Christofle has specialized in tableware, flatware, and home accessories since 1830, and has successfully reinvigorated the world of silverware long associated with a bourgeois lifestyle. This new image has seduced American clients and the United States has overtaken France as the brand’s first market.
Anyone who has stepped into a Christofle boutique has surely had quite a surprise, as grandma’s silverware is nowhere to be seen! The flagship store in New York on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 70th Street is more reminiscent of a contemporary art showroom, with the company’s silver-plated platters hung on the walls like mirrors. The brand’s iconic bee motif also inspired creative director Stéphane Parmentier to design a wall in the style of a honeycomb to present the products.
The lines of timeless, chic and sober flatware are showcased alongside the latest creations from the Putman design studio and other eye-catching cutlery, such as the carved and engraved pieces from the Jardin d’Eden collection. A set of egg-shaped metal cutlery plated with silver and pink gold make up part of the conceptual MOOD collection, presented next to articulated, stainless steel candelabras by French designer Ora-ïto. Further along, visitors will discover a miniature replica of the iconic Wild Kong piece by artist Richard Orlinski, and a complete brunch service from Jean-Marie Massaud.
Christofle, a Self-Made Man
While Christofle has always been a standard feature in luxury hotels, the brand focused on modernity from the very beginning. When Charles Christofle, the silversmith who founded the company, put forward his precious metal hallmark (a stamp guaranteeing the origin and quality of metal goods authorized by the French government) in 1832, he predicted the coming of a new society. Aristocrats at the time still used silver or gold flatware, while the rest of the population made do with wooden or tin cutlery. He was convinced by the technological innovation of gold and silver plating using electrolysis, which enabled the creation of cheap, mass-produced metal-plated items, and acquired the patents in 1841.
Around the same time, the end of the July Monarchy heralded the rise of the corporate bourgeoisie class, for whom the dining room was a setting to show off one’s success. This new social group saw the new method championed by Christofle (six times cheaper than the traditional technique) as a low-cost way of standing out. After all, silver-plated metal has the color of silver without the heavy weight or aftertaste! Christofle flatware sets became heritage pieces to be passed down through the generations, and the manufacturer’s Baptism service — complete with silver-plated tumbler, napkin holder, and cutlery engraved with the baby’s name — were quickly seized upon as a preppy gift par excellence for new parents.
From the S.S. Normandie to the Concorde
Each piece is made in the village of Yainville, in Normandy, by artisans holding the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. The company still uses the traditional production methods, working with hammers, chiseling, and engraving to add the finishing touches to each piece. Patina, cloisonné enameling, and lacquering create the colors, and the pieces are swaged to obtain their shape and dimension. The cutlery is plated with gold and silver, and nickel silver is used as a base. Copper is also used in electroplating, while tin is a choice metal for alloys, and steel is used to make the blades of each knife.
Talisman flatware set. © Christofle/Luxproductions
After gracing the tables of Louis-Philippe and Napoléon III, Christofle has proceeded to equip modern palace hotels such as Le Meurice, Le Crillon, and Le Ritz, as well as French embassies all over the world, the S.S. Normandie, the Orient Express, and France’s ultimate symbol of modernity, the Concorde plane. Following the end of World War II, Christofle developed its activity in the United States which now represents its largest market before France. Leading American clients include hotels championing French chic, such as the Paris Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
The original American boutique opened in New York in 1948, and the company now boasts around ten stores across the United States. As well as its outlets in other U.S. cities such as Boston, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles, Christofle is present in Montreal, and can also be found at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Bergdorf Goodman.
Article published in the December 2017 issue of France-Amérique