Duralex Picardie Glass
First published June 18th, 2007
The Duralex Picardie glass is an object whose form gives the impression it was discovered rather than designed. It is the ultimate drinking vessel created by man, and of its type cannot be improved. The 'vintage' Picardie has slightly more flare on its sides and is more elegant than the modern one. The glass is outstandingly beautiful but its perfection comes from inherent fitness for purpose: filled with liquid, held in the fingers, and tipped into the mouth.
Created in around 1927, the design of the French Duralex Picardie glass rejected the Machine Age forms favoured in European arts in the 1920s and adopted fluted sides in vague reminiscence of the faceted tulip shapes typical of 18th century French crystal. But this also had some practical value in making it easier and more comfortable to hold, and because the glasses are stackable the fluting means they stack well, without their surfaces grinding or locking together.
From 1939 Duralex introduced a tempering and pressing process specially developed by Saint-Gobain, the company who bought Duralex in 1934. The tempering process is based on the principle of thermal shock: the glass is heated to 600 degrees then cooled very quickly, giving both excellent transparency and impact resistance of well over twice that of normal glass.
The Duralex Picardie drinking experience
The perfection of the design is best experienced when the Picardie is used for drinking. The tapered shape fits the hand much more naturally than a straight-sided glass, and your fingers slip nicely into the hollows of the flutings on the lower part of the side, and even with wet hands the glass feels secure.
The upper part of the side is smooth surfaced and curves gently outwards at the part that goes into your mouth, as if to encourage the liquid on its way. The rounded edge of the lip of the glass is especially comfortable against your lips because, for durability, the glass is comparatively thick. But the glass has just the right weight, and the feel of the ridges between the flutings makes it seem thinner and more delicate than it actually is. The flutings also break up light that passes through the glass, which they focus into rippled patches of brightness on the surrounding surface, enhancing the sense of liquid refreshment. And marked on the bottom is the iconic "MADE IN FRANCE" circular motif with "DURALEX" in the centre, which comes into view as the glass empties.
More than just a Bistro glass
The Duralex Picardie has become celebrated as the quintessential French Bistro glass, but it's such a versatile little workhorse that for decades it was the primary tumbler for both cold drinks and hot beverages in households throughout France. It was also appreciated around the world, and in Britain was enjoyed as the "house glass" in hundreds of school dining halls, as well as being stocked at the prestigious and design-savvy Habitat stores.
It is still used by many people in France - especially the older southerners, Corsicans, and Algeria or Morocco-born French (known as 'pieds noirs') - to enjoy the traditional Mazagran-style coffee in a glass (thanks to Russell Galt for this titbit).