 134 (EUR1,300,000 with premium), as well as the eight-light chandelier, formerly in the Collection of Madame Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan at the Hôtel de Marlborough, subsequently in the René Fribourg Collection, and sold from the Champalimaud Collection, Christie's, London, 6-7 July 2005, lot 54 (£96,000 with premium).
THE ORIGINS OF CRISTAL DE ROCHE
Rock crystal is in reality a quartz. A material of exceptional hardness with an indices of light refraction close to that of a diamond, quartz has been mined and worked since antiquity. In the Middle Ages, this rare material was used almost exclusively on religious objects. A prohibitively expensive material, cristal de roche was first mined in France in small quantities in the 17th century and its rarity forced artisans to innovate. The imitation of cristal began in Venice in the 15th century - the art of the glassmaker being to recreate the limpidity and luminosity of rock crystal. To do so, the glassmakers invented a cristal made in reality of glass combined with a mixture of potassium, silicon, manganese and lead oxide heated to between 1200 and 1500 degrees. This crystal imitated rock crystal, although it displays a metallic colouring and should not be confused with what is now called crystal. The latter was a development of 18th century Bohemia and, subsequently France with the Manufactures Royales de cristaux.
It is only rock crystal, that noble and rare material, which today retains its prestige and value.