Modern design in old walls

Palace of Versailles

Since November 2013, the Palace of Versailles has been home to a striking new installation – “Gabriel” – which was created by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec in collaboration with Swarovski.

To some it might look like a giant necklace, to others a luminous liana – but the one thing the installation probably won’t bring to mind is an ordinary chandelier. And neither should it.

In 2011, designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec won a competition organized by the Public Administration of the Palace, Museum, and State Property Department for Versailles, in which the aim was to create an artwork to decorate and illuminate the Gabriel staircase at the main entrance to the palace with its first ever modern objet d’art.

"We thought that in the final analysis it was not perhaps necessary to give a delineated form to this piece of lighting, but rather to try to arrange it so that the form naturally found its line from gravity," commented the designers. "Because it is effectively the number of pieces of crystal which make it up, the weight and the length determine this form rather than a curve which we would have drawn.”

While Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec may not have opted for a conventional chandelier design, they did choose a classic material: crystal. The challenging design demanded perfection and the courage to innovate.

The Bouroullec brothers chose to work in Swarovski Crystal, linking the past to the present. "It seemed to us that crystal was the best response because, historically, all the chandeliers at Versailles were made with this material” 

“There is no other firm dealing with crystal that has achieved this level of excellence in terms of research, innovation, and technical excellence. The collaboration was exceptional because of the culture of precision that Swarovski applies unconditionally; the culture of working to one-tenth of a millimeter, applied to a twelve-meter production. Swarovski was the perfect partner.” (Ronan Bouroullec’s opening address at the Palace of Versailles)

About the Artists

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are brothers designing together out of their studio in Paris. Their work ranges from small jewelry pieces to large installations and architecture, from handcrafted to industrial, including drawings, photographs and videos. 

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec designs are included in permanent collections at select international museums and several monographic exhibitions have featured their work. A comprehensive monograph of their work, titled Works was published in 2012 by Phaidon Press, following two prior monographs in 2002 and 2003. An 864-page collection of drawings made by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec was published the following year by JRP Ringier.

They began working on industrial design in 1997 for Cappellin and had their first solo show at the Galerie kreo in 2001. 

The “chandelier” is twelve meters high, contains 858 crystal components threaded around a LED lighting system, and weighs 500 kilograms. Its 5,148 LEDs emit plenty of light for at least 100,000 hours without technical faults.