Design
Sputnik Chandeliers and Soulful Souvenirs in New York City
April 14, 2016
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Sputnik Chandelier, The Met Opera House

For a moment, imagine you’re attending a Met Opera performance… As you approach the arch-lined glass facade of the Opera House, you can see right into the warmly lit interior. There, a symphony of illuminated crystals sparkle over the inner atrium. Inside the theatre, another cluster of chandeliers centred by a grandiose starburst of crystals hangs low over the seating. As the lights dim and the curtain opens, the chandeliers glide upward towards the ceiling, dramatically opening the show. The Metropolitan Opera Houses’ sputnik chandeliers are a signature of its performances, interiors, and a period of midcentury design.

The Metropolitan Opera House
The Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre, New York City. Photo by The Metropolitan Opera

The history of the sputnik chandelier

The sputnik chandelier design was born in the atomic age of design. Following World War II the Cold War began, triggering an arms race between the former Soviet Union and the U.S.A. to develop bigger and more destructive atomic weapons. In 1957 the former Soviet Union launched the first satellite named Sputnik. The following year America launched its own satellite and subsequently NASA was created. The world became fascinated by nuclear science and space exploration. This inspired an era of architecture and design that later became the Atomic or Space Age. If you’re not familiar with the aesthetic, think The Jetsons, the Seattle Space Needle or watch the short video below.

One of the classic and enduring designs of this time is referred to as the “sputnik” chandelier, named after the Soviet Union satellite. Copied and varied aplenty, it’s hard to trace the design’s exact origin, but engineer Gino Sarfatti is commonly credited with creating the first of this midcentury icon–a pendant with radiating arms of various lengths stemming from a cental orb, each ray ending in a light.

Gino Sarfatti chandelier
Gino Sarfatti chandelier. Photo by Phillips Auctions

The crown jewels of the Metropolitan Opera House

In the 1960’s as the Lincoln Center was being constructed, the Austrian Government gifted the United States 350 hand-cut crystal adorned, sputnik-style chandeliers and accompanying lighting fixtures to complete The Met Opera House. Those glamorous sparklers were produced by the glassmaking Austrian company Lobmeyr, with 90% Swarovski crystals. The Lobmeyr designer Hans Harald Rath was inspired to create small galaxies of light and crystal by a book about the Big Bang, presented to him by the Opera House architect Wallace K. Harrison.

Lobmeyr were called upon again in 2008 to freshen up the aging chandeliers. They carefully dismantled the lights and flew them to Austria for refurbishment of the radiating frames, along with complete replacement of the 49,000 original hand carved crystals, with new laser cut Swarovski donated pieces.

Met Opera lights

Upcycling the remains into a perfect souvenir

Now not all the original crystals survived the disassembly intact. Some were lost and others chipped or otherwise damaged. The less than perfect, but oh-so-unique crystals were upcycled into small reproductions of the chandeliers and jewellery pieces sold in The Met Opera shop. It was here that lovely shop assistant Stephanie, saw my aching desire to have one of those baby sputnik’s and redirected me to a more affordable solution–a beautiful hat/scarf pin.

Being that one of my favourite soulful souvenirs to collect is jewellery, I couldn’t have fallen more in love with the piece and its story–a recycled crystal from an iconic chandelier, that witnessed 30 years of opera patrons enjoyment in the Lincoln Centre, New York City.

The story of how I found the perfect souvenir in New York City | Duende by Madam ZoZo
My hat/scarf pin with a crystal from The Met Opera House's original 1966 sputnik style chandeliers

For more on New York City, here are the 10 things I learnt the hard way while exploring the Big Apple, a dash of street art, and a packing list for Autumn and Spring.

Peace, love & inspiring travel,

Madam ZoZo

The story of why this hat/scarf pin is my perfect New York City souvenir | Duende by Madam ZoZo
Sputnik Chandeliers and Soulful Souvenirs

About author

Madam ZoZo

Hi! I'm Madam ZoZo, aka Zoë, an Australian designer, creative consultant, blogger and digital nomad. I'm passionate about travel, design, dance and new experiences that fuel my creativity. I strive to travel in a style that is gentle on the earth and that contributes to the communities I visits, even if it is merely to take away a greater understanding of a different culture. Duende by Madam ZoZo, is where I share the stories of my travels and the duende (soul/inspiration) I find along the way.

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  • […] more on my New York experience and the Duende I found along the way, check out How I Found the Perfect Souvenir in NYC and Art on the Street NYC, along with some important tips for first timers at 10 Things I Learnt […]

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