Built by King Louis XV’s royal decree, Corning’s oldest plant produces the newest inventions.
Nestled in a little town along the Loing River, a stout stone tower with a conical roof stands four stories tall. For years, the people of Bagneaux, France, gathered inside, tinkering with spectacular glass creations.
Ever since King Louis XV ordered the construction of that tower – the area’s first glass works – in 1751, it’s been a place where innovation is born.
The glass-making operation quickly outgrew the building – still a Bagneaux landmark today, with its creeping ivy and original stones – but the surrounding campus continues to produce groundbreaking specialty glass for advanced optics and more.
In fact, much of the technology that comes out of Corning’s glass research and development complex is too secret to even talk about publicly. But it builds on a voluminous history of producing lenses for spectacles in 1830, scientific optical glass in 1914, PYREX® borosilicate glass in 1922, television bulbs in the 1950s, and industry-leading ophthalmic glasses in the years following. Bagneaux didn’t follow glass trends; it created them.
Today, the facility melts 60 types of glass per year, concocting over 200 different compositions, including glass-ceramics. It forms discs, bars, blocks, strips, thin sheets, thick sheets, and more. It cuts and polishes them, too. It even produces glass powders.
Despite its long list of capabilities, it’s OK to order off-menu at Bagneaux. Ask, and the engineers at the facility might just deliver. For example, Corning Bagneaux collaborated with artist Jeff Koons on one of his best-known works, the Gazing Ball series, producing a custom-poured, optically perfect, one-millimeter thick circle of mirrored cobalt blue glass at his request.
The Bagneaux facility has even contributed to gothic architecture. Near Paris, a large glass slab weighing almost 900 pounds, made in Bagneaux, sits atop a raised pulpit in the medieval Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis – an engineering feat.
And while the glass from Bagneaux has made its mark on the art world, it’s cut an even wider swath within industries such as mobile consumer electronics, augmented reality, medical radiation shielding, and more.
The Bagneaux plant has been well known for supplying ophthalmic glass of all sorts – including UV protection in luxury sunglasses. Bagneaux is also a world leader in supplying radiation glass – blanks, lenses, and window shielding to increase safety while working with X-ray technology. Two hundred tons of its glass is installed in the nuclear waste retreatment plant in La Hague.