Charles Christofle

Charles Christofle 

A Visionary

Charles Christofle founded the company that bears his name in 1830. Originally a jeweler, he bought the patents silver plating and electrolytic gilding of gold in 1842.

As a goldsmith, he transformed ceremonial items and everyday objects: from jewelry to cutlery, gold smithery to sculptures, and decorative objects to tableware.

This is how silver came to be an integral player in art of living today.

The Jeweler

Charles Christofle was born in Paris in 1805 amongst small industrialists specializing in the manufacturing of buttons. The only boy in a family of four, he apprenticed with his brother-in-law Hughes Calmette, a manufacturer of "provincial" copper jewelry in 1821. 

He took over the business 10 years later and in 1832 deposited his master's mark at the Garantie de Paris for "adornment". He developed his factory by positioning it towards export jewelry made of precious metal. The following year, he married Anne Henriette Bouilhet (1839 -1919) with whom he had two children, a daughter Marie Rose (1836-1918) and a son Paul (1838 -1907).


Patents for Glory 

While searching for technical innovations, Charles Christofle took out a patent for the manufacturing of metallic fabrics in 1837. He then produced silver filigree pieces and hangings, epaulettes and braids for the army. Armed with this diverse skillset, he participated in the Exhibition of Products of French Industry in Paris in 1839. This first participation inaugurated a long series of national and universal exhibitions, where the House would win numerous awards. At one exhibition in 1844 in Paris, he received a gold medal. 

In 1842, Charles Christofle acquired the patents for silver and gold metal electroplating. More durable and less harmful than traditional techniques, electroplating and gilding made it possible to manufacture pieces on a massive scale. Christofle was the only patent holder in France for 15 years. One of his first clients was the French King, Louis-Philippe I, who ordered a full service from him for the Chateau d'Eu in Normandy, a vacation spot for the French royal family.

Timbale engraved with the coat of arms of Louis-Philippe     

Photo by Gwénaelle Dautricourt

Extracts from the first illustrated Christofle catalog

Circa 1850

Medici bucket

Circa 1851, Photo by Stéphane Garrigues

Louis XV high basket

Circa 1851, Pl 44

Prosper Lafaye, Visit of Napoleon III to the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855

Circa 1855, Photo Jean Michel Kollar. The Christofle family is presented to the imperial couple, in the background the central part of the "one hundred place settings".

Central room of especially the Hundred covered

MAD, Photo Patrick Lazic

Recognition & Awards

The Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1855, the first to take place in France, recognized Christofle's technical and artistic expertise twice. The House exhibits main pieces of the great, especially of Napoleon III. It is deployed on a 40m long table in the central room of the main building and measures almost 3m long. Several renowned sculptors have given figures and animals. Part of the above is carried out thanks to the new Christofle technique: massive electroplating developed by Henri Bouilhet (1830-1910). In 1852, Christofle was awarded a gold medal. 

Part of this is now on display at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Although a bit worn, it is still a sight to behold. It was saved after being partially salvaged fron the Tuileries fire under the Commune. Table services have been delivered to numerous Ministries, Presidencies of the legislative bodies and the company of the maritime messaging services presented in 1855. 

Charles Christofle died in 1863 leaving a prosperous and growing business to his son, Paul, and his nephew, Henri Bouilhet.

Department of the State Ministry

Louvre Museum, 1853 Photo Patrick Lazic

Charles Christofle around 1863

Ch 6344, Christofle Archives