Creating any single Limoges porcelain box is a complicated process with artists working on every step to guarantee the quality of each piece. The concept of each piece starts with sketches, drawings, and/or watercolors. A sculptor then takes these two-dimensional pictures and brings them to life by creating a model from plaster or clay. This model is then used to create the original mold. Depending on how complex the shape of the box is, a mold can consist of three separate parts to as many 30 or 40 pieces. These pieces all
fit together like a puzzle creating a negative cavity on the inside
that will match the positive shape of the porcelain.
Once the prototype is approved for the form by the artist, a “mother” mold is created from silicone or resin. This mother mold is used to make the production molds. Each production mold wears our after 50 to 80 uses, so new production molds constantly have to be created from the mother molds.
Porcelain is then hand poured into the mold. The thick liquid is created from a mixtur
e of quartz, feldspar, and kaolin. The model rests for a few seconds to thicken the wall of the piece, then the remainder is poured out. Then it is very carefully removed from the mold and allowed to dry for about a day. Each piece is then hand finished, which requires the smoothing of the connecting joints.
Each piece is then fired at approximately 900 degrees Celsius (about 1650 degrees Fahrenheit) to dry it out completely and make it ready for the enamel. Every piece is hand-dipped into an enamel bath, made from the same ingredients – quartz, feldspath, and kaolin – but in different proportions. This enamel is completely transparent, showing the reason why it is so famous: the brilliant white color of the porcelain itself. The piece is then passed into the “grand feu,” or the hottest kiln, and is fired at 1400 degrees Celsius (about 2550 degrees Fahrenheit). This is a 24 hour process: 12 hours to fire the porcelain and another 12 for the kiln to cool down enough to be able to open it.
Afterwards, the white pieces go onto the hand-painting studio. The different colors of paint are fired at different temperatures. For example, blues and purples are fired from 750 – 900 degrees Celsius (about 1400 – 1650 degrees Fahrenheit), while reds are fired from 550 – 700 degrees Celsius (about 1000 – 1300 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, depending on the number of colors on it, a piece could go through the kiln as many as 5 or 6 times. After being painted, the piece is numbered and signed by the artist with the important mark “peint main,” meaning “hand painted,” as well as “Limoges, France” written on the bottom, certifying that this is truly a unique, completely handcrafted Limoges porcelain box.
Porcelain undergoes shrinkage of 13 – 15 % during the major firing of 1400 degrees Celsius. Although the pieces are poured from the same mold, there are differences between the vertical and horizontal shrinkage and each one has slight variations making it unique. Because of this, standardized hinges are impossible. Each brass hinge has to be individually fitted and each clasp is soldered on by hand. Any other additional metal, leather, glass, or other add-ons are applied by hand at this point.
Limoges boxes are fascinating pieces that go through an incredibly intricate and complicated process to become the beautiful creations found in homes across the world. Because of the nature of Limoges porcelain, shrinkage during firing, and the hand crafting, each piece is completely unique from every other, even though they may come from the same mold.
Most Limoges boxes that we sell come from limited editions, so they are numbered. When the last of the series has been created, the molds are destroyed, meaning they will never be made again. Each box goes through a process that takes weeks, and is approved by
every artist along the way before it is packed and shipped out of
Limoges. Every box we sell comes in the manufacturer’s gift box with a
certificate of authenticity as well, certifying that the piece is a
unique creation and every step of the process of creation took place in
Limoges, France – the essential quality that makes a true Limoges box.
Metal hinges and clasps before hand-fitting to the boxes.