170 years old and not a wrinkle in sight. Guerlain's iconic bee bottle is still made by its historic French glassmaker Pochet du Courval and hand-finished with liquid gold.
As Pochet du Courval celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2023, its bee bottle for Guerlain produced by the French glassmaker since 1853, is feting its 170th birthday. The bee bottle, housing Guerlain’s L’eau de Cologne Impériale, was originally gifted by Napoleon III to Empress Eugenie on the occasion of their marriage.
The iconic fragrance bottle designed by Pochet du Courval is born from sand, soda ash and lime. The molten glass goes from a rough mold to a finishing mold engraved with the bee motif – both molds are in cast iron or steel, unlike the earliest ones which were made of wood. "A Guerlain mold can last 15 years, because the quantities are quite limited," explains Mélina Weinmann, Pochet du Courval’s Product Development Manager.
The bottle is produced at Pochet du Courval's Guimerveille glassworks in Normandy, which was built in 1971 to switch from semi-automatic to automatic production, while the decoration is done at its Pochet du Courval - Gamaches factory in the Somme.
As quantities increased, the bottle’s historic emery stopper was replaced by a plastic "sock" stopper (patented by Pochet du Courval in 1958) to ensure the correct fit with the bottle.
The decoration is still done by hand with liquid gold. The flacon is also the only one to be hand-finished at Pochet du Courval. "It takes me an hour to decorate a one-liter bottle," explains Operator Christelle Deverité, who has been decorating bee bottles for 10 years, and has worked for the glassmaker for 29 years.
"We apply the liquid gold with paint brushes that we shape ourselves with scissors”. The bottle’s ‘window” on the facing is painted first, then the bee’s bodies and legs, followed by the ‘fish scales’ on the top part of the bottle and the lines encircling the circumference, notably on the neck of the flacon. The latter are done with the help of a tool similar to a pottery wheel to ensure stability. It is by refiring the flacon that the gold is given its shine and luster.
Today there are three operators (and two in training) dedicated to decorating Guerlain’s bee bottles at Pochet du Courval. The training lasts about two years for a repetitive operation that requires a high level of dexterity. Each bottle is unique, because each operator gives their own little "signature". For Deverité, for example, it is the way she works the bee’s legs. The operators work on 125ml, 250ml, 500ml and 1-liter bottle formats. The glassmaker has, however, automated part of the decoration (a pad printing) of the 125ml format.
Once a bottle is decorated at Pochet du Courval, it is wrapped in tissue paper and sent to Guerlain where it is filled with the fragrance. The maison's dames de table bring the final touch: the bottle is sealed with a golden thread that is wound round the neck using the baudruchage technique.