Indoor and outdoor candles: Virebent pots

50 ans diptyque. Musee Nissim de Camondo. Paris. 22/09/2011 (© david atlan)

50 ans diptyque. Musee Nissim de Camondo. Paris. 22/09/2011 (© david atlan)

diptyque’s 1.5 kg indoor and outdoor enamelled earthenware pots are handmade by multi award-winning porcelain house Virebent in the Lot. This company has also bagged the Living Heritage Business prize and is a prime example of the revival of French artistry based on exceptional, traditional craftsmanship.

Virebent is the name of a renowned family of ceramists and architects. The Virebent factory in Puy L’Evêque has been run for almost twenty years by Frédérique Caillet & Vincent Collin. It is now one of the last pottery factories in France with the skills to work with a variety of materials and to create – Vincent Collin is also a designer – stoneware, earthenware and porcelain pottery.

diptyque has always linked the quality of a piece with the time it has taken to make it properly. The company’s founders were crazy about craftsmanship. The House’s success has never diverted the owners’ attention from the care it has taken to make things and from ongoing collaborations with artisans. In a nutshell, craftsmanship is a way of creating things and an understanding of the materials used that has been accumulated over time and transmitted by masters to apprentices and then to the hands of the craftsperson making it. Miss one generation out in this process and the knowledge bank disappears. No machine, whatever its plus points, has the art of time that has been passed from one artisan’s skilled hands down to another.

These indoor and outdoor candles are unusual in that they have been designed to fragrance the house as well as the garden. The pots in which they sit must therefore be sturdy enough and aesthetic enough for purpose. When the project first came up in 2010, Virebent and diptyque had the idea of featuring the oval with engraved dancing letters on the pots. All these factors: appearance, being able to cope with changes in temperature, the engraving process and colouring have a clear impact on the composition of the clay and how long it needs to spend in the kiln. Waterproof and frost-resistant, stoneware meets outdoor requirements but engraving the latter means finding clay that is fine enough for this process without losing any of the inherent strength. So it was decided to find a fine-grained stone that could be made stronger without making the grain too thick to engrave. The fineness obtained would therefore not weaken the pot.

In the beginning the potential pot was fashioned in a cast, from which a mould was made. This is done using a potter’s wheel in the workshop. Moulds are then filled with clay mixed with water in the casting workshop. Each step of the process is monitored, each piece weighed to ensure the right viscosity and density. Once poured and moulded, the item is removed from the mould and left to dry. It is then brushed and sponged down to remove any surface imperfections. At this point the clay is dubbed « raw-ware ». One mould produces one pot per day.
The first firing in the kiln at 1000° is called « bisque firing »: the clay is more resilient but is still porous. Every firing and cooling threshold is timed with precision: this is the only technological aspect of this process – the computer controlled kilns – everything else is handmade. It takes 18 hours from the pot being put in the kiln cold to completion of the cooling process.
The bisque clay is then glazed using liquid enamel, the porosity of the bisque helping to fix the glaze to the surface. This enamel is mixed with colour pigments or with oxides that become colourful during the oxygenation process in the kiln.
Back in the kiln at 1300°, the temperature for glazing, the pot is now glaze fired. It takes 22 hours for the pot to go from « cold to cold » (putting a cold pot in the kiln, and returning it to an ambient temperature thereafter).

Every fragrance has its own respective colour: Feu de bois is a translucent grey, Figuier blanc a shiny opaque, and matte black for Tubéreuse rouge and Baies. And how about this for a giant shooting star, a giant Christmas Baies candle presented in a black pot sprinkled with stars, some of which have been hand painted in gold! This meticulous workmanship calls upon new skills. And along comes Virebent, crisscrossing knowledge banks, nurturing relationships with other craftspeople and boosting its expertise whilst experimenting with new methods.
Each pot requires a week of work from start to finish.

In short: one heck of a pot! But the pot is not the end of the story… because the size of the candles and their uses mean specific wax compositions, as well as a five wick crafting process. All manually done, of course. But that’s not down to Virebent, and quite another story altogether…