The Lasting Legacy of Saint Louis

By vira

Saint-Louis, France's oldest glass manufacturer dating back to 1586, has entrusted its brand to be carried by Bika Living into the Indonesian market since 2014. From Tommy, their most popular glassware, to customisable chandeliers and colourful crystals, Saint-Louis creations have enriched the collection in the store. Earlier this year, Jérôme de Lavergnolle, the CEO of Saint-Louis, visited Jakarta. Indonesia Design had an insightful chat with him about the history of Saint-Louis, its collections, collaborations with designers, and more.

PHOTOS BY Bagus Tri Laksono

Could you share some interesting insights into the making of Saint-Louis crystals?

In our factory, most of the tools have remained unchanged since the 19th century. In that era, we only had pot furnaces; now we have tanks capable of processing eight to ten tonnes of crystal per day. A recent innovation is our furnaces. These furnaces run continuously because shutting them down could damage them, requiring an 18-month replacement process.

Is everything done manually?

Production involves modern techniques, but manual processes take over from the blowing point onward. We blow by mouth and cut by hand. It takes a decade to train artisans. In France, specialised schools teach glassblowing and cutting, but learning doesn't stop with a diploma. Each year, we invite students to trial at our company, hiring the best for further training. This craft demands daily practice and observation.

How do you attract young people to pursue artisanal careers?

Many young French individuals still aspire to craftsmanship. In today's world of automation, there's growing appreciation for handmade goods. People crave hands-on experiences and value manual work.

Which collections have been in production the longest, and which are the most popular?

Trianon collection has been produced for the longest time. But Tommy collection is the largest and the most successful, followed by Folia, named for its leaf-shaped cuts. Also popular are Twist, designed for wine tasting, and Manhattan, ideal for cocktail. If you bought this collection, you’ll be a very nice bartender at home.

In terms of chandelier, the most popular ones are Royal and Maharadja collections. Maharadja is quite classic with some amber product. Royal is known for its huge collection; it holds eight to 48 lights. We develop an application called My St Louis App, which is a configurator for the customisation, as well as a catalogue.

How do Saint-Louis designs distinguish themselves from other crystal products?

Distinctive features include our use of colours and intricate cutting techniques, especially in tableware. Lighting represents over half of our business, featuring a range from modern to classic designs like chandeliers and table lamps.

Saint Louis corner at Bika Living, Indonesia Design District

What changes has Saint-Louis experienced since joining the Hermès group in 1995?

Formerly family-owned, Saint-Louis faced challenges like the high cost of furnace construction. The new furnace we’re building now costs 10 million euros! Hermès's support enabled us to modernise facilities, invest in networks, and align products with group standards.

Even though we have our own artistic director, we remain part of the group. Before each of the products is launched, they’re previewed by the artists of the group to keep a certain currency. There are also some Saint-Louis products in Hermes store, but not in Indonesia. We also produce glasses and vases for Hermes collection. It’s signed ‘Hermes by Saint-Louis’.

Which regions constitute your largest markets?

Asia leads at 48-50 percent, followed by the Middle East at 15%, the U.S. at 15%, and Europe at 20%.

Why did you choose to distribute your products in Indonesia exclusively with Bika?

Firstly, 50 percent of Saint-Louis' business revolves around lighting, which predominantly involves project-based sales. Whilst buying a table lamp is straightforward, purchasing a chandelier with 20 lights or more requires careful consideration and planning.

Sometimes, customers visit with an architect or interior designer who suggests pieces for their projects. Therefore, it's crucial to collaborate with distributors who have a design background. Bika stands out because they not only sell high-end furniture but also produce their own, making them well-suited for showcasing Saint-Louis products.

At Bika's showroom in Kemang, for instance, architects and designers can explore a wide array of Saint-Louis collections, from wardrobes to kitchenware, facilitating comprehensive project proposals that include our lighting fixtures.

Saint-Louis has collaborated with several esteemed designers, spanning architects to product designers. Could you share any notable collaborations?

We collaborated with Patrick Neu on a paperweight and with the highly talented Kiki van Eijk on a standing lamp. Selecting designers often hinges on networking and strong relationships.

Sometimes, designers we collaborate with may initially lack familiarity with crystal craftsmanship. Therefore, it's essential for them to spend time at our factory to understand our production processes.

Kiki, for example, drew inspiration from our moulds when designing her lamp, having been captivated by what she witnessed at our facility. Collaborating with designers gives us fresh perspectives and innovative ideas into our work.

Speaking of environmental sustainability, what initiatives has Saint-Louis implemented in its production and business operations?

In my activity, sustainable development is important because when producing crystal, the temperature needs to be 1,450 degrees Celsius. It’s very hot, and we use gas to heat the tank furnace for coloured crystal and the pot furnace for clear crystal.

The issue with gas is the CO2 emissions. Saint-Louis made the decision in 2018 that by 2030, we will need to decrease our CO2 emissions by 50 percent. At the same time, we also aim to increase our production capacity. To achieve this, we have to convert the furnaces from gas to oxygas (oxygen + gas) or electricity. Our new furnace will be electric.

In the crystal field, this will be the first completely electric furnace. The electricity comes from nuclear plants, which is something we take into consideration. As for the water, we strive to recycle it, especially in the cutting process where a large amount of water is needed. The good news is that water can be reused for the next cutting.

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