This week’s tale is one of Franco-American immigration! A Norman family who left France in 1648 to join the Quaker colony in Providence, RI, then generations later a certain David returned to France to start producing and exporting porcelain.
How it all began
David Haviland, a trader, created an import company for ceramics and porcelain in 1838 in New York. He subsequently crossed the Atlantic and settled in Limoges in 1842, where he founded his own company and manufacturing facility. Limoges porcelain enjoyed an unprecedented boom and David Haviland became world-acclaimed for his innovative eye and creative genius.
In 1853, he obtained a gold medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York and the French government later saluted his talent by awarding him a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1855.
Eager to push the limits of technical know-how, he perfected various decorative techniques and equipped his factory with the latest machinery. By 1864 Haviland had become the most important porcelain manufacturer in France – no mean feat!
The company continued to be managed by David’s two sons with Charles Edward largely in control and managing the day to day operations and Theodore in America until 1879 when Theodore moved back to France. Both brothers in one location proved to be too much for either and they decided to dissolve their partnership in 1891. Charles Edward continued with the business and Theodore opened his own business, Theodore Haviland, Limoges, in 1893. The two companies competed bitterly until Charles Edward’s death in 1921, the company folded in 1931.
In 1941 William Haviland, Theodore’s son, bought the rights to the Haviland & Company name and began production of wares after World War II. The Haviland company has since been overseen by grandson William Haviland, and great-grandson Theodore Haviland II.
Royal families and heads of state from around the world succumbed to the charm and exceptional prestige of this porcelain, including the wife of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugenie, President Jacques Chirac, Prince Rainier of Monaco, as well as Presidents Roosevelt and Lincoln, to name but a few. Plus, you’ll find it in the finest restaurants in the world’s most outstanding hotels.
The Haviland family was also known for their Quaker principles. They created emergency funds, vacation and housing options for their employees during 19th century well before this became standard practice or was even legislated.
Haviland porcelain has always combined modern demands with creative craftsmanship. The finishing and decorating artistic work are all done by hand, by highly skilled and truly passionate artists.
Kaolin, feldspar and quartz are the principal components of porcelain. These items are placed in a grinder where they are crushed and mixed with water. The mixing takes several hours.
Depending on the manufacturing process, three types of porcelain are used:
Everything starts in the modeling workshop. An artist sculpts original creations in plaster. Time-consuming delicate work is necessary to perfect these forms. This is followed by the creation of production moulds, which are made in plaster from the original models.
Jiggering: The mould gives the exterior shape to each piece while a steel calibrator creates the interior shape.
Casting: Pieces with more complex shapes are produced through casting. Liquid porcelain flows evenly over the walls of the mould and dries. When the desired thickness is achieved the excess porcelain is eliminated.
Pressing: Pieces are pressed in a mould with a dry, grainy mixture of porcelain.
Garnishing: Handles, spouts and knobs are moulded independently and glued to finished pieces using a liquid mixture of similar composition.
Finishing: After drying, the finishing process removes «seams» left by the mould. Each piece is now perfectly smooth.
The “degourdi” firing: At this stage, the porcelain undergoes its first firing at approximately 950°C. This firing gives porcelain resistance and makes it porous, a necessity for enameling.
Enameling: Silica, pegmatite, kaolin and lime are mixed with water. The porcelain is plunged into this enamel mixture that gives it brilliance, sheen and translucency.
The “grand feu” firing: The second firing lasts for about 24 hours at a final temperature of 1,400°C and produces physical changes that allow the enamel to fuse with the porcelain body. Enameled porcelain pieces are referred to as «le blanc». A quality control check is performed on each item before it is sent to the decoration workshop.
Haviland has a chromolithography (method of transferring a design to the porcelain as opposed to hand painting) printing atelier to apply the patterns on each piece. The know-how, experience and skills of the artisans are essential to guarantee optimal quality.
Gold, platinum and colored filigree as well as handle and knob garnishing are all applied with a brush by «spinners», the steady-handed artists of decoration in the decor workshop. Then another firing between 900°C and 1,250°C adheres the decoration to the porcelain enamel.
Next there are more than eleven intricate steps to create incrustations on the piece. A protecting coating is firstly applied to all those areas of the porcelain that will not be encrusted. The piece is plunged into an acid bath which etches the enamel and leaves relief in the areas to be polished. The piece is then cleaned. A first coat of brilliant gold is applied with a brush. The piece is then fired at a temperature of 810°C. A second coat of matte gold is then applied and the piece is fired again at 850°C. The gold is gently polished with very fine sand, to accentuate the difference between the matt area (engraved portion) and the brilliant area (the non-engraved portion of the decor).
You can now appreciate why such porcelain is expensive!
All images courtesy of Haviland