The making of....Christmas baubles
Our collection of Christmas ornaments for the 2022 Christmas season is bigger than ever. The most beautiful glass Christmas decorations, or ornaments, Christmas decorations or just 'Christmas balls' - whatever you want to call them - can all be seen in our store or online in our webshop. They are made for us by many different companies. Mostly small family businesses that have been making Christmas ornaments for generations, but also larger companies that have made a new start after the communist rule in Eastern Europe and that have gone from a collective to independent. There are of course differences between the factories we work with: in style, use of colour, shape and decorations. But all our ornaments have one thing in common: they are made of glass according to the old process in which Christmas ornaments have been made for generations.
We are often asked how these ornaments are actually made. It's hard to imagine how many people worked on one ornament. In February of this year - in the middle of the Corona time and barely a week before the attack on the Ukraine - we traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic to visit the factories there and to view the production process so that we can now properly show how our beautiful Christmas decorations are made. made and what journey they have made before finding a new home in your Christmas tree. It became a journey through eastern Europe, past cities with an eventful history: Krakow, Lodz, Czestochowa and Katowice.
The mould, the process of glass blowing and 'drawn' glass
Of course, the whole process starts with making the mold; that is the shape the glass is blown into to get its final shape. The shapes were formerly made by skilled woodcarvers, after which casts were made of metal. In some factories they still use the old wooden molds to make casts from them over and over again. But for new models, the process still starts every year with the draftsman and designer who come up with a shape and design it three-dimensionally. Made of clay or plaster and nowadays also resin or plastic. Existing molds must be regularly renewed because they naturally wear out quickly due to the high temperatures of the glass, so that the shapes become less and less sharp over time.
The glass used for the ornaments comes from glass factories that supply the glass in long thin tubes. In the workshop, the glassblowers sit at long tables, each with their own open fire. The glass tubes are heated in the hot flame and then placed in the mold. When the mold is closed, the glassblower blows air into it so that the glass can mold to its final shape. In some cases, pieces of hot glass are then glued to it. These drops of hot glass are then drawn into a certain shape, forming legs, twigs, beaks or tails. Where the shapes that are 'blown' or 'pressed' into a mold are all the same, the technique of 'drawn glass' ensures that each object can actually be called unique because no shape becomes the same in this way. Each ornament is a work of art in itself.
In addition, there are also factories or glass blowers that specialize in 'free blown glass'. These are shapes that are made based on an example in which the glassblower blows a shape into the glass over an open fire, but without a mould. Blowing such free forms, which all have to look more or less the same, is a real craft and the glassblowers are actually artists. The ornaments that are made in this way are actually all a bit different and are therefore also a lot more expensive to purchase.
Silver plating the ornaments
After the blown molds have been allowed to cool on special racks on which the molds are placed so that they are all separate from each other, the next phase follows. All forms receive a bath of mercury. They go into a silver bath so that the inside of the mold is completely covered with silver. Because the silver is on the inside, this layer is wear-resistant. In addition, it provides extra shine and depth to the layers of paint that will be applied to the outside of the ornament in the next phase. After mercurizing the molds, they must dry well again. The factory corridors are therefore full of racks full of silver-plated molds that are drying and waiting for the next step in the process.
Decorating the Christmas ornaments, the art of decorating
When the mercury has dried, the shapes go to the department where they are painted. Painting requires not only creativity but also a steady hand. The ornaments are painted per model for days by diligent hands. One day it's the great tits' turn, the next day it's the hot air balloons. You will not find airbrushes or paint sprayers in the decoration departments. Here, with endless patience and precision, the colors per ornament are applied layer by layer, with an example always in sight. No wonder that no eye is the same and that there are subtle differences between all Christmas balls. Almost invisible to the layman, but if you look closely they are there and that is the great charm of this traditional handicraft. But decorating is not finished with just painting. After the basic layers of paint have been applied, the details follow in the form of glitter stripes, a sequin here, a glittering stone there. Once again, each ornament passes through the hands of the mostly female teams who have learned the job from an early age and who practice the art of decorating day in and day out with endless patience.
The final assembly
Once painted and decorated and air dried, it's time for the final finish. The suspension system at the top or the clip at the bottom are placed on the ornaments here. One by one, all ornaments pass through the hands of the people in the assembly department, after which they are ready to be packed in a box. Sometimes with several pieces in one box, sometimes in small individual packages where they are wrapped with great care in tissue paper. Only then, after all these steps, are they ready to begin their journey.
You can imagine that during this labour-intensive production process, the risk of damage, of breaking an ornament, is very high. On our visits to the factories we have therefore seen many boxes with ornaments that did not end well during the production process. It is the risk of the glass blowing profession, but fortunately due to the great discipline that prevails at all factories, it usually goes well. Once properly packed, there is the last dangerous hurdle to overcome before they reach their destination, the transport by land or air that actually poses the greatest danger. If they arrived broken, all that effort, all that hard work of so many, would have been for nothing.
It is only when you have seen this whole process - the dedication, the love for the product and the attention paid to every step - and when you realize that at least 7 people each with their own specialism have worked on one ornament, then you realize how special that one Christmas bauble actually is and can you really appreciate it when it finally arrives at its final destination....in a beautifully decorated Christmas tree somewhere in this world.