Classy glass from the past
Sally McGrane · 13 Sep 2011, 11:12
Published: 13 Sep 2011 11:12 GMT+02:00
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From luxury cars to precision machinery, “Made in Germany” still means quality craftsmanship around the world. But the Teutonic attention to detail goes far beyond engineering. This series features a diverse array of products from both well-known German brands and less famous firms. But no matter big or small, all of them are focused on being the best at what they do.
The Jenaer Glas story starts in 1884, when Otto Schott, a glass chemist, and his partners Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss founded the “Glass technical laboratory Schott and Partners” in Jena, Thuringia. What they produced wasn’t just any ordinary glass: They were working hard to develop a new kind of material that would withstand chemicals and heat.
By 1887, they had made a major breakthrough, developing a borosilicate glass that was the forerunner of the Pyrex glass we know today. This new material was immediately put to use to produce thermometers, laboratory test tubes, and the glass cylinders used in the era’s gas lights. By 1918, the company was making glass jars, baby bottles, and dishes for cooking and baking. With the growing popularity of the Bauhaus designs, the glass company teamed up with Bauhaus designers Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Gerhard Marcks, Heinrich Löffelhardt, Bruno Mauder, Ilse Decho and Hans Merz in the 1930s. Together with these leading contemporary artists, they produced some of the earliest examples of modern industrial design products.
After the post-war division of Germany, the company also split into two, with the glass production company in Jena continuing to function under state ownership, and a second company, Schott and Partners, established in 1952 in the western city of Mainz. Communist East Germany found the glass from Jena was a popular export article. In the West, Schott and Partners likewise continued producing high-quality glasswares.
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Schott Mainz took control of the company in Jena, and in 1994 the brand was relaunched as Jenaer Glas. This company, in turn was taken over by Zwiesel Kristallglas – a firm with which the Jenaer glassworks had a long history. Back in 1927, the group in Jena had acquired a majority stake in the Zwiesel glassworks. In 1945, when US troops sent more than forty of Jenaer Glas’s high-level employees to construct a new optical glass manufacturing plant in Zwiesel in Bavaria, the transfer of qualified managers from the headquarters allowed the Bavarian glassworks to regroup. In the 1970’s, the Zwiesel glassworks produced housewares under the name “Jenaer Glas,” but were forced to stop after a brand name dispute. After the two companies joined forces once again, production was moved from Jena to Zwiesel in 2005.
Today, Jenaer Glas specialities include a re-issue of Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s classic Bauhaus tea service from 1931. The teapot, still on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, costs about €140, retail.
“It’s our goal to expand the product portfolio we presently have for food and lifestyle trends,” said Nora Michelson, Product Manager of Jenaer Glas. “We’ll take the continuously changing demands of gastronomy – and the consumer – into account.”