The Knowledge: Eric Knowles on René Lalique

Antiques expert Eric Knowles shares his love of sparkling René Lalique glass 

Shortly after I opened Bonhams’ art nouveau and art deco department around 30 years ago, I held its first Lalique sale. We made about £50,000 but, within three years, sale totals began to exceed £330,000. Back then, many dealers were reluctant to take Lalique’s pressed glass seriously. But when we sold a Lalique clock for £80,000, opinions started to change.

René Lalique initially trained as a jewellery designer. He was apprenticed to a Parisian jeweller before attending art college in London. At 25, he bought a workshop in Paris and began designing highly sculptural pieces for the likes of Boucheron and Cartier. The influences he is now famous for – nature, art nouveau and the female form – were clear to see. In his own lifetime he was recognised as a master jeweller and, today, his jewellery is highly coveted. Pieces go for anything from £5,000 to £100,000 and over. But, by 1905, he tired of the craft. By then, he was interested in glass…

Eventually, René would create glass on an architectural scale – including for the 1925 Paris Exposition and for St Matthew’s Church in Jersey – but his early commissions were much smaller. In 1907, he created perfume bottles for François Coty. These saw high demand and he was quick to respond. He began to mass-produce glassware, such as mold-blown vases. But he never over-produced, and the process still required skilled craftsmanship. At least 20 people would work on one vase, including the person adding ‘R Lalique’ (rarely René himself).

The signature is the main way to tell if a piece was produced under René’s leadership – look for an ‘R’ in front of ‘Lalique’ (not to be confused with the ‘®’ symbol, which appears on some post-war pieces). His initial was dropped after his death in 1945, though I tend to think of 1939 as the knock-off point. The glass itself also holds a clue. René favoured the greyish hue of demi-crystal, whereas after his death, the glass was changed to full-lead crystal, which looks much more white.

At auctions, you can buy some smaller pieces – particularly tableware – for £80 to £150. Colour is key to value, too: the clear designs are the least valuable, while the reds, blues, greens and purples are more desirable.

René’s more unique cire perdue (lost wax) vases go for £30,000 to £100,000 plus, but across the spectrum, condition is key. Avoid vases that have been ground down at the top rim or the base (you can check the height of each design in the 1932 Lalique catalogue).His 1920s car mascots make good money – £6,000, easily. Watch out for later versions in full-lead crystal, which are worth 10 times less today. Original or reproduction, these mascots display his highly inventive design – which is no surprise, as he was a fountain of invention. 

FIVE FACTS ABOUT ERIC

When Eric joined the Antiques Roadshow in 1981, he was only supposed to be handing out tickets, which he did for about an hour before the producer put him in front of the camera. 

2 One of the best bargains Eric has been on the Antiques Roadshow was a black, stained, glass vase, for which the owner had paid £1. It was a rare Lalique vase worth over £25,000. 

3 Eric has a passion for Northern Soul music, and was an amateur DJ as a young man. 

4 Lalique was Eric's specialist subject when he went on Celebrity Mastermind in 2004. He missed out on the trophy by just two points. 

5 Royal Doulton has immortalised Eric in ceramic form, producing a character jug in his image. 

LEARN MORE To find out more, read Eric's book, Lalique, while serious collectors should invest in R Lalique: Catalogue Raisonné by Félix Marcilhac. Admirers can also visit the Musée Lalique in Wingen-sur-Moder. 

Interview: Mel Sherwood
Portrait: Grant Scott

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