Quality is a journey is the pledge of the black and white city map of WIEN PRODUCTS, which I found on the homepage of www.wienproducts.at, so I’m setting out to explore the secrets surrounding member companies and their workshops in and around Vienna.
If you stroll from the Opera toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral, you pass the doorway of number 26 on Kärntner Strasse. The portal itself is impressive but inside it hides the business of the tradition-steeped company J. & L. Lobmeyr, now run by cousins Andreas, Johannes and Leonid Rath.
But I want to find out where and by whom the legendary chandeliers are made, so make my way to Salesianergasse in the 3rd District. In the 1970s, Lobmeyr took over Zahn – the Biedermeier-inspired building at number 19 looks onto a cozy internal courtyard and accommodates not only the chandelier business on the street side but also a number of workshops and storerooms. Johannes Rath, who is mainly in charge of chandelier-making, never fails to amaze me with his sheer, unlimited knowledge and fascinating stories.
I already knew that Lobmeyr used to be a purveyor to the court and that their crystal chandeliers hang not only in palaces and castles in Europe but also in the Wiener Musikverein concert hall, the State Opera, the MET in New York, and so on. What was new to me was that the firm also supplies lighting for sacred spaces. From St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna to Arabic mosques, people appreciate the artistry of the craftsmen of Vienna.
We’re standing in the metalworking shop. Hanging from the ceiling above me are iron templates for innumerable models. Parts for chandelier pendants lie on the machines, some of which are a hundred years old. The mounts cut from metal following old drawings are precisely numbered. This is where hundreds of crystal balls are assembled for the MET chandelier, each one on its own thin metal rod.
In the courtyard opposite, four men are busy soldering and machining a special order, an imposing staircase light made up of more than 300 single brass squares to be assembled, I learn, to form a cube.
Almost everything here is tailor-made to suit the customer’s wishes. The men know what they’re doing – they’ve been working here for 27 or 37 years. “I finished my training last year. With two others from Salzburg and Upper Austria, we were the only people in the country to learn this trade,” says a lanky young man with cool tattoos and piercings. It’s good that traditions continue and knowledge is handed down.
We pass the storage area with its brass profiles, transport crates and packing material, and go up to the “chamber of marvels”. On the way I admire the grinding areas where metal is given a shine on a lapping wheel, and a workshop where surfaces receive their patina, which is especially important for restorations.
Suddenly, I find myself in a cellar with long, narrow rows of shelves. It’s incredible what’s stored here. From wood and plastic models to wax molds, templates, and millions of small to minute models for chandelier parts, fittings, and, and, and… I’m flabbergasted and at a loss for words. Mainly because of the prompt information Johannes Rath gives me about every part I quizzically take from a shelf. Aha – the double-headed eagle is part of a chandelier in St. Stephen’s, the red wax wing in the box belongs to a candlestick in the palace of Liechtenstein and the ornamental leaves in three sizes come from the famous Josef Hoffmann model. Thanks to modern technology, I can look at photos of the chandeliers involved where they are located and at the same time on a tablet. Pure fascination. We emerge again into the daylight and take a look at the glass store on the first floor, and I find out in the adjacent workshop why they make a chain of individual crystal parts at Lobmeyr, what a column is and, above all, what makes a really good chandelier.
Crystal for the chandeliers, for example, comes not only from Swarovski, and there are innumerable facet polishes which produce quite different effects.
All in all, in just a couple of hours one gets an initial impression and after a few weeks, a magnificent chandelier, one that will last at least your entire life. Quality is, after all, worth the journey.