Preciosa – Bohemia crystal glass products sold the world over
Hand-made Bohemia crystal-glass and glass jewelry have a centuries old tradition that is taken to new heights by cutting-edge technology. Stunning crystal glass lighting installations, art works and glasses grace palaces, luxury hotels, public spaces and private residences worldwide. Bohemia glass artisans pioneered a technique for replicating the look of precious stones, producing cut-glass crystals that closely resembled diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds sought after the world over.
The birth of Crystal Valley
The first glass furnace was lit in Bohemia in 1376 and in the 1550’s a glass industry was gradually established in the north of the country, centered around the cities of Jablonec nad Nisou, Bedrichov, Železný Brod, Nový Bor and several others.
The northern regions of Bohemia were rich in quartz deposits and the region’s deep pine forests, offered an affordable supply of wood for heating the large furnaces required to melt glass. These basic assets helped to establish a tradition of Bohemian crystal glass and glass costume jewelry that gained world-wide recognition. Thus Crystal Valley was born.
In 1715 Bohemian glassmakers discovered the art of melting coloured glass, which opened up new horizons. Glass artisans soon pioneered a technique for replicating the look of precious and semi-precious stones, producing cut-glass crystals that resembled diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.
Bohemian crystal jewelry travels to Versailles, the Ottoman Empire and Russian court
Word of their craftsmanship spread quickly and soon Bohemian glassmakers were commissioned to make exclusive pieces for the palaces of Louis XV in Versailles and Fontainebleau, the court of Turkish Sultan Osman III and Russian Empress Yelisaveta (Elizabeth).
Machines replace manual cutting
Glass cutting in the Jablonec region developed further at the turn of the 19th century with machines gradually replacing manual cutting. The industry boomed and a number of smaller firms sprang up specializing in cut glass stones, pearls, chandeliers and lighting.
Bohemia soon became a world leader in the field of glass making. Bohemia crystal and crystal glass costume jewelry become the region’s trademark products.
In 1948 the seven main crystal glass factories and 18 small firms in northern Bohemia merged, forming the Preciosa Group with daughter companies specializing in chandeliers, glass figurines and costume jewelry. These products are among the country’s leading export articles to this day.
Nacre pearls and seed beads
Today Preciosa Ornela is one of the leading producers of glass and seed beads in the world, manufacturing a staggering 3.5 million kilograms annually, along with over 255,000 types of beads. Petr Puš is head of the company employing over 800 people.
“Preciosa Ornela is part of the Preciosa group which is the biggest crystal glass producer in Europe. We make a variety of glass products but the mainstay of our production is crystal pearls and glass beads of all colours, shapes and sizes. We offer the biggest range of these products in the world and take pride in the fact that our pearls and seed beads are not just a top quality product but an important part of the cultural identity of many tribes and peoples around the world. There is a huge demand for our beads among Indian and other tribes in North and South America, among tribes in Africa who use them to decorate their vestments and various typical products or the Peranacan people in Singapore who have used them for the past 200 to 300 years.”
In addition to working with glass beads, Bohemian artisans also pioneered a technique for replicating the look of pearls. The so-called Nacre Pearls are a superb imitation of natural or cultivated pearls. They have a crystal ball core which has several coats of nacre applied, using a technology that is very similar to the natural production of pearls. Nacre Pearls have a high gloss which - to the naked eye - makes them indistinguishable from genuine pearls. They are also highly resistant to abrasion, UV radiation, and to alcohol-based perfumes.
The crystal pearls and top quality replicas of precious stones serve to make exclusive design pieces with filigreed settings and stones blazing in emerald green, sapphire blue, amethyst purple and ruby red. Hollywood film studios frequently commission exclusive pieces for their historic productions as do European film makers.
However, the major share of Preciosa Ornela’s production is sold as single beads in huge numbers to be used in traditional arts and crafts or clothes making the world over. Petr Puš says that the demand for the company’s products is so great that customers often wait for up to two years for their orders.
“Our biggest market is India, without any doubt, we are still selling to Ukraine even now, also to Africa, South Africa is a huge market, and the Arab world in general. Egypt and Turkey make huge commissions for workshops, which use our products daily to decorate a huge variety of traditional products for domestic use and to sell to tourists. Similarly North and South America are huge markets, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, particularly. Only a fraction of our production is sold in Europe, where the interest is much lower. But, I have to say, our interest is not just to sell our product, we like to see where it ends up, how they are used and we are happy to see that our pearls and glass beads have an immensely important role in the culture and traditions of people the world over. “
The beginning of the 21st century called for greener products and in 2013 Preciosa produced lead-free crystal. This unique material, with its extraordinary sparkle, meets the highest international standards of quality and environmental certification. Lead free crystals are now sold within Preciosa’s Maxima line.
In 2017, after more than three years of development, Preciosa introduced a premium quality crystal –presented in its Chaton Rose MAXIMA line. It is capable of reflecting up to 264 unique rays of light – more than any other crystal available on world markets today.
Preciosa founds its own research institute
Preciosa Group has never underestimated the importance of research and development to take the skills of glass artisans further with cutting-edge technology. In 1956 Preciosa founded the Research Institute of Glass and Jewellery in Jablonec nad Nisou, which today serves as an integral part of the company and remains one of the most respected research and development facilities in the glass industry. The institute’s experts deal not just with crossing the boundaries of what is possible technologically but making sure that a stunning crystal glass chandelier will withstand the journey to its destination and the conditions there. Its director Vladimir Hejkal explains:
“We have a condensation chamber, a salt chamber and a climate chamber in the institute so that we can test what the different conditions will do to our products. Because when we deliver a chandelier, it may travel to the airport in -20 degrees temperatures, then land in Dubai where it is 50 degrees Celsius and condensation could cause corrosion or some other problem. It is the same with our jewelry line, that is also tested here and individual pieces are placed in different conditions for up to a month. If there is a problem, be it corrosion or anything else, then we have to address it.”
Preciosa chandeliers grace palaces, luxury hotels and private residences the world over. Award-winning Czech designer and sculptor Rony Plesl who is one of the company’s bright lights, explains in what way they are different from the competition.
“What is special is not just the tradition of chandeliers but of crystal glass making in general. Bohemia crystal is unique in that you work with engraving to get the refraction of light you want whilst in Venice they work more with chipped glass, there is a lot of fine-tuning in colour and detail. Czech glass is more like working on a sculpture where you use cutting, engraving and light to get the result you want. And it is the same with chandeliers. For me as an artist this is incredibly attractive – because I am a sculptor by profession and started designing by pure chance. So I see design through the eyes of a sculptor –as a statue, an object with historic connotations, rather than something subject to the changing fashion trends. Artists work with the human memory, with what is familiar and add something of their own.”
Museum of Glass and Jewelry in Jablonec nad Nisou
The history of Bohemian glass making is documented in the Museum of Glass and Jewelry in Jablonec nad Nisou. It presents a unique collection of designer jewels, hundreds of thousands of beads, buttons and other glass-made fashion accessories. Its director Milada Valečková says the collection on display reflects the changing fashions from the early days to the present.
“Taste is linked to the times. That is most visible in our Art Nouveau section. There are a lot of ornate pieces inspired by the Orient. Today, there is minimal demand for gilded and painted glass, clients want cut glass, with bold, modern, clean lines.”
In 2020 the art of traditional Czech blown-glass and beaded Christmas decorations was added to the UNESCO list of world intangible cultural heritage. The museum is now trying to get the Czech glass making-tradition officially recognized by UNESCO.
Whether or not the bid is successful, the fame of Bohemia’s glassmakers has spread far and wide and few visitors to Czechia leave without a souvenir of crystal glass or glass jewelry.