Anatomy Of A Design: Behind The Unique Charm Of Venetian Crystal

Diego Martinez Dubosc, CCO of Barovier&Toso, joins us this week to discuss the design process in creating the brand’s iconic Venetian mouth-blown crystal. From chandeliers to objets d’art, each piece is handcrafted by master artisans in Murano, “custodians of an age-old tradition passed down across the generations.”

Raymond Paul Schneider: When did Barovier&Toso first start to develop their famous glass objects and lighting?
Diego Martinez Dubosc: The history of the company begins in 1295, the year it was founded. Initially, the type of objects that were produced were essentially glasses, cups, bottles, small lamps, and objects. With the advent of the Renaissance and the subsequent Baroque periods, the extraordinary tradition of the Venetian chandelier began, which we still pass on and translate into a contemporary language today.

Raymond: Please describe Barovier&Toso’s overall creative and design process.
Diego: As for the launch of new collections, Barovier&Toso works on parallel tracks. On the one hand, our Design Department develops new ideas and concepts internally every year, but at the same time, we collaborate with external designers who help bring their “foreign” vision to the traditional aesthetic of the Murano district. In both cases, each new product is a great challenge that invariably leads us to question our processes and challenge our limits. Developing a new product can take a long time. Once the creative phase has occurred, numerous tests and attempts follow one another, sometimes leading to a review of the initial idea.

Raymond: What are some of the classic motifs, textures, and techniques used in Barovier&Toso designs? When do some of these date back to?
Diego: The tools with which Venetian crystal is brought to life are still those of the thirteenth century. Little to nothing has changed on this front. And this is precisely the reason why the material retains its artisanal charm and continues to fascinate in its final form. In 1450, Angelo Barovier created an unquestionably important invention: crystalline glass. This type of perfectly transparent and colorless glass became a classic of Murano production exported all over Europe. Another one of Angelo Barovier’s critical inventions during this period was the lattimo glass—an opaque white glass.

Raymond: Where does the inspiration for the different collections come from?
Diego: The company has over 22,000 original drawings and sketches cataloged in its historical archives and regularly reinterprets some of its earlier iconic pieces. Most recently, we released several new models using Ercole Barovier’s legendary rostrato technique, which is particularly hard to achieve. The complex method consists of “freehand” shaping of Venetian Crystal to obtain a continuous series of multifaceted prisms. But designs need to evolve to remain relevant to their time, and Barovier&Toso regularly reaches out to famous interior designers and product designers like Paola Navone, Marcel Wanders, Philippe Nigro, and many others, to bring a fresh approach to the traditional craft. We always consider the tradition as a starting point, not as a limit, so classical Murano glass tradition must be the means to obtain innovative products that meet the changing tastes.

Raymond: Does Barovier&Toso have a specific audience or theme?
Diego: Clients are now more inclined to look for unique pieces and high quality experiences. There is also a return to simplicity, to the truth of things, to essentiality. There is a search for history and tradition. In the quest for rarefied craftsmanship, connoisseurs are turning their gaze to Italy, where niche heritage brands are refining and expanding their offerings and collaborating with hip contemporary designers. After visiting our furnaces our customers go home knowing they have found the quality product they are looking for. And they are very happy that everything we do is not just made in Italy but in Murano, where it has always been done. Consumers on an international level continue to seek out authenticity, across all sectors, from fashion to food to design. The future belongs to companies that know how to translate manual skills into digital code.

Raymond: Does Barovier&Toso utilize a proprietary or unique technique or technology to conceptualize their offerings–whether that is a vase or a chandelier? If so, can you give us a glimpse into the unique techniques or technology you use?
Diego: Innovation in techniques or design has been at the heart of the success of Barovier&Toso. Our timeline is scattered with a lot of innovations that really changed the world of glassmaking, but throughout the company’s history, the Murano glass-crafting tradition has always remained the starting point from which to propose ideas and solutions; the production of glass, the tools that the artisans use, the raw materials, and the different “recipes” to obtain different kinds of glass are the same as when we started. The company’s notable innovations started in the 15th-century when Angelo Barovier was able to produce a clear, luminous glass. His “vetro cristallino” was a revolution at the time and ensured the Murano glassmaker received a “privilegio” (a patent) from the rulers of the Republic of Venice. The master glassmaker also invented the beautiful variegated glass paste known as “calcedonio” which creates multi-colored glass with opaque veins that is similar to marbling. Over the centuries, various generations of Baroviers have continued to prove their ingenuity, for example, creating the dew-effect texturing process called La Rugiada and a hot-coloring-without-fusion technique that puts oxides, mineral salts, and other substances between two layers of clear glass. This allows for unusual chemical reactions to occur during the firing process that produce beautiful chromatic effects. Today, we still use most of the traditional techniques; though some techniques that involve the use of particular oxides or chemical elements are no longer in use due to their toxicity—we have replaced them with non-toxic elements that achieve the same effect.

Raymond: Please describe any challenges that are unique to working with glass and/or colored glass that perhaps steer a design into an entirely new direction?
Diego: Murano glass crafting tradition, of which we have always been absolute protagonists, remains for us the starting point from which to propose ideas, solutions, as well as innovative and original projects. These traditions have allowed us to hand down the founders’ family’s century-old-history of cultivated values. As mentioned, the essential production methods and techniques have remained the same. What has changed these days, to satisfy technical as well as aesthetic requirements, is that advanced computer graphic devices such as “CAD” are used for product development and special projects, while in the quality control department, some of the most advanced equipment is used to guarantee the highest levels of quality and security. The production process has evolved, paying ever greater attention to today’s needs: artistic glass, classic and contemporary lighting devices, and special lighting for large-scale projects and installations.

Raymond: Describe the overall brand DNA and Ethos.
Diego: Today, as well as in the past, Barovier&Toso interprets the tastes of the period by combining the glass tradition of its forefathers with trends and innovations in style and technology. Barovier&Toso is not only a company producing magnificent and luxurious chandeliers, but it is also a place where we still invent, create, and test, just as we did 500 years ago. Innovation can have different meanings: you can innovate in production techniques, materials, shapes, colors, and function. In the future, the IC factor – Industrial Crafts – will be of fundamental importance. A hybrid between industrial manufacturing and handiwork, IC combines ancient know-how with the latest frontiers of global creativity with an enterprise—allowing modern artisans to operate between tradition and technology. The luxury market segment is an area where craftsmanship is increasingly paramount.

Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.

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