The 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier. Jules Corboz prepared the model, and it was cast and chased by Lacarière, Delatour & Cie. The total cost came to 30,000 gold francs. The use of a central chandelier aroused controversy, and it was criticized for obstructing views of the stage by patrons in the fourth level boxes and views of the ceiling painted by Eugène Lenepveu. Garnier had anticipated these disadvantages but provided a lively defense in his 1871 book Le Théâtre: "What else could fill the theatre with such joyous life? Who else could offer the variety of forms that we have in the pattern of the flames, in these groups and tiers of points of light, these wild hues of gold flecked with bright spots, and these crystalline highlights?"
On 20 May 1896, the falling of one of the counterweights for the grand chandelier resulted in the death of one member of the audience. This incident inspired one of the more famous scenes in Gaston Leroux's classic 1911 gothic novel The Phantom of the Opera.
Originally the chandelier was raised up through the ceiling into the cupola over the auditorium for cleaning, but now it is lowered. The space in the cupola was used in the 1960s for opera rehearsals, and in the 1980s was remodeled into two floors of dance rehearsal space.