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More than 265 years of history: Villeroy & Boch – a piece of European innovation, design and industrial history

Press Release   •   Jan 01, 2016 11:00 GMT

Former Federal Chancellor, Helmut Kohl once described Villeroy & Boch, founded in 1748, as "Europeans of the first generation". Operating internationally today, this brand company has also, however, been a pioneer and forerunner in many other areas.

In 1767, at a time when manufactories still largely governed the picture of working life in Europe, the Bochs began adopting early-industrial production structures. Around the mid 19th century, when the term global player was still a long way off, Villeroy & Boch was already exporting beyond Europe to the USA, Russia and China. The high product quality and excellent price-performance ratio played a decisive role in this ability to compete internationally. Both had resulted from the extensive innovative activities carried out by the company's first generations, who had been businessmen, strategists, inventors and designers all in one person.

Although there were not awards for innovative achievements in those days, there were definitely awards for creative product quality. The numerous medals Villeroy & Boch received at international exhibitions and trade exhibitions are the forerunners of the design awards it receives today. From its very beginnings Villeroy & Boch has not only launched highly-competitive products, but has also helped mould the various stylistic periods since the Baroque. This is hardly surprising, as the company's great personalities were all artistically talented themselves. Having a sure sense of design and the market, they have engaged the most able designers to head their ateliers since the mid 19th century. International artists, draughtsmen and (in the 20th/21st century) designers have been contracted and have contributed to the reputation of the Villeroy & Boch brand in the area of product aesthetics, trends and lifestyle.

It was the Bochs and Villeroys themselves who created this complex corporate culture throughout eight generations – a culture whose basic principles still exist today. The following historical outline documents the roles played by the major personalities in their respective era during the company's 265 years of existence.

Career Switcher Francois Boch

Lorraine was still an autonomous Duchy in 1748 when François Boch, the resident cannon founder, decided to convert his trade to serve more peaceful purposes and as a result, founded a small pottery. The direction taken with this entrepreneurial reorientation was also followed by his three sons. But first of all the political situation forced them to look for a new production location when Lorraine was integrated into France. In order to avoid import duties to Luxembourg – which was a major sales area besides the domestic market – the brothers founded a factory in Septfontaines, Luxembourg in 1767 where they began early-industrial serial production. In 1782 they developed a kiln which held 13 times more charge than its predecessor.

Products from Septfontaines soon became a term for quality. A sales warehouse was set up in Brussels as early as 1775 and the French market was also served. Though François Boch was a career switcher, the second generation displayed professionalism which is characterised by technical experiments and a talent for design. One of the brothers, Pierre-Joseph, worked incessantly to optimise the material and in 1789 successfully developed a secret recipe for producing limestone goods which looked extremely similar to porcelain, but which could be supplied incomparably cheaper.

Historical Decision on Location

The French Revolution put an end to the flourishing enterprise. It was destroyed in 1794, but with the workers' help the brothers were able to completely rebuild it in just a few years. Nevertheless, the Bochs looked for a new location. In 1809, Jean-François – Pierre-Joseph's son – purchased the Old Abbey in Mettlach in the French "Departements Sarre". This location on the River Saar seemed favourable as the river here made the delivery of raw materials and the dispatch of finished goods considerably easier than in Septfontaines.

Educated at the Ecole de Sciences in Paris, Jean-François was responsible for numerous inventions, for example a completely new kiln system or a pyrometer, which gave the company a further technological advance. In 1829 he was able to considerably improve the material quality yet again by developing a light white, extremely hard earthenware.

Tableware Democracy

When deciding his corporate principles, Jean-François remained loyal to those of his predecessors, namely to optimise the quality of everyday commodities which were to be produced in large quantities, thus making them affordable for broader social classes. But this alone does not explain the company's upswing.

Without doubt a prestige factor also accompanied these products which looked increasingly like "white gold". As a result not only the desirability, but ultimately the sale of these products grew. Owing to its high price, porcelain – which had been discovered in 1708 and whose "recipe" had been kept secret – was a luxury which up till then had been reserved for the nobility and upper classes. This accounted for a large part of its allure among the middle-class buying public of the late 18th and early 19th century. Now the Boch company was offering a convincing, almost authentic version which introduced a piece of noble tableware into the middle-class home. This was the company's contribution towards a tableware democracy.

By 1830 the company was already exporting to numerous European countries. But in order to exist in Europe's economic framework, above all alongside the dominating English industry, Jean-François Boch made contact with Nicolas Villeroy, who was also an export-oriented ceramics manufacturer. In 1836 the former rivals concluded a merger agreement for the purpose of combining the strengths of both parties and to acquiring greater competitive power with their innovative abilities, production know-how and production capacity.

Already successful throughout Europe as a supplier of crockery, Villeroy & Boch trod new ground in the production sector in 1846. Tile manufacture commenced and was soon to progress to an innovation inspired by a Roman mosaic, namely "Mettlacher Platten". The distinctive feature of these aesthetically refined tiles was their tremendously high degree of wear resistance, with the effect that numerous floors laid back then still exist today. In this case too, a relatively cost-effective means of production ensured a wide scope of sales opportunities. These tiles were frequently used in the commercial sector, for example in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, in the Hamburg underground, in a cathedral in Buenos Aires, in the tunnel under the Hudson River in New York or in the German Club in Tsingtao. Floor tiles from the same factory also contributed to the interior grandeur and elegance of the RMS Titanic.

Private Bathrooms – a Market Opportunity

With its easy-care properties, the tile was predestined for use in public swimming baths and hospitals where there was a much greater demand for hygiene in the second half of the 19th century, following new knowledge acquired and progress made in the area of medicine. Eugen Boch, who had headed the company with Alfred Villeroy since 1842, also recognised the opportunities which lay in designing a private bathroom.

Tiles and washbasin sets were then also manufactured for this purpose. In 1870 the production of ceramic sanitary ware or "water-pipe articles" began at the factory in Wallerfangen. It was once again a technological leap – the slip casting technique and the development of traditional fireclay – which enabled cost-effective large-scale production and with it a wider scope of marketing opportunities. Around 1900, at the same time as a drinking-water supply and sewers were introduced, Villeroy & Boch began concentrating on a room in private housing which was almost unknown to the majority of the population, namely the bathroom.

Gradually the bathroom became accepted as standard, but demand was not fulfilled until the second half of the 20th century. Even then, Villeroy & Boch felt that the potential of the private bathroom was far from exhausted. It was necessary to rediscover the bathroom as an integral part of the home, as a living space. This was a vision. In 1975, Villeroy & Boch engaged Luigi Colani – the enfant terrible of the design world – to realise it. Colani created a completely new bathroom concept. He was the first person to give consideration to the ergonomic aspects of this room and to optimising functionality in all of its areas. It was also Colani who introduced colour into the bathroom. This revolutionary bathroom concept, which revolved entirely around people and their needs, sent out a clear message to the whole of the bathroom industry.

Innovative Strength in International Competition

This was the first of many innovations which clearly influenced consumer requirements and expectations. The knowledge that real innovations generate demand and stimulate the market is nothing new at Villeroy & Boch, but in these dynamic times it has acquired additional aspects. Real innovations strengthen the ability to compete on the international market. For this reason, an Innovation Management Department was set up in the year 2000 to search for innovative products systematically and on a broad basis. In 2005 Villeroy & Boch received the coveted "German Business Innovation Award".

Villeroy & Boch is represented by its products in 125 countries. In view of fundamental changes to the global market and consumer structure, the corporate strategy at the start of the 21st century is focussed on increasing Group internationalisation and globalisation. Once again it is the brand which is at the centre of this process and which – as an authentic piece of European culture and innovative strength – is fascinating consumers in all major international markets.

Villeroy & Boch:

Villeroy & Boch with Head Office in Mettlach/Germany has production plants located in Europe, Mexico and Thailand. The product range includes articles from three domains: Bathroom and Wellness, Tableware and Tiles. With more than 265 years of company history behind it, today Villeroy & Boch is a European Lifestyle brand active in 125 countries.