Last month, when devotees in most parts of India were queuing up at roadside stalls to buy clay Ganesha idols for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Lladro, the Spain-based maker of handcrafted porcelain products, announced two new additions to its Spirit of India series. A mid-sized figurine of Goddess Lakshmi and a bigger sculpture of Lord Shiva in high porcelain. The latter is from a limited edition collection of 720 pieces. They were introduced in a country readying for Durga Puja and Diwali and always keen on the divinity goods market.
While the idols at street shops may cost less than a few thousand rupees, the cheapest Lladro figurine from the Hindu pantheon of gods is priced upwards of Rs20,000. The latest Lakshmi and Shiva sculptures are priced at Rs90,000 and Rs7.2 lakh, respectively.
“Exquisite craftsmanship and painstaking attention to detail,” says Nikhil Lamba, chief operating officer of Lladro India, describing the uber luxe quotient of these figurines.
“Every idol is handmade,” he explains. “The process is excruciatingly time consuming.” For example, the garland on the 2-ft-high Shiva piece was made one tiny petal of a flower (that look like carnations) at a time. It took more than a year for artists to finish the piece.
The latest Lakshmi interpretation is a response to the surge in the demand for smaller figurines of the goddess of wealth. “Lakshmi is hugely popular across the country,” says Lamba. “Lladro had made 720 bigger, high-porcelain pieces of Lakshmi in 2012. Prized at Rs9 lakh each, they were sold out in two years.”
The bestseller in India is Ganesha. The first figurine of the god of auspicious beginnings was made in 2000—the year the company started selling directly in India. They found an eager clientele. “Ganesha is something people across the globe relate to,” says Lamba. “Its popularity is universal.” The company has 18 different iterations of Ganesha currently.
In 2010, Lladro launched a limited edition, with 499 pieces of high porcelain Ganesha idols, at Rs7.5 lakh apiece. They were sold out within four weeks of launch.
The company has eight boutiques in seven cities across India and its biggest markets are the National Capital Region, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Besides Ganesha and Lakshmi, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, and Sai Baba are popular in the west and south. In the north, the Ram Darbar is popular; it was launched in 2012 as a limited edition collection of 1,800 pieces. It has sets of two figurines each—Ram and Sita, priced at Rs4.5 lakh; and Lakshman and Hanuman, priced at Rs4 lakh.
About 40% of Lladro’s business in the country originates from the Spirit of India series, which was launched with the Hindu Children figurines in 1986. Besides deities, Lladro’s collection features Mahatma Gandhi, Happy Buddha and Sacred Cow, among others.
Lladro also makes small decorative plates, lamp stands, lampshades, lithophane lights and chandeliers, candles, mugs, plates and table clocks. Prices start from Rs4,000 for some lithophane lights and go up to more than Rs1 crore for figurines in high porcelain.
The company comes out with 100 different products each year—50 each in the Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter collections. About 10 from these are limited editions. Some of their hottest new pieces are Parental Protection (Rs42,500)—a 31x22cm sculpture made by artist Ernest Massuet that shows a bust of a man carrying an infant—and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Rs40,000)—a 31x10cm idol of the saint holding a toddler by artist Javier Molina.
Extensive research goes into each Lladro collection. Once an idea is passed by the creative committee, sketches precede clay models. The final clay model is reproduced in plaster of Paris for the first mould. Different parts of a figurine are made in different moulds by pouring liquid porcelain and then setting them. All fragments are then joined by liquid porcelain. The next stage is painting. A coat of varnish is used for those requiring a glossy touch. Last-stage decoration of the pieces begins at this stage. Ornaments are made and painted. Finally, the sculpture is put in a kiln at over 1300 degrees Celsius for 24 hours during which the porcelain vitrifies, varnish crystallizes and colours come alive.
Lladro was set up in a small family workshop in the village of Almassera, Valencia, by three brothers—Juan, Jose and Vicente—in 1953. By 1958, demand for their products grew to such an extent that the brothers decided to move their small company to a warehouse in the neighbouring town of Tavernes Blanques.
Today, with 15 master craftsmen, Lladro makes all its products in the City of Porcelain—a 100,000 sq. ft complex in the heart of Valencia’s Tavernes Blanques quarter—opened in 1969.
The choice of figurines that people buy depends on two factors—the size of the homes and the purpose of purchase. “In the north, where wealthy people live in farmhouses, they tend to buy bigger, high-porcelain pieces. In contrast, in cities where more people live in apartments, the demand for smaller pieces is higher,” says Lamba. The festive season that involves extensive gifting is quite obviously the peak selling time.
Next on Lladro’s India series is a Bhagwad Gita piece with Arjuna, Krishna, horses and chariots from the epic battle of Kurukshetra. “Artists in Valencia have been working on it for a few years now but it is nowhere near completion yet,” says Lamba. “It is a big piece and extremely complex. I don’t see it being launched for another couple of years.”