The latest crisis facing Murano furnaces is the exorbitant increase in Methane prices. Methane is the gas used to melt the sand into glass in most of the furnaces in Murano. It is piped under the lagoon directly to Murano.
The latest is a double whammy occurring on the tails of the shut-down for COVID. During 2019, 3+ months of complete lock-down where residents were only allowed outside their house for essential services, grocery shopping, visits to the doctor or the pharmacy. No workers were allowed inside the furnaces. During this time we were fortunate to have a few bead makers who work from their home and could continue making beads.
Tourism died as travel to Italy was not allowed. In fact it was only in the summer of 2021 that US residents were welcomed and then only those vaccinated and with negative Covid tests. Tourist from other reciprocal countries in the European Union were allowed earlier as was the travel between regions in Italy.
But Murano doesn’t receive a lot of money from the Italian tourist, for the most part, the Italian tourist is just on a day outing, perhaps buying lunch at a restaurant, but rarely large works of glass art. The same is true from EU tourist who arrive in the summer holidays with their families, often camping at Jesolo, across the lagoon spending much of their time on the sunny beaches.
The tourist who are apt to purchase at the “glass factories” arrived in the past on tours by large tour companies, like Trafalgar, or other organized tours which included visits to various furnaces, especially a tourist furnace on the Island of Giudecca where the tourist were shuttled by boat from Tronchetto directly there. Tourist were also sent by hotels to specific furnaces where the furnace agreed to pay a fee for delivery. This so-called free taxi to Murano often backfired on tourist who didn’t get the point that in return for delivering them to the furnaces, the furnaces expected them to purchase (and not 10 Euro items). So sometimes these tourist found themselves learning public transportation to return to Venice.
Just as the furnaces were seeing an increase in tourist and sales, the news of the increase in gas prices has skyrocketed, from 0.23 cents to 0.90. A surge of 400%. Consider that the furnaces burn 24 hours a day otherwise the costly crucible inside the ovens will break a broken crucible cost about $2,300 US.
A medium-size glassblowing business consumes ~12,000 cubic meters (420,000 cubic feet) of methane a month to keep seven furnaces glowing at temperatures over 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) 24 hours a day.
Monthly bills normally range from 11,000 to 13,000 euros ($12,700 to $15,000) a month, on a fixed-price contract that expired on Sept. 30, 2021. Now exposed to market volatility, an increase is projected in methane costs to 60,000 euros ($70,000).
And even those furnaces who are lucky enough to have volume orders from shops, markets abroad are now facing a certain loss on orders they are working to fill as they have already negotiated prices for the orders and those prices did not include this unexpected increase.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT OUR BEADS?
Unfortunately, this increase in gas prices will manifest itself two ways in our beads. First, the furnace that produces all the glass canes our bead makers uses volumes of gas to keep its furnace glowing with each batch of just one color being about 250 Kilo (~500 Pounds). This furnace provides glass canes to the world. More importantly, it provides all the canes to our bead makers.
The Second Increase
Then, the torches (canello) that the bead makers use all are powered by gas. So they too are experiencing a huge increase each time they replace their cylinders of gas.
The Confartigianto, the artisan association has pleaded to government in Rome to assist in negotiating better rates with the alternative that an artist craft active in Murano since 1291 will be in peril. Even now, furnaces are being leveled and hotels rising up. One of the latest to fall to the hotel industry is the old factory of Moretti along Fondamenta Manin just down from the boat stop Colonna. Profits are good for the hotels (not necessarily the workers and certainly not for the population of Murano) and they do provide some jobs and create some tax income for the Italian government. The downside of all this is that once the furnaces close it will be virtually impossible for the island to continue to maintain its place in the world of glass. As of now, already 7 more furnaces have closed.
Murano holds a treasure of artisans, world class glass blowers whose names remain unknown because they just go to work each day and blow glass. They do not think of themselves as artist but they are responsible for the largest part of the glass sold. Murano is a legend in our world of glass – since 1291. I hope that the Italian Government comes to the aid of the furnaces in Murano otherwise Italy will be losing the history of Venice and Murano. Along with one of the reasons that tourist come to Venice.