IT HAS been over 50 years since Lladró products first came on to the market and whether you love them or loathe them, there can be no escaping the fact that they have become collectors’ items in a very short space of time.
The company was founded in 1953 when Juan, Jose and Vicente, three brothers of considerable artistic talent, formed the small family company in the Valencian village of Almácera, on Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast.
The Lladró brothers were born into a farming family, but they made their mark on the ancient tradition of Spanish porcelain manufacture by developing a range of products much closer to ordinary people which previously had been reserved for only the rich. They
attended Valencia School of Arts and Craft, where they studied drawing and sculpture and built a small Moorish kiln in the courtyard of the family home to experiment with firing and finishing techniques.
In 1953, they quit their jobs at a tile-making factory and began manufacturing ceramic flowers which they sold at the local market. From humble beginnings Lladró quickly became a market leader.
Production started with items such as vases and jugs, and it was not until 1956 that the figurines for which they are now most famous were introduced.
Business boomed and they outgrew their small workshop, moving to Tavernes Blanques in 1958.
In 1962, the brothers founded a training school for potters there and it continues today, teaching the brothers’ vision and philosophy to a new generation.
The brothers’ family home and their first workshop at Almácera is now open to the public.
Visitors can not only see the first Lladró pieces that they designed but the drawings, frescos and sculptures they made as students.
Their porcelain has always been of a contemporary style and widely collected, while their distinctive range of figures that express such a range of human emotions and relationships are hugely popular and are found in living rooms around the world
Lladró has undergone an amazing metamorphosis from being a simple artisan workshop to a huge firm of international renown enjoying continual growth, its management remaining in the hands of the Lladró family since its inception.
The company’s creative team started out by adapting styles from past eras, but it was not long before certain characteristics appeared that would soon shape what was to become the unique Lladró style.
Lladró figurines are made out of an original blend of hard-paste porcelain, which gives the products their unique characteristics. The glaze ingredients, an industry secret, also add to the look of the figures.
A new factory, called the City of Porcelain was opened by the Spanish Minister for Industry in 1969. It took two years to build and today, more than 2,000 people work there.
The spectacular 100,000 sq ft complex includes design studios, laboratories, warehouses, office buildings and showroom and is open to the public.
Lladró creations are exported to more than 100 countries with almost 4,000 points of sale including New York’s 57th Street where there is a second Lladró museum.
The craftsmanship behind the current collection of Lladró figures is considered to be of outstanding technical merit. Introduced onto the market at the beginning of this year, the Utopia collection brings together all the great symbols of Lladró over the years and celebrates the efforts of a generation of artists and artisans.
Interestingly, each piece in the Utopia collection has been reworked from its original design to celebrate the classic pieces that have became so popular over the last 50 years.
In doing so, Lladró designers have given each a contemporary makeover intended to suit the styles and desires of today’s collectors, the range symbolising friendship, innocence, joy, love and protection.
Lladró also runs a club for collectors called the Privilege Scheme. More than 130,000 members enjoy access to exclusive wares and updates on the company’s latest developments. There is also the opportunity to participate in trips and social and cultural events throughout the world.
The club was formed in 1985 and today, the first annual sculpture produced for club members, called "Little Pals", can fetch several thousand pounds at auction. It is rare because few were produced owing to the small number of club membership in the early years.
Auction prices for contemporary Lladró, which is widely available, start as low as £50. Figurines dating from the 1960s are rare and collectors are prepared to pay highly for examples in perfect condition.
Even figures withdrawn from production as recently as the 1980s can command prices in excess of £1,000.