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What Is an Orrefors Vase?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Orrefors vase is a piece of glassware manufactured by the Swedish glassmaker Orrefors. Orrefors glass vases are most commonly hand-blown and made from crystal, also known as lead glass, prized for its clear, brilliant look and high density, making such vases feel heavier than regular glass vases. Orrefors has been making glassware since 1898, but the type of artistic glassmaking often associated with an Orrefors vase dates to the early 20th century when the manufacturer began hiring artists to work with its glassmakers. Early works from Orrefors were often influenced by the Art Nouveau style, and both newer and antique vases can showcase the original methods of glassmaking invented there. An Orrefors vase is often sought after for its combination of hand craftsmanship and original design.

Several new glassmaking techniques were invented at Orrefors, and can be seen in vases from the company. Such techniques include Graal glass, featuring colored reliefs encased in a layer of smooth glass; Ariel, featuring decorative patterns of air trapped inside the glass; and Kraka, featuring geometric patterns of air bubbles in the glass. Old and recent Orrefors vase designs can also showcase techniques and features such as colored glass, cut glass, and engraved glass.

Orrefors often hires designers who are not glassmakers but are experienced in other arts and crafts, such as painters, engravers, sculptors, and goldsmiths, to create collections. Well-known early Orrefors designers include Simon Gate, a painter known for his classical glass designs; Edward Hald, an artist who studied with French painter Matisse and who became known for his modern glass designs; and Edvin Ohrstrom, a sculptor who began working for Orrefors in 1936. An Orrefors vase by these and other early Orrefors designers are often highly prized by collectors.

An Orrefors vase is most commonly made from lead crystal, more correctly known as lead glass. This type of glass contains lead in the form of lead oxide, rather than calcium like regular glass. Due to the high atomic weight of lead compared to calcium, lead glass is heavier than regular glass, and has a higher refractive index, increasing the brilliance and sparkle of vases made from the material. Items made from lead glass also make a distinctive ringing sound when tapped. Lead glass can be worked by glassmakers at lower temperatures, making it easier to remove all air bubbles from the glass, contributing to the clarity of items such as an Orrefors vase.

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Mar 11, 2012

I am a graphic designer, and I would love to work for a company like Orrefors. They don't seem too stuck in their ways, and they appear to be open to new ideas.

It can be tough for a designer who is told to follow in the footsteps of her predecessors. I struggled to design the same items as people from the early 1900s at my last job, and it just didn't feel like I was being creative at all.

Since Orrefors hires new people all the time, they get a fresh influx of talent. They won't ever go stale like that, and I believe this is one reason that they continue to flourish as a company. They have a large selection of vases because they are not afraid of change.

By kylee07drg — On Mar 10, 2012

@Oceana – I also love the Kraka technique. I have one of these types of vases, and it reminds me of a peacock.

The narrow neck is deep blue, but then it rounds out to a bowl that is covered in little pinkish-red rhombus-shaped cells. The whole design makes me think of showy peacock feathers and those little colored shapes on them.

I think that the most impressive technique is the one using Graal glass, though. My friend has a Graal vase shaped like a fish bowl, and it is covered in fish, so it looks like an aquarium. Some of the seaweed and fish appear trapped deeper within the glass, and there seems to be a wall of murky water between them and the surface.

By Oceana — On Mar 09, 2012

The only kind of Orrefors vase I have ever seen is the Ariel style. To me, it was very ugly! I can't see how a vase that looks like this would be worth thousands of dollars.

There was some deep coloring that seemed like a murky mixture of green and blue, and there were some animal shapes in the glass. The technique is probably really cool, but the outcome is lackluster, in my opinion.

I lean more towards the Kraka style of Orrefors. I prefer distinct coloring and patterns in my vases. It's hard to believe that the same manufacturer responsible for the ugly Ariel vases also makes the lovely Kraka ones.

By StarJo — On Mar 08, 2012

I got my sister an Orrefors crystal vase as a wedding gift, and what impressed me the most about it was how thick it seemed! I have never seen glass quite like this.

It wasn't transparent, and it didn't seem to be all that reflective. It had a lot of deep grooves and facets, so it looked like a giant diamond in the shape of a vase.

It didn't come cheap, either. I paid $100 for this one, and it was on sale. It was listed on her wedding registry, though, and I wanted to get her a nice gift.

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