Although he started his career as a jeweler in 1830 — after apprenticing with his copper jeweler brother-in-law years earlier — Charles Christofle (1805–63) recognized that Second Empire France had an untapped audience for luxury silverware and tableware.
Gold and silver gilt had been the high-end standard in the 18th century, yet society after the Industrial Revolution demanded a more affordable, but still refined, approach. So in the 1840s, Christofle cornered the market on electrolytic gilding and silver plating, dominating the hold on patents in the country for over a decade. His work soon attracted the attention of Louis-Philippe I and then Napoleon III, under whom he was named Fournisseur de l’Empereur, cementing the prestige of his brand.
While Christofle created decadent centerpieces and tableware for the French palaces — as well as prominent clients like the Orient Express — the company’s electroplating of silverware that was far less expensive than that made by silversmiths attained widespread popularity. At a time when many who could not afford gold or silver still used wooden utensils, Christofle was a game changer for at-home dining. An appearance at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago furthered the company’s reach to American consumers who would soon rival the manufacturer’s European clientele.
The 20th century saw Christofle adapting to changing tastes in its offerings, such as the Aria collection, which debuted in 1985 with column-like lines on its flatware designed by Bernard Yot, and the playful egg-shaped silverware container introduced in 2015 that opens to reveal a full flatware set. The company also now sells barware, home accessories and even jewelry, harkening back to its roots. Now almost two centuries old, Christofle maintains its reputation as a leading flatware and silverware company under the ownership of the Chalhoub group, its utensils gracing tables in homes, hotels and restaurants all over the world.