The glassware of René Lalique veers from the course of the preceding discussion. Emile Gallé, the Daum brothers, and Gabriel Argy-Rousseau each struggled with the question of mechanization in order to produce affordable glass for the masses. However, the individual craftsman primarily dominated in their productions, receiving some aid from semi-industial practices such as the refractory mold or hydrofluoric acid. The worker's hand in a production line, not the machine, performed the majority of the work on each vessel. Lalique, a relatively late designer, is used in this discussion to illustrate the progression many other decorative artists made from quality hand craftsmanship to eventual mass production. The glassware of Lalique resolves the dichotomy between craftsman and industry. By using the most innovative equipment available and the best designs for industrial production, Lalique made his glassware available to all. The contemporary journalist René Chavance reported in 1928:
Though mass production Lalique successfully produced artistic glassware while at the same time supplying a large public demand.
The young Frenchman attended the School of Art in Sydenham, England where he was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of the time, particularly in graphic design. His particular love of flora and fauna resulted in a unique, naturalistic style. In 1885 Lalique purchased a small workshop in Paris and produced his own interpretation of the emerging Art Nouveau style jewelry. Five years later he acquired 20 rue Thérèse and began to experiment in glass. By 1905 he moved to 24 Place Vendôme, his first Paris retail store, and sold perfume bottles, jewelry, and vases decorated with organic, naturalistic patterns. Lalique also made plates, bowls, carafes, glasses, statuettes, inkwells, and clocks.
Lalique combined creative freedom with rational mass production techniques. He cleverly supplemented the mechanical processes with finishing techniques to make the pieces appear less manufactured. He frosted his glass with acid, polished it with buffers, stained it, and glazed it. Perfume bottles play a role in his evolution as a glass craftsman, as he moved from producing them in large numbers before moving on to vase production. As a manufacturer Lalique combined precision and refinement with manual and mechanical processes to produce original items.
A series of improvements in glass making equipment, many subsequently patented by Lalique or his son Marc, made machinery production more feasible. Problems in manufacturing, many cropping up at the critical annealing (cooling) stage, included vessels sagging or becoming misshapen if released from the mold too quickly, and then cracking or exploding. Lalique's son Marc, successfully took responsibility for production level success and quality control. The younger Lalique developed the skills of engineering and applied technology to glass making. For example, he introduced hot air to automatic molds to prevent adherence to glass and acid in annealing process.
The glassworks at Wingen-sur-Moder represent the final stage of Lalique's industrial rationalization. Except for several models in a few copies produced by blown glass in the lost wax mold method, Lalique utilized new techniques for manufacturing virtually unlimited copies. The new factory opened in 1921 and employed hundreds of workers. Its opening coincided with significant growth in Lalique's network of agents and retail outlets throughout France, England, Argentina, and the United States. Lalique successfully created a facility which could produce glassware on a mass scale to fulfill the demand for his "crafted" items. Art historian Dawes stated, "The growing international market, coupled with what William Morris called 'the irrepressible longing for creation,' led to a new era of expansion for the Lalique company and the French decorative glass industry in general." However, Lalique capitalized on such longing without holding Morris' political convictions. Stated Jean-Luc Olivié, "Even when created by the thousands and when seeking 'beauty in usefulness,' Lalique's glassware is an expression of bourgeois luxury, not an attempt to produce social art." Lalique knew how to make quantities of glass in a sufficiently artistic fashion to sell to a wide audience. In sum, he was a brilliant commercial artist.
Although he did not design one vase for commercial production until over fifty years of age, and the majority of such wares when he was in his sixties and seventies, Lalique remains best known for his vases. He employed the most modern production methods available to cut labor costs and mass produce his wares. The process of creating a mold blown vase began with blowing a gather of molten glass into a closed metal mold of four segments. Then the worker opened the mold nest, like an orange, and released the pieces. Finally, the worker polished and cut the tops and bases of the vessel. Once the method of production proved successful, vase production flowed briskly. However, the cost of casting steel molds for these large vases in the 1920s proved very high. Furthermore, their installation and successful application required considerable skill and innovative technology. Lalique introduced two other methods; the pressé soufflé, in which the worker blew glass into a hinged double mold with his mouth or the bellows; and the apiré soufflé, a method in which the worker sucked a gather of glass into a mold, creating a vacuum. A third technique resulted in refractory molded glass. This process involved a wax model, from which the worker formed a clay refractory mold. The artisan filled the clay mold with cullet (crushed and broken glass) and placed it in the furnace, where it melted into a paste. As the glass cooled, its contraction caused the mold to collapse, leaving behind the vessel.
In addition to blowing glass into molds Lalique's studio also utilized the technique of pressing glass by mechanical means. First used in 1921, Mobilier et Décoration, a contemporary journal, described the process in 1925:
These electroplated metal molds were formed by chemically dissolving nitric acid instead of the usual pre-fired clay. This stronger material gave longevity to the mold and resulted in the production of many more vases than inferior molds.
The technique known as cire perdue provides an interesting exception to the otherwise mechanized processes of the firm. Lalique did not invent it, but first employed the technique successfully to blown glass vessels. First the artisan created a master mold, or maquette, by carving the shape in wax and casting it in clay. Next, he warmed the cast which melted the wax inside. The wax drained off through the aperture, leaving a hollow mold. Finally, the worker blew molten glass into the mold. The process of manufacture meant that the mold did not leave marks and resulted in a natural surface texture. Lalique did not cater to the mass market with these pieces. Instead, he produced a unique object with each molding.
As a businessman Lalique understood the market and thus succeeded in the industrial marketplace. Wrote Lalique's famous friend and collaborator, François Coty in 1906, "Give a woman the best product you can compound. Present it in a perfect container (beautifully simple, but of impeccable taste), charge a reasonable price for it and a great business will arise such as the world has never seen." By following these altruistic words, Lalique's glass empire quickly evolved. As art historian Christopher Percy states: "René Lalique was one of the few creative artisans to have successfully linked the sensual charm of an objct d' art to the possibility of mass distribution thanks to mechanization and industrialization." In this way, once again, Lalique combined artistry and industrial production.
René Lalique understood the glass industry and the need to produce many objects at reasonable cost and he produced an astounding amount of glass. Contemporary journalist Henri Clouzot reported in 1920, "His designs are ordered in the tens of thousands, and a conservative estimate of the number of bottles produced by the firm in the past ten years would approach one million." Further, between 1920 and 1930, Lalique designed more than 200 vases and 150 bowls. He achieved this quantity though his embrace of industrial production. Léon Rosenthal wrote about Lalique in "La Verrerie Français Depuis Cinquante Ans" in 1927:
The scale of Lalique's industrial production was not rivaled by any decorative art firm within this discussion. It represents an individual devoted to bringing the decorative arts to every home by producing great quantities at affordable prices.
Lalique truly represents a new era of modernism in decorative glass manufacture. He fulfilled the ideal of producing high quality designs at modest prices and mass producing so every consumer could own a piece of Lalique. Maximilian Gauthier interviewed Lalique in September 1925, "[Lalique's goals were] to reduce the price of glass while multiplying and diversifying designs, and to introduce his art into every household by making it available to everyone." Lalique managed commercial success using similar principles to Louis C. Tiffany. Thinking the pieces were actually hand-crafted due to their beautiful colors and textures and artistic design, the public bought mass-produced glassware. Contemporary critic Léon Rosenthal wrote in La Verrerie Français Depuis Cinquante Ans, 1927,
Industrial techniques did not necessarily mean that the glass appeared manufactured. Lalique, like other contemporary decorative artists, desired to raise his wares to the status of "high art". He wanted his wares to please art critics and the public. Stated Jean-Luc Olivié, "Gallé incorporated an entire philosophy into a vase. Lalique has no such pretension, and aspires only to please. He is satisfied if his work is a delight to the eye."
Technical engineering and quality design made Lalique glassware affordable and pleasing to a wide public sector, who readily purchased it. Lalique expert Katherine McClinton stated, "Lalique glass was halfway between commercial and studio production and though it was mass produced, the high standard of quality and the distinctive touch and design were maintained." In the resolution of the industry and manufacture of glassware the products of René Lalique overtake those of Emile Gallé, the Daum brothers, and Gabriel Argy-Rousseau in terms of aesthetically significant and commercially successful glassware.
In the foregoing examination of four different methods of glass manufacture, the merging of art and industry resulted in mass-produced glass. Emile Gallé, the Daum brothers, Gabriel Argy-Rousseau, and René Lalique all came to terms with the means of getting their vessels to market. Their success at exhibitions illustrates that art critics as well as the general public valued their wares. They were not simply glass manufacturers, but artistic leaders. Gallé, Daum, and Argy-Rousseau made less use of the actual machine than did Lalique, but all assumed the role of master craftsman within the context of mass production. Their role was not unlike that of Louis Comfort Tiffany. In order to mass-produce, superior quality and design must make up for the large numbers made. Like Tiffany, the French Art Nouveau glass manufacturers valued quality workmanship while making the necessary concessions to the market. Tiffany and the French designers used technology to mass-produce items, including a range of relatively inexpensive goods, thus realizing one of Morris' ideals. By assuring quality design and materials while at the same time producing as inexpensively as possible, the French firms successfully merged of two seemingly disparate entities: art and industry.