Limoges, the capital of porcelain

Since the discovery of kaolin deposits in the region in the 18th century, Limoges has become the national capital of porcelain production. With its long tradition of mastering the fire arts (ceramic arts and glassmaking), today it remains the epicenter of creation as well as of transmitting this knowledge.

Extérieur du musée du four des Casseaux (1884)Fondation du patrimoine

An industrial epic

The Casseaux kiln, the last round industrial kiln in Limoges, ceased operating in 1957. Now in an associated museum, it recounts how porcelain was created in Limoges throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Exposition à l'emplacement d'un ancien four (1884)Fondation du patrimoine

The Casseaux kiln museum also hosts exhibitions, alternating between historical themes and modern production to show the continuity of this kind of manufacturing.

Le kaolin, matière première de la porcelaine de LimogesFondation du patrimoine

Porcelain creation started in Limoges when kaolin deposits were discovered in 1767 at Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche.
This white, brittle clay is the essential material for making porcelain.

Maquette du site des fours des CasseauxFondation du patrimoine

Casseaux is the first industrial site in Limoges' history. It was established in 1771 on the orders of Turgot. That was the start of the Royal Manufactory.

In the 19th century, the Alluaud family took over and expanded it. At its peak, it had nine kilns and included a brickworks.

Its location near Vienne was strategic, as that was where the wood necessary to fuel the kilns came from.

Extérieur de la partie supérieure du four des Casseaux (1884)Fondation du patrimoine

Each kiln was 65 feet (20 m) tall and divided into two sections to allow two simultaneous firings at different temperatures. That way, up to 15,000 pieces could be fired at the same time.

The top part was not as hot. That is where the first firing of pieces that had just been shaped took place, at 1,652°F.

Enfournement d'un globe à la manufacture Guérin William et CieFondation du patrimoine

Workers filled the kiln with cassettes, protective clay refractory cases into which the pieces to be fired are placed.

Enfournement de pièces à la manufacture Haviland de Limoges (1912)Fondation du patrimoine

In order to fire as many as possible at the same time, the kiln workers stacked the cassettes 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 m) high inside the kiln.

It took 2 working days to load an oven to this capacity.

Foyer de la partie basse du four des Casseaux (1884)Fondation du patrimoine

The lower part, here, was the hotter area That was where the fire was fueled by hearths all around it.
It was used for the pieces' second firing, after enameling, with the temperature increasing to 2,552°F. It took four days for the fire to reach this temperature.

Intérieur de la partie supérieure du four des Casseaux (1884)Fondation du patrimoine

This double-decked heating system, with its flames directed by the draft from holes in different places in the kiln, was invented in Limoges and patented in 1878.

After firing, the pieces had to be cooled for 70 hours before they could be removed from the kiln.
So, one firing required more than 10 working days.

Bonus Cap Sud Ouest : Limoges, le four des casseauxFondation du patrimoine

Video interview with Thomas Hirat, director of the Casseaux kiln museum.

Sortie de la manufacture Haviland avenue Garibaldi à LimogesFondation du patrimoine

Haviland, a family and industrial saga

In 1842, a family from New York established in Limoges the largest porcelain factory ever built. The Haviland family intended to supply the American market with its products. This family owned three factories in the city and employed up to 5,000 workers.

Service créé pour le roi Édouard VII d'Angleterre en 1903 (1903) by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

The Haviland factory also created porcelain services for the biggest names in the world.
This plate is a superb example, produced in 1903 for Edward VII, king of the United Kingdom.

Ancien four rond Haviland (1902)Fondation du patrimoine

This round kiln is one of the last traces of Haviland's importance in the early 20th century. It is kiln N°16 from a factory built in the center of Limoges.
The factory was destroyed in 1992, and the kiln now sits within the premises of the police station.

Ancien four rond Haviland (1902)Fondation du patrimoine

This Haviland kiln is also one of the five last remaining coal kilns in Limoges. There were more than 130 of them in the city at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, it is covered to protect it from inclement weather until it can be restored with the support of the Fondation du Patrimoine (French Heritage Foundation).

Rencontre avec Paul Micaletti - La porcelaine de Limoges chez HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Interview with Paul Micaletti, director of the Haviland factory, now located in the north of Limoges, in a more recent industrial area.

Moules à pièces en porcelaine by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Expertise that is passed down

Creating a porcelain piece starts with molding it. The mixture poured into these plaster molds is called the slip. It is made of kaolin, feldspar, and quartz. It takes about 15 minutes for the mold to absorb the water, and for a piece like this to take its desired shape.

Lissage des pièces by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

After unmolding, each piece goes through several finishing steps. The handles of cups or teapots are glued with mineral glue.
All small defects and imperfections are removed before the pieces undergo a first firing at 1,652°F.

Emaillage des pièces by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

The pieces are enameled after this first firing.

They are immersed in an enamel bath using a specific technique so that the enamel is applied evenly and leaves no marks. The enamel on the piece dries almost immediately and therefore cannot be reworked.

It takes up to 15 years of training to learn the perfect motion for each piece. Haviland's catalog has over 1,000 pieces.

Cuisson des pièces émaillées by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

After this crucial step, the pieces undergo a second firing, this time at 2,462°F.

Pose des décors thermaux chromés by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Next is the decoration stage.
Most decorative elements are screen-printed onto sheets called chromos.
The main technicality of these chromos is in knowing exactly what color will come out after cooking.
They are meticulously glued onto the white porcelain pieces.

Pose des décors en or au pinceau by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Some decorations, such as gold, are added directly to the pieces using a brush.

Cuisson des décors by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Once the decoration is in place, the pieces are put back into the kiln.
Each type of decoration requires baking at a different temperature.
So, a piece can go into the kiln up to five or six times.
The pieces, which are placed on a conveyor belt, move forward automatically into the kiln, which is programmed for each type of decoration.

Collection porcelaines Haviland 2020 by HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Each year, Haviland creates two whole collections.
Its artists are also requested to create unique pieces by other big brands or individuals.
Haviland pieces continue to be found on the most prestigious tables in the world.

Secrets de fabrication : l'assiette HavilandFondation du patrimoine

Discover how a Haviland plate is created in this video.

Credits: Story

We'd like to thank Thomas Hirat, Museum Director at the Four des Casseaux in Limoges, and we also would like to extend our thanks to Paul Micaletti, Haviland Factory Director, for the warm welcome they gave us and for their help in creating this content.

We'd also like to thank Alexie Martin-Ramos from Haute-Vienne Tourism for the warm welcome we received.

To support the restoration project for the Haviland porcelain kiln, and the Fondation du Patrimoine, follow this link:

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Preserving the French South West
Hiddens gems, beyond the surf and the mountains
View theme
Google apps