Magazine article Newsweek

For 75 Years, S.T. Dupont Lighters Have Been Flaming Brilliant; the Most Elaborate Lighters Made by Dupont, a French Accessories Brand, Have Become Collector's Items

Magazine article Newsweek

For 75 Years, S.T. Dupont Lighters Have Been Flaming Brilliant; the Most Elaborate Lighters Made by Dupont, a French Accessories Brand, Have Become Collector's Items

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Foulkes

Recently, I was invited to a 75th birthday party celebrating the French accessories brand S.T. Dupont--in particular, the Dupont lighter, first produced in 1941, during the German occupation of France. Dupont sold its goods to Al Capone, Audrey Hepburn and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, among many others. In the 1950s, the French state began using the firm to make official gifts for dignitaries and their spouses: Both Queen Elizabeth and first lady Bess Truman were given a Dupont necessaire de voyage, a dressing-table set in its own valise: exquisite, if not quite right for those who travel light.

During World War II's strict rationing, Dupont wanted to manufacture a labor-intensive product that kept its workers employed but did not use too many raw materials. On January 6, 1941, it applied for a patent for a lighter; the design enabled the owner to change the flint without unscrewing anything, an innovation that gave birth to the now-famous spring-loaded flint mechanism. In 1952, business took off after the launch of a gas lighter with a "miraculous" adjustable flame.

France was then well into Les Trente Glorieuses, a period of economic growth that lasted until the oil shock of the 1970s. It also was the golden age of smoking. Dupont lighters were guilloche engraved, plated in silver or gold, covered in lacquer, and otherwise decorated to suit the tastes of affluent smokers. Ads promoted their elegance--"the best dressed flame in the world"--and their precision--"built like a chronometer, designed like a jewel. …

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