The “millefiori” glass technique is thought to have been invented by the Romans and revived after the Renaissance by the Murano glassmakers. In 1845, while it was developing double- and triple-overlay crystal, the Saint- Louis glassworks resuscitated millefiori and created its first paperweight ball. The vogue for Saint-Louis paperweights lasted some fifteen years, before fading along with this glassmaking art.
Stored away among the memorabilia in antiques shops, these enigmatic, dreamlike magic gardens trapped in a drop of crystal soon caught the attention of collectors like Jeanne Lanvin, King Farouk and Colette and became highly prized. But it was thanks to the American collector Paul Jokelson, nicknamed “Mr Paperweight”, that the production of these crystal-glass balls and in particular the “sulphides” was relaunched at Saint-Louis. In 1953, Jokelson ordered a sulphide commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II from Saint-Louis. While Saint-Louis strove to revive a skill that had lain dormant for one hundred years, the new medallion depicting the British monarch was designed by Gilbert Poillerat, a master metalwork craftsman and interior decorator. The last millefiore paperweight produced by the glassworks in 1860 had, amusingly enough, been an effigy of Queen Victoria. Of the 1,300 sulphides ordered by Paul Jokelson for members of his famous Paperweight Collectors’ Association, Saint-Louis kept three, one of which was naturally presented to Her Royal Highness, another to Colette, while the last was immediately archived. Flowers, fruits, bouquets, animals, birds and butterflies…
Made under heat with canes of coloured crystal and shaped with blowtorch, pincers and shears, the choice of motif, decor and subject of the paperweight ball is left to the imagination of specialized glassmakers. Their creativity is then encapsulated in crystal glass, notwithstanding the strict respect of the rules of heat: the paperweights are fashioned at 550°C and assembled at 1,100°C: if the temperature is too low, the ball shatters, if it is too high, it becomes cloudy. Since 1970, Saint-Louis has produced new models of paperweight every year, each of them issued in a limited edition and duly numbered, vintaged and certified.