The Duralex Picardie Glass
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).
In the Press: hope for Duralex
The Duralex company was purchased in 1997 by Bormioli Rocco E Figlio, a large glass group in Italy. Subsequently, in 2003, the shareholders reportedly announced their intention to close the Duralex production site at Rive de Gier in France. Read more about this in Matthew's excellent post on how Duralex survived, albeit temporarily…
… because in June 2005 the commercial court in Orléans placed Duralex International France into court-supervised administration. It seems that the Duralex company had been suffering from a lack of capital and poor sales, according to its president, Pierre-André Froger. A six-month observation period was set, with a meeting in September 2005 to review the group's progress.
At the September meeting Sinan Solmaz, a Turkish wholesaler of crockery goods and now principal shareholder of Duralex, presented the magistrates with a three year plan involving an injection of 500,000 euros in January 2006 and a further 500,000 euros in March. The rescue package was approved by the court in December 2005 and aims to maintain production at the two sites (one at La Chapelle Saint Mesmin, Loiret and the other at Rive de Gier, Loire).
Solmaz had already been the biggest customer of Duralex in recent years, in particular ensuring 50% of its sales turnover by distributing the brand throughout the Middle East. He announced that "the priority from now on is to increase output by 60%, then to increase sales and to continue investment in new furnaces at Rive de Gier to resume production as quickly possible" (from usinenouvelle.com, January 06).
From "Le Monde"
[Roughly translated from French] February 2007: The management of Duralex glassmaking has revealed on Wednesday in Orléans an investment plan of 14 million euros over two years to modernize the production equipment at the factory of La Chapelle Saint Mesmin (Loiret), at the time of a press conference. The chairman, Sinan Solmaz, who took over the company in December 2005 within the framework of a plan of continuation, committed to rebuild the furnace by September, to modernize the foundry, and invest in new machines.
The company, which employs approximately 260 workers, also will install two new lines of hardening, with the objective of an increase of 20% output. "We are solving the difficulties and we are turned towards the future" underlined the chairman. According to Sinan Solmaz, the financial standing of the company has been cleansed. Duralex, present in 70 countries in the world, wishes to centre its markets on Western Europe, where the margins are more important, and to reduce the share of the Middle East, which should be brought back from 46 to 30% by 2009. [End of translation]
From "L'Usine Nouvelle"
[Roughly translated from French] February 2007: Duralex is modernizing its site of La Chapelle Saint Mesmin. The manufacturer of glass tableware, operating since December 2005 within the framework of a plan of continuation, wants to get its head above water. The direction envisages an investment of 14 million euros over two years at the factory of La Chapelle Saint Mesmin (Loiret).
This sum will be used for the rebuilding of a furnace by September [and] the modernization of the foundry as well as the installation of new machines. Without guaranteeing the perenniality of the factory completely, where approximately 250 people work, this investment plan will make it possible to increase the output of the site by 20%.
Duralex had another unit with Rive de Gier (the Loire), shut down last September for reasons of safety. [End of translation]
From "La Tribune d'Orléans"
The new Duralex furnace: a symbol of the future.
[Roughly translated from French] August 2007: Duralex, glassmaker known worldwide for the strength of its products began Friday, August 10 demolition of its furnace older than ten years to rebuild and improve and install new machinery. A sizeable investment, since furnace costs 6.9 million euros to which must be added a cost of assembling 900,000 euros. In total, Sinan Solmaz, CEO of Duralex, Turkish businessman but mainly trader specializing in the field of glass, has invested nearly 8 million euros in the operation. "We build a new furnace every ten years. This is a milestone in the history of Duralex. An oven like this 24h/24h works every day. Our goal is to make it work 867,600 hours! It should turn on the oven again around October 15 to plus or minus one week closely."
Sinan Solmaz is resolutely turned towards the future. On the technical front, this new natural gas furnace is in line with the old with a height of 13m, which corresponds to the height of a four-storey building! This construction will require the intervention of 40 people and technology establishment is 100% designed by Duralex. To continue to develop the range offered to 95% for export, two new lines in addition to the five already in existence will be added shortly, and a filtering system will be installed as well as new machinery, including a press that will charge 160 tons of glass per day. [End of translation]
From "France Info"
Duralex placed into liquidation.
[Roughly translated from French] April 2008: The company still has until July 25 to continue its activity. The commercial court will meet to take stock in early June.
Duralex – the name has gone through periods. Synonym for many of us, school canteen. The Duralex glass, transparent and resistant to shocks, was created in 1939 by Saint-Gobain. It has long been equipped communities…
Duralex today employs 240 people in La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin, near Orleans. But the glasses are no longer recipe: the company has declared a cessation of payments on 1 April this year – because of a significant debt. His liability is estimated at 22 million euros.
The Commercial Court of Orleans had given three weeks to its owner, a Turk named Sinan Solmaz, to provide 5 million of new money. This is not reached. The court therefore today Duralex placed in judicial liquidation, with activity continuing until July 25. It will meet again on June 3, to review any proposed takeover.
The Duralex glass saved by four shareholders French.
[Roughly translated from French] July 2008: The famous Duralex glasses, weakened the past three years by financial problems, have found Monday a buyer who wants to revive the brand "internationally known" by investing nearly 4 million and saving the last factory in France.
"Duralex has a unique know-how and enjoys an important factor sympathy," said Pierre Jullien, one of the four buyers of glassware located in La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin (Loiret).
After receiving 17 expressions of interest for Duralex, the Commercial Court of Orleans held that the offer of resumption of the four investors, grouped within the new company Duralex International, presented "an interesting commercial project that allows the backup 200 jobs on 240".
The investors – the Franco-British industrial Antoine Ioannidès, the future president whose brother is a representative for 20 years of the mark in the Near and Middle East specialist Pierre resumption of companies Jullien and two frameworks provide Duralex – bring 3,8 million euros to save Duralex. From the afternoon, they went to La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin to explain to employees their project.
"We must reorganize the company and offer products more likely to taste du jour, with new forms, color, but always with characteristic strength which has made its international reputation and an affordable price," said Jullien. "We will modernise the tools and we look to the arts of the table," he added.
Duralex had been placed in receivership in June 2005 and then into liquidation last April, with activity continuing until July 25. The company has a liability estimated at "30 million euros", according to the court.
His former boss, the Turkish Sinan Solmaz, who owns several companies trading items of tableware in Turkey, had challenged the liquidation but the Court of Appeal dismissed.
"We are satisfied that the closure of the plant La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin is avoided. This is the result of three years of fighting. Duralex is a viable business," responded Pascal Colichet, CGT delegate, who came to court required to work "for this symbol".
The resumption of site Loiret comes a year after the closure for "reasons économiques" the second site, located at Rive-de-Gier (Loire), which employed 103 people.
[Note! The above press reports are rough translations of articles published on French websites and should be treated as such. They may or may not be factually correct.]
From The Independent
Duralex – the glass tumbler that would not be broken
A French design classic has been saved from extinction by new investors who are determined to have the famous brand name on everyone's lips once again. John Lichfield reports from La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin. This is the story of a glass that bounced. The Duralex is the favourite glass of American Yuppies but also of Afghan tribesmen. It has been described [by me] as the "ultimate drinking vessel created by man". Its elegant, conical shape has long been recognised as a design classic which screams "France" just as much as the Eiffel Tower or a waiter in a long, white apron … Since a buyout in July 2008, led by Mr Ioannides, his two brothers and a couple of senior members of Duralex management, sales have boomed. In France, where Duralex's market share had collapsed by 75 per cent, the glasses are back in canteens and on supermarket shelves (sales are up 12 per cent in a falling market). Sales in Europe as a whole are up 16 per cent (except in Britain, of which more later). Duralex is in negotiations with Ikea, which usually prefers to source its products in the developing world. Sales in the US, partly through Williams-Sonoma, are surging.
Trivia: according to Wikipedia (French) the word Duralex comes from the Latin maxim dura lex sed lex (The Law is hard but it is The Law).
Related entry: Duralex Picardie Glasses.
[ First published June 18th, 2007 ]