Gripoix has been synonymous with high quality cast glass for over a century. It has starred in pieces by Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior and rightly cemented its place in the fashion jewelry hall of fame. But what is Gripoix and why have leading designers had such an ubiquitous passion for it over the years?
The secret of Gripoix
Strictly speaking, Gripoix is the name of a studio, a house in which cast glass was made.
In 1869, Augustine Gripoix, the atelier’s founder, revived, refined and reinvented an ancient art of glassmaking. The process involved pate de verre, molten glass that was poured into molds. At that time, it was common practice to grind glass beads, crystals and pearls into a paste, bake them and then pour them into molds.
Augustine’s method of melting glass and pouring it into molds enabled faster processing and probably gave more room for creativity and produced stones that were purer in color, transparency and luster. In the early days of Gripoix, princesses and duchesses lined up to get replicas of their favorite jewelry, both as replacements and for glamor.
The art of Gripoix
Copper alloy wires, the recipe of which remains a secret to this day, are supplied by the Art Metal Company, an organization roughly as old as Gripoix.
The wires are heated, twisted, and stretched into a shape, and then soldered with brass powder, a rare technique. The form is then gilded and the glass work begins.
Fun Fact: Part of Gripoix’s glass was supplied by Bullseye Glass Co. of Portland, Oregon, which also supplies glass to Tiffany.
The glass, which comes in long colored sticks, is melted and poured into the molds. Since glass is melted and not ground, color and transparency are retained and attractive color combinations can be achieved.
Some pieces take over a hundred hours to be handcrafted, but the result is unmatched: Gripoix pieces that are 50 years old or older look like time stood still in admiration and didn’t dare to do that Pieces to scar in any way.
Chanel and Gripoix: a lifelong partnership
In the 1920s, young Gabrielle Chanel reached out to Suzanne Gripoix with an interesting request for Byzantine jewelry that required bold glass stones in bright colors.
Chanel reproduced designs inspired by 16th century and Renaissance paintings. Their standards for outcome were high; The stones had to be bold, the intricate Byzantine patterns had to be sharp, and the jewelry had to look freshly excavated. Gripoix did not disappoint and the results were more than satisfactory. The iconic Byzantine style of Chanel jewelry was born.
Chanel often combined natural and imitation stones in one piece. Natural and imitation pearls are often found in the same necklace, ring, or brooch. Gripoix made them in a sublime way, so it’s impossible to tell the real thing from the fake.
Suzanne Gripoix also made special irregular pearls for Chanel; an imitation of baroque pearls. The artificial pearls were enamelled with mother-of-pearl in Gripoix ‘workshops to achieve the same soft sheen that is characteristic of natural pearls.