Moser Crystal Glass - Czechia’s most luxurious brand
Czech glass is known throughout the world for its craftsmanship and artistic qualities. The history of the glassmaking industry dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, when the first glassworks were built in the deep Bohemian forests. Today, there are dozens of glassmaking factories and studios around the Czech Republic, but perhaps the best-known of them is Moser, based in the West-Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary.
The Moser crystal glass company was established more than 150 years ago and has since become a world leader in glass making, selling its products around the globe and getting commissions for special pieces for royal palaces, embassies and five-star hotels.
Hand-cut, engraved, blown and painted decorative glassware manufactured by Moser ranging from champagne flutes to enormous chandeliers, vases and other glass items are among the best known Czech exports and are immensely popular as tourist souvenirs.
The Moser company was established in the West Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary in 1857 by Ludwig Löwi Moser, son of a local German Jewish businessman, who was not only a skilled engraver, but also a shrewd businessman.
The workshop started out polishing and engraving undecorated glass objects, but it soon expanded its activities, explains Josef Slunečko, former marketing director of Moser:
“Ludwig Moser founded a small store and an engraving workshop in the centre of Karlovy Vary, serving wealthy visitors to the local spa. As the business grew, he decided to open a glassworks in Dvory, not far from Karlovy Vary, in 1893.
“He started to produce his own glass material, which was, unlike other products on the market, lead-free. He also started to create his own, unique line of products.”
The lead-free sodium-potassium glass, developed by Ludwig Moser, was harder to grind, but allowed for the creation of sharp, hand-polished edges, which have since become one of the company’s trademarks.
In 1873, Ludwig Moser marked his first major success, winning the medal for merit at the World Fair in Vienna. That same year, he was appointed exclusive supplier of glass to the court of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Moser went on to win numerous other awards in the coming years, including medals from the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1879, 1889 and 1900 and the World Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.
In 1901 Moser became official supplier to the Persian Shah Mozzafar ad-Din and from 1908 also for King Edward VII of England, Pope Pius XI, the Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid, and King Luís I of Portugal.
At that time, Moser already had sales offices in New York, London, Paris and St. Petersburg. Due to its royal clientele, Moser has become known for its slogan ‘Glass of Kings’ and ‘King among Glass’.
In 1938, when the Germans took over parts of Czechoslovakia, the Moser family were forced to sell all their shares in the business and flee the country. Their factory was nationalised first by the Germans and then by the Czechoslovak government.
Thanks to its international reputation, however, the company was able to retain some independence even during the Communist regime. During those years, the company cooperated with many of the country’s top glass designers, who went on to become legends in the glass-making industry, including Stanislav Libenský, František Vízner and René Roubíček.
The glass, developed by Moser more than 150 years ago, is remarkable for its purity, shine and hardness and, because it doesn’t contain lead, it is also more environmentally friendly.
The mixture of the highest quality glass sands and other components remains the basis of the company’s products to this day, explains Moser’s marketing manager Hana Wollerová:
“Moser Glassworks use only one type of molten glass, made of lead-free crystal enriched with potassium. The glass mixture contains sodium carbonate, potassium, limestone and other ingredients. But the exact composition is our secret.”
The intricate process of glassblowing involves a team of three people, including a gatherer, a boy and a gaffer, who work together to give the drop of melted glass its desired shape, Mrs Wollerová explains:
“The process starts with the gatherer, who collects a small amount of the material on a blowpipe and blows an air pocket into the ball. He lets it cool for a moment and repeats the process once again.
“Then he passes the blowpipe to the assistant, who gathers more glass on the blowpipe and blows the glass into a cast, giving it a basic shape.
“He then hands the blowpipe to the gaffer, who is the most skilled of the three. He adds a stem and other details and gives the product its final touch.”
Due to its considerable hardness, lead-free glass is much harder to grind than regular glass. As a result, the cutting process is much more demanding and requires extremely skilled workers.
Master engraver Vladimír Skála has worked for Moser for more than 45 years. This is how he described his craft to Radio Prague during its visit to Karlovy Vary a few years ago:
“The practical approach has not changed at all. Only our resources have changed really. It means that today we don't use natural sand or natural stones; nowadays we obviously use synthetic materials. We also use diamond cutting wheels, which are quite helpful, but they can’t replace everything.
“They can't make the same finish that the original engraving tools provide, where you use classical techniques, such as cutters and emery-wheel grinders which actually draw off the glass.
“The classic techniques are the same as they were even in the 16th century, so for us not much has changed really. Oh excuse me, apart from electricity of course!”
While glassmaking technologies have not really changed that much since the company was founded more than 160 years ago, Moser continues to set new trends in design by cooperating with young, up-and-coming artists.
In 2012, one of the Czech Grand Design Awards went to Lukáš Jabůrek for his design of the Pear vase, which has since become of one of Moser’s bestsellers. Jabůrek, who also worked as the company’s art director for a while, spoke to Radio Prague on the occasion of the company’s 160th anniversary:
“Nowadays, trends are not easy to discern and design tends to be very diverse. What I would say is typical for today is a return to tradition and searching for inspiration in the company’s past. So I think it is good to look back and slow down when setting new trends.”
Milan Hlaveš, curator of the modern and contemporary glass and ceramics at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, says it is precisely the connection of tradition with modern trends that makes Moser one of the world’s leading glassmaking brands:
“Moser is one of the Czech Republic’s finest brand names when it comes to glassmaking. It’s great that it builds on its tradition. It continues to produce designs developed more than a hundred years ago and at the same time, it enriches its portfolio by creating new design products.
“What makes the brand unique is that it produces luxury items. It manufactures small series of the most luxurious products made in this country and also unique items, especially engraved glass. Moser’s engravers are among the world’s best.”
Today, Moser has four company stores in the Czech Republic, two in Prague and two in its hometown of Karlovy Vary. Besides that, it also has a worldwide network of retailers. Most of its luxury products are exported abroad, with the traditional markets including Great Britain and the United States, but also the Asian countries.
Along with new designs, the company’s bestselling products include some of its legendary pieces, such as the 1968 Whisky set, or the gold-decorated drinkware collection Splendid, which the Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš gave to Britain’s future queen, Elizabeth II, as a wedding present in 1947.