Glassblowers from Murano have survived pandemics and plagues. To beat the low-priced Asian competition, they switched to highly valued artistic creations. However, rising energy prices are threatening their economic model.
There are still dozens of furnaces on the lagoon island, where Venetian rulers transferred the glassblowing process 700 years ago. They must be burning continuously or the expensive crucible will burst. The global methane market has risen fivefold since Oct. 1. This means that the glass-blowers will have to make losses on any orders they fill.
Gianni De Checchi (president of Confartiginato, Venice’s association for artisans) stated that “people are desperate.” “If this continues, and we don’t find solutions for the sudden and abnormally high gas prices, then the entire Murano glass industry will be in serious trouble.”
Simone Cenedese’s medium-sized glassblowing company uses 12,000 cubic meters (420,000 feet) of methane per month to keep his furnaces humming at temperatures of over 1,000° Celsius (1,800 Fahrenheit), 24 hours a days. They close down once per year in August for annual maintenance.
On a fixed-price contract, his monthly bills range between 11,000 and 13,000 euros per month. The contract expired September 30. Cenedese, now exposed to market volatility projects a rise in methane prices to 60,000 euros ($70,000), in October as the natural gas market continues to be impacted by increasing Chinese demand, uncertain Russian supply, and low European stockpiles.
Cenedese and other artisans must now consider the insurmountable rise in energy costs when they fulfill orders that promised to lift them from the 2020 pandemic crisis.
We cannot raise prices that have been established. Cenedese, who is a third-generation glassblower and took over his father’s business, said that it means that for at least two more months, we will be working at a loss. We sell decorative items for the home, not necessities. If the prices are too high, there won’t be any more orders.
Cenedese is contemplating closing down one of his furnaces in order to address the crisis, as are others on the island. The broken crucible will be worth 2,000 euros. It will also slow down production and make it impossible to fulfill pending orders.
The five glass-blowers work with unspoken choreographed precision and speed to complete an order of 1,800 ornaments decorated with golden flakes bound for Switzerland.