Modern Living

Meissen: The king of good things

John A. Magsaysay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – For some great royals, it is the crown jewels; for others, the stately monuments. But for 18th century Saxon monarch Augustus II, the mark of a great king is to have his teacups in all the royal courts around the world. More known in history as Augustus the Strong, the once Polish King, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Elector Prince of Saxony was believed to be able to break horseshoes with his bare hands. But he also had a soft spot for life’s finest things.

“The love from a king created us,” shares Ingo Bade, chairman of the board of directors of Meissen Asia Pacific. Known across the world as the oldest luxury brand, the 305-year old label grew out of one monarch’s passion for royal fineries. After visiting the courts of Italy and France in the late 1600s, Augustus the Strong went back to the Saxony capital of Dresden to embark on a baroque renovation of an epic scale. “He wanted to fit all his palaces, without asking other people to do it for him. He had manufactory for dresses, furniture, jewelry,” Bade says of one of Europe’s most prolific tastemakers.

Hearing of a Prussian alchemist who can create gold out of ordinary things, Augustus II had Johann Friedrich Böttger placed under royal patronage in 1701. Böttger, of course, failed to crack the formula of the gilded element, but what he discovered was how to make porcelain which became, for them, white gold, because it had such a high value when it was first transported through the Silk Roads. And so Meissen became the first European producers of hard-paste porcelain.

Meissen porcelain utilizes the same kaolin or China clay for its ceramics, but its breakthroughs in firing and glazing made its pieces a notch above its oriental predecessors. “The first pieces were only for the king and his court. But other royal houses came to him, asking him to produce special items for them. With this, he became proud of Meissen that he started to become a businessman, but only in the royal level,” Bade shares.

Under the direction of Johann Gregorius Höroldt in 1723, multicolor enamel painting was introduced to the Meissen workshop, creating techniques that continuously prove iconic today, such as the Swan Service and the Blue Onion fashioned out of the cobalt underglaze that came to be known as “Meissen Blue.” Now, the same mineral pigments are still being used in the Meissen workshops, its recipe a well-guarded secret.

“Every royal household at that time had a Meissen, some of them with over 500 pieces for the whole court,” Bade says as a result of the brand’s continental versions of eastern ceramics, now on top of every luxury collector’s hit list. Motifs at that time were kept with chinoiserie themes, like the Japanese kakiemon vases, which Meissen translated as Indianische Blume.

“We have a lot of dragon designs that people would always tell me, ‘Ingo, your company only does it because of the Asian market.’ Nice try. We have been doing it for over 280 years,” Bade shares as he shows me one of Meissen’s painting and glazing masters, Ute Speda, as she painstakingly applies brushstrokes on a rectangular porcelain panel emblazoned with a red dragon that would soon figure as the base of a lady’s clutch bag. This pattern revisits Meissen’s Court Dragon archives of tableware flourishes, which features Chinese dragons in gilded red underglaze in flight around the rim of the plate, with a golden medallion at the center. This same motif was used in Adolf Hitler’s Kehlsteinhaus or Dragon’s Lair retreat.

“Emperors, even if they only have a small empire, wanted a dragon. And, so we had the dragon in our archives. But it’s not a print. Meissen is all painted by hand. A lot of people may think they all look the same, but look closer. We have different artists making them so every piece will never look the same.”

Each of the Meissen artisans has gone through four years of schooling, one year of drawing classes, and over 10 years of application. It takes a total of 15 years for a Meissen artist to be called a master. “We have young people who started with Meissen, meet other people and fall in love, and their families now work at Meissen,” Bade shares.



This dedication sure comes with a royal-decreed distinction. “King Augustus the Strong once allowed our masters to wear a sword to set them apart, and people would revere them,” Bade says. And just like art imitating life, this mark of merit also created one of the world’s first trademarks, when each Meissen piece was ordered to come with a twin sword logo to prevent counterfeiting. “The King saw a constellation in 1723 and thought that he wanted it for his shield of armor. The artist who created the image thought that the constellation looked like two swords. This became his seal. All the old Meissen pieces had to be individually approved by the king, and only those could get this seal of two swords,” Bade adds.

In 1733, Johann Joachim Kaendler took over as chief model master for Meissen, making him the most famous among all of its sculptors. Under his direction, Meissen produced a series of small figurines, often depicting scenes of gallantry in the en vogue rococo style, which gave the new material a certain sense of grace.

In 1739, Kaendler created a teapot ornamented with a delicate shower of porcelain snowball flowers as a present from Augustus III to his wife, the Archduchess of Austria, Maria Josepha. “She loved tea. She loved gold, which lady doesn’t? And she loved snow blossoms. That’s how it became the Royal Blossom.”

Variations of this royal piece still comes out of the Meissen fine art collections, with 3,000 pieces of royal blossoms overlaid piece by piece on a medium-sized porcelain vase, which a visiting Meissen artist, Uta Apel demonstrates in fine detail. A total of 2,966 diamonds are also pavéd by hand in a graceful garland of precious metal flowers for Meissen Joaillerie’s 1739 Royal Blossoms choker.

 “For 100 years, the products of Meissen were only reserved for other royalties. No one else could have them. Now, everyone, whether you are of high budget or low budget, can have a piece of royalty with some little details, like a bowl, a vase, an espresso set even. You can feel like them. You can be like them. You can imagine how the kings and queens enjoyed their lives. This is what makes Meissen attractive to people,” Bade notes.

So, to keep the Meissen mystique alive for generations to come, as royal houses becoming a thing of the past, being replaced by well-moneyed capitalists and discerning consumerists, Meissen decides to keep its centuries old foundations and use them as a bridge towards capturing new imaginations. “We can always create new products. It’s very easy because we can use our designs in new shapes and forms. We have 700,000 molds, and 60,000 designs. If you respect the technique and the raw material, you can produce anything. Everything you want,” Bade says, referring to the brand’s Couture line, which encourages newer Meissen enthusiasts to test the brand’s capabilities in meeting even their loftiest demands.

Just like the crowned figure that founded it, the Meissen of the now needed a visionary who wouldn’t mind rolling up his sleeves to bring his ideas to life. “Our new CEO, Dr. Tillmann Blaschke is following the road to the future, to keep the diversity of the brand. Now, we have furniture, jewelry, tableware, writing instruments, leather goods, accessories. He pushed Meissen further with his vision, to make it a royal lifestyle brand and he also raises the swords high,” Bade reveals.

And from the regal state of Saxony to the Philippines’ very own royal retailers, Meissen found the perfect luxury alliance with Rustan’s. “We share the same values with the Tantoco family. We met as friends, and our love for each other built up this partnership. Meissen as a brand is in the right hands, because the family understands, because they built up their own luxury brand and is now in their fourth generation. In this way, we are the same. One is a bit older, one is a bit younger, but we share the same values,” Bade notes.

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Meissen is available at Rustan’s.












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