The Duralex Picardie Tumbler

In retrospect, you were probably a little in love with the whole Picardie family. They were cheerful and noisy and seemed to be everywhere—delivering orange juice to schoolchildren, lined three-deep at the bar, steaming with espresso in the coffee shop.

Then one day, you noticed those faceted sides, the light playing in the liquid, the thick rim, and you simply had to hold one. The moment you did, you were lost, free- falling, a tumbler, as it were, yourself, the two of you inseparable.

Pretty on the Inside

People often say of the Picardie that it has “just the right weight.” Its facets draw the eye to the contents of the glass. The outward flare of its opening invites tasting. But these same features are what makes the Picardie stackable.

Since the 1930s, Picardie and numerous other lines of housewares have rolled out of central France from the Duralex factory, named from the Latin proverb Dura lex, sed lex. (Translation: “The law is harsh, but it is the law.” Possible raison d’être: A reference to gravity?) Their famous tempered glass, two and a half times stronger than untempered, is heated to 600 degrees and cooled fast, like the glass for car windows. Dropped from a great height, plunged into freezing water, the Duralex Picardie proved capable of handling 130-degree liquids and outrageous advertising claims without so much as a hairline crack.

duralex-picardie-tumblers-tumbling

Duralex USA

Class Act

In a time before plastic, Duralex ruled every school and hospital dining room in France. Its seal of authority was the logo stamped on the bottom of the Picardie tumbler along with a Duralex model number from 1 to 48. Children seated at a table would read out the number of their glass, which became their “age,” and the “youngest” would be the one to fetch water for that meal.

The Picardie’s pedigree of cool came together in the 1950s, in streams of boiling water poured over mint leaves throughout North Africa and gulps of pastis or plonk tossed back by French intellectuals. Thus did the Picardie sashay into swinging, design-conscious England in the 1960s. By the 70s and 80s, it was seducing restaurateurs in North America, while imitators back in Europe crowded it like paparazzi.

The Picardies of that period, identifiable by the placement of a trademark dot (visible on James Bond’s glass in the barroom scene from Sky Fall), became coveted collectibles with the advent of eBay.

By that time, though, Duralex was beginning to lose market share to competition from China and Indonesia. It squeaked through the turn of the century despite mismanagement and worse from a series of foreign buyers, slid into bankruptcy in 2005, and melted down in liquidation three years later.

Tough Love

Now, like in a Facebook reunion with your sweetheart from that first heartbreak, Duralex is back. In recent years, the Duralex Picardie has asserted itself in North America as never before. It’s still absurdly affordable, still (gulp) beautiful. And although, like the human heart, it can shatter into uncountable tiny jewellike pieces, it’s still not going to show a crack.

tipsy-tumblers-by-lorislivia

“Tipsy” Duralex Picardie tumblers by LorisLivia

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+
  1. February 14, 2015 at 3:39 pm, Maureen Strong Dyment said:

    My very favourite glasses from a childhood spent largely in Europe.

    Reply