Industry News

The Crystal Empire

Richard Carleton Hacker

OPENING PHOTO - In Georg Riedel’s well-stocked wine cellar, Richard Carleton Hacker (l.) and Maximilian Riedel (r) select a bottle of wine.

Opening INSERT– The Riedel 250th logo.

“I hope I don’t scare you,” teased my friend Maximilian Josef Riedel, eleventh generation heir to the largest family owned glass making company in the world, as his foot punched down on the accelerator of his Ferrari 575 Maranello.

“You can’t scare me,” I shouted over the Ferrari’s distinctive throaty roar.  “I used to own a Porsche until I traded it for my Jaguar.”

We laughed as the speedometer needle swung past the 200-kilometers-an-hour mark.

 “There’s where I used to wait for the school bus as a child,” Max said as a roadside bench blurred passed us on the twisting, mountainous Alpine road leading to his father’s house.

Indeed, like his father and his late grandfather, Max Riedel has deep feelings for his Austrian homeland and his family’s heritage.  Max, as CEO of Riedel Crystal USA, and his father, Georg Josef Riedel, 10th generation glassmaker (the Riedel’s tend to speak of themselves as “generations”) and president of Riedel Crystal, are the very personification of European sophistication and exactness, especially when it comes to the craftsmanship of their company’s lead crystal glasses and decanters.  And with their acquisition in 2004 of former competitors Spiegelau and Nachtmann, the family has fulfilled a destiny that began on May 17, 1756, when Johann Leopold Riedel received a charter to establish his glassmaking business in Bohemia.

Celebrating 250 Years

And now, I - as the only American – along with approximately 300 other international friends, family, and business associates, had been invited by the Riedels to their factory headquarters in the scenic town of Kufstein, Austria to help Georg and Max celebrate their family’s 250th anniversary of glassmaking. The location is historic, for it was here that Georg’s father Claus Riedel restarted his glassmaking business after losing everything during World War II and escaping from a German prisoner of war train.  The money to re-establish his trade was given to him by the Swarovski family, and the ties between the two households remain strong to this day.

But before the gala May 17th celebration, I was taken by Max to his father’s house to view Georg’s wine cellar and cigar collection.  It is hardly surprising that Georg and Maximilian are wine connoisseurs, for what differentiates Riedel crystal from other glasses is their philosophy that every wine and spirit deserves an individually-designed glass to bring out its specific flavors.  Claus Riedel was the first to develop this concept.  In 1958 he created a Burgundy Grand Cru glass, and in 1973 he introduced an entire series based upon his idea, the mouth blown, lead crystal Sommeliers Collection, which is still in the line.

That evening, the celebration started under a massive Riedel-built glass pyramid 17 meters and 56 centimeters high by 17 meters and 56 centimeters wide at the bottom, with 1,756 individual prisms, all strategically formulated to reflect the Riedel dynasty’s year of birth.   Attending the dinner party were such notables as Karl – Heinz Grasser, the Austrian Minister of Finance, Helmut Swarovski, and Angelo Gaja, one of Italy’s – if not the world’s - most famous winemakers. Gaja’s excellent Ca´ Marcanda Terra Nova 2003 was poured from Riedel Cornetto decanters.  Max’s sister Laetizia brought out their one-year-old son, Rocco Riedel-Röthlisberger – who was proudly introduced as “the 12th generation.”

“Hopefully, I’m going to be here for our 300th anniversary, because I’m going to be 78 in 50 years,” Max said.  “And I also hope that somebody will be here to take over.  But Rocco is already here for sure, so I have faith that this will happen.”

“And I hope I’m here to hear his speech,” I smiled.


The Riedel Brands:

Riedel Tiroler Glashütte – as the company is officially called – encompasses seven factories, five in Germany and two in Austria.  Here is how they break down by brands:

Riedel – The award-winning “connoisseur’s crystal,” their line of handmade wine and spirit glasses includes the mouth blown, lead crystal Sommeliers series, the Vinum collection, the world’s first machine-made wine glasses designed for each grape varietal, Vinum Extreme, with flared bowls to accent the wine’s taste even more dramatically, “O” series, which features Vinum wine glasses without stems for easy stacking and dishwasher use, lead-free Ouverture for everyday drinking, and the inexpensive on-premise Restaurant series.

Nachtmann – In business since 1843, until recently this company has primarily been known for producing fine lead crystal for firms such as Waterford, Alessi, Villeroy & Boch, Lenox, Baccarat, and Gorman.    Nachtmann will be imported into the United States starting in 2007.

Spiegelau – A well-respected upscale non-lead crystal named for a town along The Glass Road in Germany, which is where the brand originated in 1521.  Although Spiegelau has primarily been positioned as an affordable, on-premise brand, it will soon be more aggressively marketed to the public for at-home use as well.  Their Platinum Glass is chip resistant and is especially suitable for dishwashers.

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