Swarovski grinds crystals for the catwalk and for Hollywood in the small town of Wattens in Tyrol. So far, the production was a secret thing, now there are unfamiliar insights
Maybe you have to tell about the founder's paranoia to understand what's happening in Wattens right now. Daniel Swarovski emigrated from Bohemia to the small town near Innsbruck in 1895. The competition of Glasschleifer had been enormous in the old homeland, here, however, Swarovski could build a monopoly position. His most important tool in the process: the machines he developed, which grinded the glass to sparkle like expensive diamond. Accordingly, he closely guarded the secret of how they worked. Swarovski is said to have even risen with binoculars to the surrounding Tyrolean mountains to control that only yes no factory window strangers granted insights. Company paranoia at its best, so to speak.
"We come from a very closed culture," says Markus Langes-Swarovski, great-grandson of the founder and one of the five managing directors of the company, which today is a global corporation, with 32,000 employees and annual sales of 3.5 billion euros 2017. The 44-year-old barely holds onto his chair in the fully-glazed meeting room. The reason might be next door: the new manufactory. It will be opened on this day. Hundreds of journalists from all over the world arrived, and in the evening the fashion and design celebrities appear. The extravagant couturier Peter Dundas is here, the Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens, the shooting star of the fashion scene, Arthur Arbesser, the architect Ron Arad.
Who does not sparkle at the gala dinner has lost. Men put brooches on the lapel or even wear rhinestone heels. Women grab the full body glitter robe. Committed to this invitation.
They even came from China and India. The low-cost rivals may have their factories there and bring the company action breaks, but the original resides still in Wattens. There have been Bollywood films that have set the Crystal Worlds, as the company's own exhibition park, a cinematic monument. The Crystal Worlds are something of a gigantic, artistic Glitzerbude next to the factory area and after Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna the most visited sight in Austria.
The crystals glitter on cell phone cases, sneakers and horse bridles, but the special reputation is based on the fact that Swarovski has always made stars sparkle. Marlyn Dietrich wore the crystals in 1932 in "Blonde Venus" as the first star in a movie, Marilyn Monroe wore a dress with glass stones from Tyrol on their famous birthday serenade for JFK, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Rihanna also appreciate the Bling from the factory in Wattens.
Manufacture sounds almost a bit old-fashioned for the futuristic type of building that originated here. Because what works like a mixture of art installation by Damien Hirst – who with the diamond skull and sharks in formaldehyde – and James Bond location – bright white and clinically pure – is actually a factory-sized lab. Here, customers, especially designers and fashion companies, should develop their own bricks together with the companies. If it used to take weeks before a prototype existed after the first sketch of the idea, this should now be possible in 48 hours.
"Singular", says Nadja Swarovski and radiates almost more than the different crystals in the largest showroom of the manufactory, which sometimes spread on Hollywood robes, sometimes in a tiara of the Vienna Opera Ball, which has been equipped with the company since the fifties with crowns. "Our competitors are doing mass production, we can do more." Nadja is like Langes-Swarovski's great-great-granddaughter of the founder, managing director and, like her cousin, advocates that the house opens. She says "singular", and the "l" is owed to her Texas mother, in a good mood mixes Nadja Swarovski German and English, otherwise she makes no mistake. She has been fighting long enough to be a senior leader as a woman. For years, her father, an engineer, did not understand what she did as an art historian. At that time she worked in New York for the major gallery owner Larry Gagosian.
For the downright intimidating steely 48-year-old, the art world was the blueprint for what she is now putting into practice: "I thought it was a shame that only the art dealer had contact with the artist – so much energy is lost." When she joined the family business, she promptly sought cooperation with designers she found exciting. For example, with the British designer Alexander McQueen, who at the time was considered the enfant terrible of fashion. How did he arrive in Wattens? "They did not want to work with him because he was a rocker," says Swarovski and laughs. Although her great-great-grandfather worked for the fashion industry right from the beginning, and the robes of Dior, for example, sparkled, over the decades the desire for risk was apparently lost.
Nadja Swarovski began to dust off, to develop new lines, to enter into cooperations with young designers. Almost everything that glitters on the catwalk today comes from her company. And Swarovksi makes unique pieces. For Dior, the company developed a unique rainbow-colored stone. For Jean Paul Gaultier, the cut from Tyrol was too perfect, and so in 2005 the company created unique pieces for accessories and jewelery that have the beautiful name "broken" for their haute couture.
You have to be quick when it comes to finding trends. And so the "communication team" of Nadja Swarovski now includes 150 people, many trend scouts are among them, bringing in their ideas worldwide. "We have people on the ground, catching the vibes," says the election londoner. In Paris, Milan, New York and London, as well as in China, where Chinese jewelry designers design their own jewelery lines for the company – more in red, yellow and gold and slightly more delicate than for the European market.
Anyone talking to Nadja Swarovski could easily forget that it is the company that many have saved as "the crystal animal". Swarovski is still seen by many as a cheesy bling-bling supplier, equipping yachts with glittering wallpaper as well as luxury cars with sparkling gear sticks. It is "a huge dilemma" that customers do not understand how creative and innovative Swarovski is, admits the managing director. Also probably the manufactory.