Illuminated treasures

The Royal Treasures and Art Exhibition at the Madinat will showcase some exclusive chandeliers and other fascinating works of art. City Times talks to John P. Smith, Chairman of the Glass Circle of London, about what makes chandeliers so special

By Layla Haroon

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Published: Tue 28 Oct 2008, 8:32 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:45 PM

A RARE SHOWCASE of the world’s finest pieces of art is all set to unfurl in Dubai tomorrow. The Royal Treasures and Art Exhibition will bring forth exclusive chandeliers, European objects of art, intricate and breathtakingly jewellery and fascinating contemporary Indian art.

Brought up by Rifca gallery, Ancestry antique shop and Palace arts showroom, the exhibition will feature exquisite jewellery pieces such as a bracelet with a natural fancy colour diamond referred to as ‘The Orchids of the Gem’ and majestic chandeliers that are bound to leave all in awe. Complementing the royal items, is the contemporary Indian art of artists V.S. Gaitonde, Jagdish Swaminathan and S.H. Raza, who are featured in reputed auction houses like Christies, Sothebys and Bonhams and are ranked in the top 500 best artist category in terms of sales.

John P. Smith, a glass and lighting consultant for major museums of the world, and Chairman of the Glass Circle of London, has verified the royal pieces and will be a guest at the exhibition.

How do you approach examining the authenticity and exclusivity of chandelier pieces for the exhibition?

I first examine a chandelier to see what style, country and period it purports to represent. There are several possibilities like - is it absolutely ‘right’ as to what it represents? Is it right but heavily restored, or assembled in the wrong way? Sometimes when a chandelier is taken down people forget how to put it back together. I also examine whether the cutting has been polished ‘on the wheel’. Or has acid polishing been used? Having determined the age and country of origin of the chandelier, I then assess its quality.

On what basis do you determine the age of the chandelier?

It requires knowledge and experience of chandeliers on a worldwide basis. I examine both the glass and the metalwork. Often the metalwork is a ‘giveaway’. If modern techniques such as machine made screws or ‘spinning’ of parts are employed the chandelier cannot be very old. Any chandelier that is old, may have been moved and may have suffered damage and have replacement parts. I consider a chandelier still authentic if no more than 10% of the parts have had to be replaced and this has been done in a skilful manner.

What is the history behind the Red Bohemian Chandelier which is one of the most striking exhibits?

The Red Bohemian Chandelier is an impressive chandelier which was made in Bohemia – modern day Czech Republic – in the 19th century. Made in the celebrated Bohemian cranberry glass with Milchglass (milk glass) overlay, the chandelier boasts delicate gold gilding on the overlay. It was probably made in Kemenicky Senov, (once known as Steinschönau) by the large and important firm of Elais Palme who are

What are the factors we should look upon in selecting a chandelier for our interiors?

A chandelier should be the right size for a room. The diameter should be about 15% of the width of the room. In the old days the height was twice the diameter, although today, with lower ceilings, often the height is less than the diameter. A chandelier should be hung quite low in a room. It looks wrong, if a chandelier is way up, just beneath the ceiling. The tallest member of the household should be not quite able to reach up and touch the bottom of the chandelier. Nowadays chandeliers are electrified and should be on dimmer switches.

What do you think were the reasons for glass chandeliers being replaced by crystal chandeliers?

I need to redefine this question as the term ‘crystal’ is ambiguous. In the 16th century, crystal meant rock crystal or quartz that was used by the Mughals and Renaissance craftsman to carve wonderful objects. In Europe, the first chandeliers were metal frames, often gilt, hung with rock crystal drops. The aim of glassmakers was to make glass as good as rock crystal. In the 17th century lead glass was developed in England which had the same qualities as rock crystal. For tax reasons this became, in the 18th century, the only type of glass used in England, except for windows and bottles. In continental Europe they still largely continued to use the old soda glass. All English chandeliers were made of lead glass with its superior properties of clarity and refraction, and they were all cut. But as many in continental Europe were made of pressed soda glass, and to differentiate, the Americans started to call English lead glass ‘crystal’, and continental soda glass ‘glass’. So to answer the question the earliest chandeliers used ‘rock crystal’, later chandeliers used ‘glass’ or ‘crystal’. Crystal is clearer and has a higher refractive index making it more diamond like. One of the oldest home décor companies, Baccarat moved from ‘glass’ to ‘crystal’ in the 19th century. Osler only ever used ‘crystal’.


The Royal Treasures and Art Exhibition runs from October 28 until 31 at Murjaan Ballroom, Madinat Jumeirah.

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