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fossilfly
11-22-2007, 09:57 PM
A worthwhile article about the decline of Murano artisans in Venice. There have been a few similar pieces over the years, but none in such an esteemed magazine. The "dead within a decade" is surprising, and in my opinion, a stretch.

Glassmaking in Italy

Death in Venice
Nov 22nd 2007 | MURANO
From The Economist print edition


The last generation at one of the world's oldest family firms?
Barovier & Tosohttp://www.economist.com/images/20071124/4707WB2.jpgMade the old-fashioned way
AFTER coaxing the molten glass at the tip of a long steel rod to the correct length and thickness, the master craftsman carries it to his workbench and curves the still-hot material into the desired shape. Another piece of Murano glass, part of a complex, brightly coloured, three-dimensional jigsaw forming a chandelier, is ready for the cooling tunnel. The methods used at Barovier & Toso are much as they were when Jacobello Barovier began making decorative glass at the end of the 13th century.
More than 700 years and 19 generations later, Jacopo Barovier heads the family-controlled firm of glassmakers that bears his name. The Toso family, whose ancestors began making decorative glass in the 17th century in Murano, a small cluster of islands across the lagoon from Venice, acquired one-third of the capital when the two firms merged in the 1930s. The result is one of the oldest family firms in the world.
Despite its traditional manufacturing techniques, the ancient firm is highly profitable, and more than three-quarters of its €12m ($18m) annual sales come from exports. Barovier & Toso's best-known chandeliers are probably those installed 15 years ago in the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, some of them 40 feet tall. More typical of the firm's output are large modern decorative installations like those illuminating the Four Seasons Hotels in Miami and San Francisco.
Barovier & Toso might seem at risk from Chinese competition, particularly as it makes all its own glass parts and does not rely on outsourcing to low-wage countries. Judging the quality of a chandelier hanging from a ceiling is not easy and Barovier & Toso's designs are vulnerable to copying. “Our edge comes from making unique pieces and customising our products,” says Mr Barovier.
Although Barovier & Toso has so far warded off foreign competition, much of the glass sold in Venice's shops that purports to be local comes from Asia, rather than Murano. Indeed, Mr Barovier believes Murano's glassmaking cluster, already a shadow of what it was 70 years ago, will be dead within a decade.
And the future of his firm? Jacopo, who reluctantly became involved in the family firm more than 30 years ago, may be the last of the line. His two sisters and his son are not involved in the company. Is Barovier & Toso a target for private equity? “I am unsentimental. That is a possibility,” says Mr Barovier.

Article copyright 2007- The Economist

glassman
11-24-2007, 10:44 AM
It is sad that the head of one of the best regarded companies in Murano states the "industry will be dead in decade". While I hope this is untrue, the competitive pressures have never been greater, the lower quality items from China and the Studio glass movement in the US with some very high quality glass with innovative designs fighting for the high end byers. While it may be a shadow of its former self, "the shadow" employs over 1,000 people on the island, with encyclopedic knowledge of glassworking. Rather than complain, B&T should be reinvigorating and reinventing itself. Much larger companies have done it in the states sucessfully(GM, Ford). A company and an island with so much history and talent should not squander what they have, even though the competition is fiercer today that it was in the past. My .02