Brothers Juan, José, and Vicente Lladró set out to create their very first figurines in 1953 out of a furnace from their home in Valencia. Juan and José were the artists, while Vicente was the sculptor. As the figurines caught the eye of locals, demand grew, and they increased their manufacturing scale by the late ’50s. Soon they had introduced their famous one-layer firing process that gives each piece its translucent, pastel, and pearly glow that is the hallmark of a Lladró piece today – one of the world’s most famous makers of handmade porcelain.
The company headquarters are still in Valencia, where descendant of the Lladró family, Rosa is president (though ownership now rests with a private equity firm since January). The manufacture employs 1,000 people, out of which 15 are master sculptors, we learn from Nikhil Lamba, CEO of Lladró India (Lladró first entered India via a joint venture in 2006, and now has several stores across India – in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and of course Ambience Mall in Gurugram and Select CityWalk in Delhi – where Nikhil meets me). I’m looking straight ahead at a serene Goddess Lakshmi in a glazed finish (the figurines also come in matte finish), and a Lord Ganesha, which is a limited edition (only 3,000 pieces, and then the production is discontinued). “These are by sculptor Paul Rubio,” says Nikhil of the figurines priced between Rs.1,65-1,85 lakh. “Look at the gold lustre work on the veena, base, and crown of the goddess.” This is part of the ‘Indian series’, I am told, which connects beautifully with Indian customers – especially around festival or bridal season. There’s a Rama Darbar, with a Rama and Sita (around Rs.2,25,000) launched in 2011. In 2013, Lakshman and Hanuman deities were introduced, completing the set. There are also figurines of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, a Salsa Dancer, and a Flamenco dancer. I’m told that the Backstage Ballet was Juan Lladró’s favourite piece.
For each project, the master sculptor makes a model out of clay, then plaster. A special mold is created in which liquid porcelain is poured – fragments of the statuettes are created separately and then joined using liquid porcelain as an adhesive. After which it is handpainted, and then fired in a kiln. Sometimes a piece may take nine months to two years to make, depending on the complexity.
The most expensive piece worldwide? “The Queen of the Nile is limited to a 100 pieces, and it’s sold out, but in India we are left with one piece,” says Nikhil of the approximately five foot piece. It’s price is a cool Rs.1.65 crore. Another gem is the Carnival of Venice (also for the same price), which measures a whopping 3 x 5 feet, and took three years to finish. Each flower is sculpted by hand, each face and each eye is handpainted in meticulous detail.
“We have collectors from Bengaluru and Kerala who have more than 200 pieces in their homes,” says Nikhil. “The collectors in Kerala, have made a museum in their home out of these pieces. Even here in the north, people are buying limited edition pieces. They realize the importance of Lladró – and want to leave it for the next generation. The resale value is high, as once a limited edition is sold out, there are dealers who buy these, mostly online. “In 2010, when I joined Lladró, we launched the first Ganesha (Rs.7.5 lakh) – it was limited to 499 pieces. In six weeks, we were sold out,” says Nikhil. “No one can have this workmanship because this process very difficult to copy, as is detailing,” says Nikhil. Before creating the Hindu deities the master sculptor came to India, visiting temples.
“We are coming up with an online store for India, where we have tied up with specialized courier companies,” says Nikhil. “We wouldn’t want to deprive someone in Chandigarh or Kanpur of their Lladró!