From the arty and sculptural to the innovative and industrial, Swarovski’s role in lighting design is rich and varied. The brand made its first foray into lighting when it began offering crystals to chandelier manufacturers in the Sixties, and recently collaborated with Rem Koolhaas on a light installation at last year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice.
By 1966, Swarovski became part of a diplomatic mission when the Republic of Austria gave the now-famous “Sputnik” chandeliers, adorned with Swarovski crystals, to the New York Metropolitan Opera, in gratitude for American aid following World War II.
This story first appeared in the March 9, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In 2008, Swarovski would later pay for the refurbishment of the chandeliers, which were designed by Hans Harald Rath with 50,000 custom-made crystals.
The Metropolitan Opera isn’t the only historic venue where Swarovski crystals have shone. In 1980, Swarovski experts helped to repair and refurbish the Baroque chandeliers at the Palace of Versailles following extensive renovation work to the site.
Such projects involved supplying crystals to other designers. But in 2002, Swarovski took a more active role in lighting design. Nadja Swarovski, who heads design services, asked several lauded designers to reinvent the chandelier with an artistic twist. The Swarovski Crystal Palace Collection was born, with creations by big names from the worlds of architecture and design, including Zaha Hadid, the Campana Brothers, Amanda Levete of Future Systems, Fabien Baron, Arik Levy, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon.
“Crystal Palace was the equivalent of supporting sponsorship in the fashion arena,” Swarovski said. “We needed to reinvent the [lighting] components of the architecture field, so again we chose the most cutting-edge designers, and asked them to reinvent it. It had a huge impact on our sales.”
In 2005, the company began designing its own lighting products under the Swarovski name, but quickly realized it didn’t have the capability to be a market leader. As a result, in 2007 it bought Schonbek Worldwide Lighting Ltd., which allowed it to broaden its production, distribution, manufacturing and development.
Swarovski Lighting was formally established in 2011, with two consumer brands: Swarovski, offering contemporary pieces, and Schonbek, a collection of more traditional designs. In addition, Swarovski Architectural Solutions provides bespoke lighting solutions for architects and designers.
Alongside its more commercial ventures, Swarovski continues to work on one-off projects, including the Gabriel chandelier at the Palace of Versailles, a 39-foot chandelier at the entrance of the King’s Grand Apartment designed by brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec in 2013.
The palace’s first permanent modern work of art, it resembles a transparent chain suspended from the ceiling. It’s formed from three interlaced strands composed of hundreds of Swarovski crystals and LED light sources and is on display by the grand Gabriel staircase.
“It took me a while to convince Ronan Bouroullec to do a chandelier for us,” recalled Swarovski. “He was like ‘You do these swans, why should I do a chandelier?’ But then it was at Versailles, so he was happy.”
The designer brothers have called the installation a new and innovative concept for its time, involving some “quite radical engineering.” They added that no crystal firm other than Swarovski could have dealt with it. “We understood that we were dealing with serious people who are part of a dwindling group of businesses that are really committed to research and innovation, and for whom research is not just a marketing term,” Ronan Bouroullec said.
Swarovski continues to play a big part in the worlds of architecture and design. At last year’s International Architecture Exhibition at la Biennale di Venezia, Swarovski worked with Koolhaas, the 2014 curator, on an illuminated archway. The archway formed the entrance to Monditalia, one of three exhibitions created by Koolhaas, and it was made from thousands of brightly colored glass light bulbs and 33 pounds of Swarovski crystal rocks, all set on a wooden framework.
The Monditalia archway wasn’t Swarovski’s first effort in Venice. In 2002, Honeycomb, an illuminated panel designed by Todd Bracher and made of 23,000 crystals, backlit by LED lighting, went on display at the Biennale in Venice.
“Perspectives,” a giant concave crystal lens sculpture created by the British minimalist architect John Pawson for Swarovski, was showcased in the 16th century Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore at the 55th International Art Exhibition at la Biennale di Venezia in 2013.
Pawson’s design using the Swarovski lens is aimed at highlighting specific details of grand, sweeping spaces, and allows the public to see things that are usually inaccessible or difficult to reach. The reflective installation made its debut on the Geometric Staircase of St. Paul’s Cathedral — the dean’s private staircase — in 2011 at the London Design Festival.
“It was the biggest lens that Swarovski has ever created. It was amazing when John’s lens was delivered to St. Paul’s cathedral — all the metal workers and product developers and John were there,” Swarovski said. “When the lens was put on the metal base, everyone started to cry. It was such an amazing moment — everything looked so perfect and so beautiful — it was months of work and it had exactly the impact that John wanted. It was magical.”
Pawson has said the aim of the project was to offer a place for the eye to rest, encouraging visual meditation.
“At St. Paul’s, the staircase is so fragile that no one walks on it. The lens allowed people to see what they normally could not see.”
At the basilica in Venice, Pawson said the lens allows viewers to see the details underneath the cupola. “It’s a device for concentrating on part of a building,” he said.
Swarovski is also active on the retail front, doing a project most recently in Las Vegas. Last month Swarovski and Grand Bazaar Shops hosted a Swarovski Midnight Celebration, where a 14-foot Crystal Starburst designed with 924 custom-cut sparklers and 1,800 points of LED light was unveiled and hung over the shops on the strip.
At the Mall of America in Minnesota, a Swarovski installation designed by Gabellini Sheppard in 2010 features five fixtures designed with clear and colored crystals, strung with stainless steel cables and hung from the ceiling.
Diane von Furstenberg’s office in New York has a central stairway composed of 3,400 Swarovski crystals and light computerized heliostat mirrors that rotate throughout the day, channeling sunlight from the skylight down the stairwell.
Swarovski lighting has even made its way onto the big screen. Schonbek chandeliers have been featured on movie sets such as “The Great Gatsby,” “Black Swan,” “Hunger Games” and “Die Another Day.”