The famously coveted Moser crystal stemware and barware has been owned by the Emperor of Austria, Queen Elizabeth II and the Nizam of Hyderabad. VIJAYA PRATAP visits its home in Prague

Countless visits to the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad while growing up always found me lingering at the gallery that displayed exquisite chandeliers, vases, and wine goblets. Later, when making a documentary on the museum, I captured all that loveliness on film. So I was thrilled when I got a chance to visit the Moser Art Gallery in Na Prikope, a posh boulevard in Prague, overflowing with old palaces and luxurious shops. Moser is among the most coveted collectibles of modern times, its exquisite crystal stemware, glassware and giftware earning it the phrase ‘King of Glass, Glass of Kings’.

Monika, our guide, showed me around, telling me Moser’s history and the celebrated creations from the house. For over 155 years, Moser crystal glass has decorated royal palaces and celebrity homes across the world. The Moser client list reads like a Who’s Who — Queen Elizabeth II; the Kings of Spain, Norway, Denmark, Egypt, and Jordan; Emperor Haile Salassie; celebrities like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Ben Kingsley; Elton John and Whoopi Goldberg. Closer home, our own former Maharajahs also figure on the list — the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharajah of Tripura, the Maharajah of Travancore… in fact, the pretty ‘Maharani’ pattern is named after the Queen of Travancore!  

The success of Moser Glass lies in its eco-friendly, lead-free crystal, special designs and made-by-hand charm. The colours are pleasing and unique. According to Monika, Moser has a Formula Bank with 450 shades of coloured glass. The secret lies in melting the highest quality raw material with an admixture of precious soils and metal oxides. Exclusive shades are derived from semi-precious minerals. Typical Moser colours are overlay and underlay colours such as amethyst, rose, blue, aurora (orange), reseda (yellow-brown), and green. A lovely emerald green decanter caught my eye, but when I quickly converted the price, it came to over Rs. 1 lakh! My heart skipped a beat and I looked hastily away from temptation.

Their popular alexandrite (light violet) shade changes intensity and hue from bluish to dark violet depending on the type of lighting. To illustrate, Monika held a huge bowl under two diverse lights in two different rooms and the bowl dramatically changed colour. It dawned on me that you could show off one piece as two — considering that each costs a fortune.

The founder, Ludwig Moser (1833-1916) was from Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia (part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) famed for its abundant natural resources and its beautiful, colourful glass. After an apprenticeship at the workshop of a renowned glass engraver, Moser set up his own shop selling glass goblets and centre pieces. He developed a hard and more eco-friendly sodium-potassium glass, tougher than lead glass. Within a short time he had gained a reputation as the most prestigious producer of crystal in the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy. He became the imperial court supplier to Franz Josef I, the Persian Shah Musaffereddin and King Edward VII of England. An entrepreneur with an ability to follow stylistic changes, by 1922 Moser’s glass manufactory became the biggest producer of luxurious drinking and decorative glass in Czechoslovakia.

The Moser sales gallery in Prague is as classy as the crystal itself. It has been housed in Black Rose Palace since 1934, one of the best-known icons of Czech architecture. The coloured window panes (protected by another pane) have almost miraculously survived both the World Wars. Some remarkable architectural elements include the original wooden ceiling, the wall facing, painted windows, Dutch stove, and chandeliers. The most expensive ebony, ash, and white oak were used for the carved and wood inlaid surfaces. Some original chandeliers, tables, armchairs and ceiling rosettes are preserved from 1888, and the place listed as a national monument.

Moser glass has been everywhere, from royal weddings to peace pacts. It has travelled with wealthy brides as part of their dowry, slipped from many a soapy hand, and seen many a poor staffer fired. My companion almost knocked down a wine glass while excitedly posing for a picture. Luckily for him, it didn’t crash to the ground but made a gentle landing on the table cloth. Later, when we were served drinks in Moser glasses, I held mine most tenderly, like I would a new-born baby.

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