The glass factory of Orrefors was founded in 1898, at a site where an iron factory had been operating since 1726. The name of Orrefors most likely originates from the name of the Orranäsa lake, with the Swedish word "fors" added to it, symbolizing the river by which the former iron factory was situated. Nowadays the word represents a well-designed quality glass from the forests of Småland.
Handling the iron gradually lost its profitability while the importance of the forest increased. In 1898 a foundry was built for production of technical, medical, service, and dish glass, to make use of wasted wood and the labour force. The glass production thus replaced the less lucrative operation of the iron factory. In 1913 Johan Ekman, a consul from Göteborg, became the new owner of the Orrefors glass factory and its belonging properties. Albert Ahlin was appointed manager of the factory, and a new era had started.
Gate and Hald - brilliant pioneers
Orrefors started its production of crystal in 1914. Besides grinding with purchased patterns and samples, art glass was also produced in layers of coloured glass with etched decor. It was evident that artists were needed within the industry. Simon Gate was hired 1916, followed by Edward Hald a year later. One of Gate's first tasks was to further develop the flashed glass technique. The object with etched decor was covered with clear glass and blown up. The technique was called Grail glass.
A quick breakthrough
Gate and Hald's initial attempts in figure engraving were done in 1917. They made naked figures, sometimes covered with a thin veil. This was an entirely new approach, that differed considerably from traditional glass engraving. The new approaches, along with an increased interest for the new engraving technique, caused a fast and strong development for the engraved glass. The peak was reached in the mid-twenties following the Gothenburg Exhibition and the Paris World Exhibition in 1925.
The 1920's big´selling electric fittings
In the middle of the 20s Orrefors started up a new line of business - lighting glass - which would later make up a quite significant part of the factory's production. The first production consisted of above all electric fittings for official building, but was also later to include lighting for the home.
Experiments directly in the foundry
The Stockholm exhibition of 1930 with its prominent propaganda for functionalism affected also Orrefors. One no longer sketched the glass, but began to experiment directly in the foundry. The glass now became thick, preferably with a black base. There wasn't as much engraved decor as one wanted to bring out the indwelling beauty of the glass itself. Vicke Lindstrand was hired as an artistic team member in 1928. He made debuts at exhibitions with among other things vases and bowls in an enamel painted technique.
New big-selling techniques
Fish Grail, Cut Grail, and Ariel were new techniques that arrived at the end of the 1930s. The Fish Grail with subjects of fish and algae became a bigseller and was produced all the way up until 1987. During this period the earlier team workers at the sketching office Nils Landberg and Sven Palmqvist became independent artists. In 1936 the sculptor Edvin Öhrström was hired to enrich the factory's profile before the world exhibition in Paris in 1937. It was he who together with Vicke Lindstrand came forth with the new technique Ariel, which received its name after the spirit of the air in Shakespeare’s piece "The Storm". The decor is blasted forth in the grail subject and when this receives a coating of glass, air remains in the cavaties.
Fuga, Kraka and Ravenna
In the 40s the artist Sven Palmqvist brought about a new method, "centrifuged" glass. The serie Fuga was presented at the H55-exhibition. He also came forth with the Kraka and Ravenna series during the 40s. In the 50s came Nils Landbergs tulip glass and Ingeborg Lundins vase "the Apple".
The Grail-technique becoming popular anew
From April 10 1987 and onwards the Orrefors glass factory ceased the production and marketing of art glass designed by artists no longer working at the factory. Did one then stop producing all art glass? No. On the contrary, the company's goal was that only current artists at the factory should have their art glass in production. Resources would be used for the development of new design, new techniques, and further development of the old techniques. This would be presented as a totally new gallery collection. The first one came in 1988 - it meant a great success for among others Eva Englund's figurative grail glass - and was followed by new collections in 1990 and 1992. Also during the 80s, a new young generation of artists joined Orrefors, Anna Nilsson, Erika Lagerbielke, and Helén Krantz.
A strong offensive in the nineties
Following some tough years in the early nineties, the design process entered a new phase. Not least taking into account the new artists, Lena Bergström, Martti Rytkönen, and Per B Sundberg, who engaged to the glassworks. In 1998 Orrefors celebrated its 100-year jubilee, with art-glass exhibitions all around the world. By the change of the millennium the professor and well-qualified glass designer Ingegerd Råman was employed.