Baccarat is a classic casino game that can be played in sticky-floor California card rooms and the tuxedo-laden casinos of Monaco. The game is easy to learn and even easier to play well, with the Banker and Player both betting on a hand to get closer to nine points than the other. If the winning hand is a 9, it’s called a “natural.”
Baccarat was founded in 1764 in the French town of Baccarat, though the area had a long-running history of glass production. Unlike many other 19th Century glass workshops that were focused on making large decorative pieces, Baccarat was also committed to creating high-quality tableware and drinkware. The firm’s work would become highly prized, and it would receive commissions to design table services and drinkware from a range of prestigious clients.
The glass produced by Baccarat was made using a complex process that involved melting glass at temperatures of around 1500 degrees Celsius. The molten material was then blown or pulled into a shape, often with the help of moulds. After the shaped glass was cooled, it could then be decorated. Glassware was often engraved, either by cutting patterns into the surface with a copper grindstone or by acid engraving. Acid engraving was a more time-consuming process, in which the surface of the glass was covered in bitumen, a tough tar-like substance, and then dipped in acid that cut away at the uncovered areas.
As a result of its extensive use of glass, Baccarat’s works often had a distinctly opulent feel, and the firm became renowned for the elaborate decorations that were applied to its tableware and drinking glasses. The glass was etched or hand-painted, and a variety of other techniques were used to achieve the desired effects, including the use of gold powder that was fused into the surface of the glass. The company also used a distinctive green-tinted glass, known as ‘malachite crystal’, to create works that closely resembled fine porcelain.
In addition to tableware, Baccarat also made monumental lighting fixtures for exhibitions and royalty around the world. Its most famous 19th Century design, however, was the ’candelabra du Tsar’ – a pair of 17.5 foot (5 metres) tall candelabra that was completed in 1867 for Paris’ Exposition Universelle. The candelabra remained in France until the beginning of World War I, and it eventually found its way to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where it is still on display today. Baccarat’s iconic lighting and tableware designs of the period are now prized collectors’ items. Several of its works can be seen at the firm’s museum in Paris.