Financial crisis threatens Murano glassmakers
By Ian Simpson
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Murano glass has long been prized for its rich colors, beauty and sophistication, but the global financial crisis is pushing the 700-year-old craft close to extinction.
Many orders are on hold, layoffs are rising and some furnaces are cold in a downturn symptomatic of the woes of manufacturers both small and large in Italy, Europe's fourth biggest economy.
Even before the crisis bit last year, the Venetian island was slammed by a strong euro that chased away free-spending Americans and others and by competition from Chinese and other producers.
In the last five years, sales at some companies have dropped by half, and the workforce has shrunk to 1,000 from about 5,000.
The current downturn "threatens the existence of Murano, even though two or three companies could remain," said Davide Camuccio, head of the Filcem-CGIL glass and chemical workers' union in Venice.
"This could be a mortal blow."
Artisans have been making glass on Murano, an island close to Venice in its tranquil lagoon, since the 13th century. Long a key center of European glassmaking, its prized products ranged from chandeliers through jewelry to tableware.
Perhaps the island's most famous technique is the "retortoli," where opaque or white threads form a spiral, especially valued on Venetian goblets. Continued...