The expression “handmade” is probably the most over-used in the English language. So, when Moser invited me to see their glassworks just outside Prague in the Czech Republic, I arrived a bit sceptical about their claim to be the only company in the world that truly hand makes every piece of glass that leaves the factory.
But you know what? It turned out to be absolutely true. I watched in awe as master craftsmen attached a ball of molten glass to a long hollow pole and gently blew a breath of air down the tube while all the while spinning it to ensure the glass stays in place. Moser glassmakers work in teams of three and it’s almost balletic watching them avoid each other on a raised platform. Incidentally just getting onto the platform will take a few years of learning the trade – a fourth member of the team watches and learns before taking the finished product to the drying areas. To become a Master might take up to 20 years.
Moser have been hand-making lead free glass since 1857. Lead is commonly used in glass-making as it makes the molten glass easier to handle. Picking up a Moser wine glass is extraordinary as it initially feels very light.
Incidentally there’s no such thing as “seconds” or sub-standard Moser glass. Every single piece goes through up to five quality control procedures and any that are deemed not perfect are immediately crushed. So although each piece is unique it also has to be perfect in every way – an amazing combination.
Moser are famous for their technique for colouring glass – a secret incredibly difficult to replicate and one known only to a very select few even in the factory. A coloured Moser glass has an almost magical quality. Depending on the amount and source of light – say from outside in the sunshine to inside near a bulb – the colour changes dramatically. Most fascinating is the use of two colours – one placed on top of the other – no I have no idea how that is done either but the effect is staggeringly beautiful.
Once the glass is cooled it passes through an array of specialist hands before it is deemed fit for sale. That might include hand-painting liquid gold or platinum around a wine glass rim. Or hand carving a bowl or vase. I watched an engraver copying from a pattern he’d drawn on paper. No measurement – just an uncanny ability that must take years to learn. He had been working on this one piece for a month – and had just two more days’ work before it would be finished. As long as it passed quality control of course. Can you imagine the heartbreak if it fails and goes into the crusher!
I arrived in the beautiful spa town of Karlovy Vary, two hours from Prague, thinking Moser glasses, which can retail at well over £100 each for a wine glass, were very expensive. I left thinking they were bewilderingly inexpensive given the time and expertise at every stage.
Handmade? I’d say so. A single glass or vase could have been touched by up to 27 different pairs of hands in the course of manufacture. What they never see is any form of automation.
Much of Moser’s output is bespoke; you can visit the factory, learn a little about the process of manufacture and work with their designers to create exactly what you want. It won’t be inexpensive and it won’t arrive at your home very quickly. But it will be unique with a part of you in its very soul. You can’t put a price on that.
I Blew My Own Glass!
Well I “helped” master craftsman Zdenek to be more accurate. However, it takes pride of place in the drinks cabinet. I’m convinced beer tastes better from it.
Stepping on the platform inches from a roaring furnace filled with liquid glass heated to over 1000 degrees celsius I’m already nervous. It is incredibly hot. Zdenek places his two metre long hollow pole into the glass rotating it to make the liquid stay on – a bit like picking up treacle. Continuously rotating it using his fingers – he makes it look easy but it is incredible difficult, this thing is heavy!
Oh help! He’s handing it to me – a long hollow pole that I have to keep spinning to make sure the red blob of molten glass stays stuck to it.. He blows on my hand to indicate that I need to gently blow down the tube. Next, still spinning I have to place the tube inside a wood mould to make the basic shape of glass. Again I blow to encourage the glass to fill the mould which sends clouds of wood smoke into my nostrils. I’m practically shaking with nerves by this stage but Zdenek says what I understand to be Czech for “spin faster” I do and again understand how incredibly strong these artists have to be I have to use my wrists, my fingers just aren’t strong enough.
And then the operation is suddenly over. “My” glass is removed from the mould and I feel strangely proud. It’s plunged in water to cool and then it awaits completion.
What I have produced is the main body of a tankard. Zdenek finishes it with another blob of glass from which he creates the handle and its little ear. All by hand remember.
When assembled my tankard is taken to a cold store where it cools for up to four hours. It arrives in my office 10 days later and my chest swells with pride when I see it is perfect. Well, perfect to my eyes. I doubt it would pass Moser Quality Control!
UK stockists include Thomas Goode, Asprey London and Glancy – Fawcett. For more information visit www.moser-glass.com