The word “crystal” tends to conjure up a very specific set of images; a diamond the size of a pomegranate; a salt cave as vast as a gothic cathedral; a tasteless piece of jewelry sold with the snake oil promise of spiritual rejuvenation. In the context of luxury goods, however, “crystal” tends to denote a very specific, elite breed of glassware. The prestige afforded to crystal artifacts is no mere trifle; the properties of crystal goods extend far beyond those of their glassware counterparts. Firstly, whereas glass is made from liquified calcium-rich sand, crystal is made from lead oxide-containing flint glass, which not only affords crystal ware an extra weightiness, but also results in a higher level of refraction. Notice how crystal glasses divide the color spectrum when exposed to natural light, acting as a prism where ordinary glass does not. Secondly, a critical characteristic of crystal is its high level of malleability. Intricate, ornamented designs that might not otherwise be possible to render in glass are made possible in crystal, which rightfully elevates engraved crystal to the uppermost echelon of luxury glassware.
A highlight of this crystal showcase, the masterful works by the artisans at Lalique represent a pinnacle in crystal artistry. Handmade, hand carved, and hand finished in France, the Lalique Bacchantes Vase depicts the young priestesses of Bacchus in a ceremonial circle, a Roman allusion to the decadent Grecian ritual of Dionysus, in which the sensual, corporeal pleasures of wine, music, and dance were celebrated with carefree abandon. Here, that moment of ecstasy is frozen in time, immortalized as if to comment on the eternality found in a single moment of true expression. Similarly striking is the Lalique Nude Dream Sculpture, which depicts a feminine figure lost in a reverie. There is a superficial resemblance to Rodin’s iconic sculpture, “The Thinker,” but whereas Rodin’s work celebrates the masculine form and the cerebral manifestation of conscious thought, the Nude Dream is a testament to the unconscious, nocturnal, and fantastical characteristics of the archetypal Grecian divine feminine. Lalique’s prodigious output is not only testimony to their creative ambition, but also a celebration of the medium of crystal glass.