December 9th: A Load of Baubles
Most of us have a very casual attitude towards Christmas baubles. We buy them in tubs, boxes or individually, according to our colour scheme or whim. We think very little, if at all, about how they were made, where they come from and what skills were employed in their manufacture. The fact is, they are little works of art, each one a tiny miracle of workmanship.
Glass baubles, at least the ones I buy, are individually handblown, just as they have been for the last 170 years. A section of clear glass tubing is heated until it’s molten, then blown into a perfect sphere. Glass blowing is not as easy as it looks; believe me, I’ve tried. Once cool the bauble is ‘silvered’, a process which involves a clear solution of silver nitrate being swished around inside each bauble whilst it’s bathed in a vat of warm water. Silver is deposited onto the inner surface of the glass, giving a brilliant, mirror finish.
Once silvered, each bauble is polished before being lacquered, unless it is to remain silver in colour. Lacquers come in an extraordinary range of shades and finishes. When I have to choose a lacquer, I am like a child in a sweetshop, stymied by the sheer choice of delicious colours. Then comes the fun part, the decoration. The amazingly skilled ladies and gentlemen that make a living from painting, glittering and gilding baubles are possessed of a steady hand, a keen eye and a good memory. They work without guidelines or templates, creating bauble after bauble in the same likeness, whilst retaining the beauty of a handmade product. I’ve been to many a bauble factory and I am still mesmerised by the process and the incredible skill of the glass blowers and decorators.
Until the very last stage each bauble retains the stem of glass through which it was blown. This allows the bauble to be handled and passed along the production line without damaging any of the delicate finishes. The brightly lacquered glass might be sprayed, hand painted, stencilled, glittered, flocked, gilded, beaded or adorned with gem stones to create the finished piece. A simple bauble may take a few minutes to complete, the most complex will involve up to eight hours of painstaking work. Once the bauble is complete, the stem is removed using a diamond-edged saw. A small metal cap is inserted, the design of which can often be used to identify the factory.
Next time you buy a glass ornament, take a second or two to marvel at the workmanship that created it. Ponder the talented people who blow, silver, polish and paint day-in, day-out so that our Christmas trees may sparkle and delight. There’s a lot more to that box of baubles in the loft that meets the eye. TFG.