Craftsmen, Artisans, Ceramic Experts: 270 Years of Villeroy & Boch
Since its foundation 270 years ago, in 1748, Villeroy & Boch has become one of the world’s leading ceramic producers and a celebrated lifestyle brand. A look back at its unique history shows how the company has achieved this success while remaining true to its original identity and values.
A businessman and a royal cannon-founder wrote the first chapter in this amazing family and company story. The “Bombardier du Roi” cannon-founder was Frenchman, François Boch. Together with his three sons, in 1748, he began producing ceramic tableware in Audun-le-Tiche in Lorraine, France. In 1767, he opened a factory in Septfontaines in Luxembourg. Called “Manufacture Impériale et Royale,” the new factory grew quickly and became the first large-scale ceramic manufacturer in the country. The tableware, generally described as “in the Luxembourg style," marked the start of early industrial mass production--and “Septfontaines” became synonymous with quality far beyond Luxembourg's borders.
The move to the company’s current headquarters in Mettlach, Germany followed in 1809. Jean-François, a third-generation member of the Boch family, purchased a former Benedictine abbey and converted it into a highly mechanised tableware production operation. Jean-François studied at the École de Sciences in Paris. As well as developing many innovations, including a new furnace system and the ‘pyrometer,’* he also came up with a white and extremely strong, high-quality earthenware material as a more affordable alternative to porcelain. At the time, porcelain was considered “white gold,” available only to the nobility and the wealthy. The introduction of this earthenware gave wider sections of the population access to beautiful, porcelain-like tableware, heralding ceramic tableware's expansion in the market.
Businessman Nicolas Villeroy also focused on ceramic and innovations. In 1791, he became a shareholder of an earthenware factory, and later assumed full control. He was one of the first people to use coal as a fuel for ceramic production. He enlisted the services of experts from England and France to modernise his factory. He also introduced another innovation, the copperplate process, to produce decorated products at more affordable prices. During the copperplate process, patterns are engraved on copper, then printed on paper and transferred to the ceramic material; the pattern adheres to the ceramic after the removal of the paper. This invention helped to streamline the production process.
Two Families, One Global Company
Boch and Villeroy were competitors. They both wanted to assert their market leadership--in particular against the dominant English industry. This common goal and shared interested in innovation led the competitive companies to reach an agreement to merge in 1836 to form Villeroy & Boch. Now allies and business partners, the former competitors experienced rapid growth.
In 1843 the partners created the Cristallerie Wadgassen to produce glassware to complement the tableware offering and improve market prospects in Germany and abroad. It was a success. From Paris to London, Warsaw, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Scandinavia, Southern Europe and finally North and South America: Villeroy & Boch became a leading manufacturer and supplier for the tables of the world. The company became one of the first global players of the 19th century.
Later, inspired by an archaeological find, Eugen von Boch (fourth-generation) began experimenting with ceramic tile manufacturing and design. The result was the “Mettlacher Platten,” attractive and very hard-wearing tiles that became a global success. The first tile “mosaic factory” was created in 1869, and soon became the world’s biggest producer of floor tiles, based in Merzig. Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, Cologne Cathedral, and the Holland Tunnel in New York City were all decorated with “Mettlacher Platten."
In 1856, Eugen Boch set up an earthenware factory in Dresden, and introduced a completely new product in 1879: artistic terracotta, made from a specially developed material far superior to other building materials. This “building adornment” can still be seen in historic manor houses, cathedrals, banks and castles.
From Tableware to Sanitary Ceramics
Eugen Boch quickly identified further potential for ceramic. Around 1900, he turned his attention to an area that was almost unknown to large sections of the population: private bathrooms. The company had already been producing washing vessels for a very long time. In 1876, it began making "water pipe articles"--the first sanitary ceramics--in Wallerfangen. This was quickly followed by large-scale production of bathtubs and toilets. The new "slipcasting process", pouring liquid ceramic material into moulds, and fireclay, which barely distorts during firing, unlocked series production – making bathroom fittings more affordable.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Villeroy & Boch had become a familiar name all over the world. Its award-winning products are featured at international exhibitions and trade fairs. The company supplies the finest tableware to European stately homes, and equips prestigious hospitality venues with table and serveware, as well as outfits swimming pools, hotels, and banks with tiles, terracotta, and bath and wellness products.
Entrepreneurs With a Social Conscience
The private lives of the families are also closely connected. In 1842, Eugen Boch (who was ennobled into Prussian nobility as “von Boch” in 1892) married Octavie Villeroy, Nicolas Villeroy's granddaughter. The families were also establishing a reputation for themselves beyond their business activities. In 1857, Nicolas Villeroy's daughter Leonie and her husband Adolphe de Galhau set up the Sophien-Stiftung, a foundation to support families in need. Pierre-Joseph Boch, son of the founder François, set up a social initiative encompassing health, accident and disability insurance and a pension fund--later used by Bismarck as the model for Germany's first social security system. Béatrice von Boch-Galhau (1914-2011) initiated and founded SOS-Kinderdorf Saar in Merzig.
A Stylish Blend of Tradition and Modernity
The union between the companies and families withstood political conflicts, two World Wars, and centuries of conflict over the movement of the border in the Saar region. Today, the Villeroy & Boch brand has a worldwide presence: supported by 270 years of experience, innovative strength, 7,500 employees--and by the families, whose representatives still play an active role in the company today.
Villeroy & Boch's success is largely due to the art of repeatedly combining traditional and modern design elements in harmonious and successful fusions. This remains true and vivid in 2018, precisely 250 years after its creation, as the company's first and oldest porcelain decor, Old Luxembourg, is reimagined in its centenary year as Old Luxembourg Brindille. The delicate blue floral design of this vintage classic, inspired by the delicate branch or “brindille,” appears on Old Luxembourg Brindille in a bolder, contemporary style as the pattern is enlarged and presented in classic cobalt blue on crisp white like the original, as well as the inverse of white on deep blue. Inspiration from the past comes full circle to delight us in the future.
*Thermometer for contactless temperature measurement
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Villeroy & Boch
Villeroy & Boch is one of the world's leading premium brands for ceramic products. The family business, which was founded in 1748 and is headquartered in Mettlach/Germany, stands for innovation, tradition and exceptional style. As a renowned lifestyle brand, Villeroy & Boch offers products from the sectors Bathroom and Wellness and Tableware, and is active in 125 countries.