Renaissance of Hungarian Fine Art Crystal

crystal-spreadBy Dale King and Julia Hebert

The classic engraved crystal masterworks handcrafted by four generations of a family of Hungarian artisans at Varga Crystal based in Budapest grace some of the world’s most notable dining tables, from royal palaces to the White House.

But the cherished brand first created in the 1930s by Geza Varga might have fallen into the black hole of forgotten history were it not for the efforts of his grandson, Sandor Varga, and particularly Sandor’s then wife, Ildiko. After they were married in 1972, they began the arduous task of resurrecting and reviving the company that had fallen into ruin at the hands of communists who invaded Hungary at the end of World War II. The Russian hoard seized Geza’s factory and shops in 1945 and destroyed them.  Five years later, Geza, broken by his loss, died.

DSCN1133DSCN1136DSCN1139Perhaps to set destiny’s course back on track, the couple founded Varga Art Crystal under Hungary’s communist regime which banned direct exports and imposed a 75 percent tax on items leaving the country. “Sandor and I had to start from scratch to build the new crystal business,” said Ildiko, who is still a leader at the firm and travels the world promoting it.

Recalling the crystal firm’s restart, Ildiko said, “Sandor had the talent and the heritage and also some of the unique, antique designs from his grandfather. We started the business in our basement. Very soon, we had two, then four, then 12 employees.  We moved to a larger space and opened our own retail stores, too. We built our business with persistent hard work.”

482001Family Heritage
Czechoslovakian by birth, Ildiko, youngest of four children and a descendant, through her physician father, of the Royal Sobiesky Family of Poland, grew up in Hungary. Not one to shrink from a challenge, the statuesque, 5-foot-11 blonde compiled considerable face time in the modeling world, spent two years studying medicine, then switched to an international business school and obtained the equivalent of an MBA.

Her efforts fueled her passion for hard work. Armed with business skills and market savvy, she took the fledgling  Varga design business and grew it into an art crystal empire with five interrelated companies, a half-dozen factories and corporate offices in the United States and Budapest.

She and Sandor continue to run the operation which has soared to worldwide proportions with the duo at the helm. The Varga firm was one of the first privately owned companies to see daylight under the communist regime of Hungary.

“We were among the first few who privately exported goods from Hungary” when restrictive government ended in 1989. “Varga Art Crystal was exported to Japan, Israel, Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others, in the 1990s.  It was and is collected by heads of state, royals and celebrities around the world.”

Ildiko and Sandor, though divorced, “are still friends,” she says, and share an important business relationship.  They have two children, Akos, who works for the Varga company, and Sandor Jr., who has remained in Hungary to learn the technique of diamond and copper-wheel engraved crystal art which is unique to the Varga collection. “I am very proud my sons want to continue the family tradition.”

Varga Fine Art Crystal Arrives in the U.S.
Ildiko launched the first U.S. location at Town Center Mall in Boca Raton in 1993. She made her Palm Beach debut in 1995 with a gift gallery on Worth Avenue. That location put her on the Palm Beach Society map and she was soon on a first-name basis with the Island’s elite.
Sales of Varga Crystal continue to flourish.  “It is sold in more than 300 stores just in the United States.”  Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s are among them. For Palm Beachers, the Mary Mahoney store, also on Worth Avenue, carries the famed glassware.

The woman who directed the firm’s renaissance sees elegance in what has been restored. “It’s important for people to know that 100 percent of our items are hand-engraved. Only a handful of people do this; it is a dying art. I always say how important it is to have a beautiful table setting. If you are enjoying a beverage, it tastes better when you are drinking it out of a beautiful glass.”

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Renaissance of Hungarian Fine Art Crystal