The Château de Versailles has exuded luxury and sophistication for three centuries. Located 13 miles outside of Paris, the Île-de-France palace has been preserved through its post as the country’s seat of power and later as a museum, following the resolution of the French Revolution in 1789. Last fall, the entrance to the King’s Grand Apartment glowed in modern opulence with the installation of the first contemporary and permanent installation in Versailles. Le Lustre Gabriel suspends in the apartment’s foyer between the Hercules Salon and the complex’s cobblestone courtyard. The shimmering chains of bespoke Swarovski crystals–turned-luminaires are the result of a January 2011 design competition hosted by France’s Public Administration of the Palace, Museum, and State Property Department for Versailles. Paris-based artists and brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec won the opportunity with a chandelier design that carries the vernacular of one of the country’s most storied palaces.
The competition was held to give the Gabriel double grand staircase a finishing touch. When the Grand Apartment was designed in the 18th century, French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel designed an Ambassadors’ Staircase in marble for the antechamber. In 1752, Louis XV had the staircase destroyed. Military and financial woes left the hall incomplete for more than a century.
The staircase was finally realized from 1980 to 1985 as part of a $70 million restoration of the palace. The neoclassical stair is finished in cream-colored stone—the same as the apartment’s façade—and offers visual continuity to chateau’s monochromatic exterior.
“One might say that the Chateau de Versailles is synonymous with creativity,” says the landmark’s president, Catherine Pegard. “Louis XIV wanted to surround himself with the major artists of his time, to have all the creative disciplines represented here—whether it be music, architecture, painting, or gardens. So we are simply carrying on this tradition.”
The Bouroullec brothers designed the chandelier to highlight the double-height reception space and to link the site’s rich history to a promising future. They considered working in stone to further the space’s monochromatic look, but settled on a more traditional material for luminaires: crystal. Crystal is featured prominently throughout Versailles, and the designers had the technical expertise of Swarovski’s special projects teams nearby in Wattens, Austria, to help realize their suspended, gravity-defined design.
“We were not particularly looking to create contrasts, but at the same time we had to demonstrate that this piece is contemporary, that it is not historic and has never been part of the Palace,”Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec say in a press release. “This object has a very natural and organic aspect, which seems to us to be the appropriate way to insert it in time because it is outside of fashion and outside of historic periods.”
Each component of the approximately 15-foot-square-by-39-meter-tall chandelier was custom engineered to realize the brothers’design. No fewer than 429 lighting modules are strung on a stainless steel rope. For the continuous, seamless look, Swarovski and the Bouroullecs designed the 3.7-inch-by-3.1-inch bell-shaped crystal shades—manufactured as 858 halves—to nest and move, like a necklace. The tolerance between each module is just 0.1 millimeter (0.004 inch). The chain of lights suspends in three catenaries over the neoclassical staircase.
A proprietary, concealed aluminum alloy fastening system reinforced by screws connects each shade to an internal, central chrome tube that wraps the stainless steel cable. The tube also acts as a reflector, enhancing reflectivity. The inner crystal surface of each shade features a proprietary texture that simultaneously refracts and diffuses light.
Swarovski embedded a 3.15-inch-by-3.5-inch circuit board with 12 LEDs into each crystal shade. Each lighting module produces 58 lumens of warm white light at 3000K. Four flush-mounted connections anchor the chandelier from the ceiling.
After winning the commission, the brothers spent about six months in design development before reaching a final concept in the spring of 2012. A final mock-up was installed in Vomp, Austria, in September, after which the chandelier was bubble wrapped and crated to Versailles. Following two months of installation, Le Lustre Gabriel began illuminating the Grand Apartment in November 2013.