Villeroy & Boch AG
Villeroy & Boch AG
Sales: DM 1.63 billion (1999)
Stock Exchanges: Frankfurt
Ticker Symbol: VIB3
NAIC: 327212 Other Pressed and Blown Glass and Glassware Manufacturing; 327122 Ceramic Wall and Floor Tile Manufacturing; 327111 Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing; 327112 Vitreous China
Villeroy & Boch AG has been one of Europe’s top names in household and architectural ceramic goods for more than 250 years. The company’s three divisions produce goods in 36 plants in 20 countries. The tile division produces ceramic tile for floors and walls, with an annual output of nearly 25 million square meters of tile. The bathroom and kitchen division manufactures high-quality ceramic plumbing fixtures, such as sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. The tableware division produces a broad line of dishes. Its DM 1.63 billion in 1999 sales represented an increase of eight percent over 1998, and the first half of 2000 saw a 15 percent rise over the same period a year earlier. The company made more than 87 percent of its 1999 sales in the European market, and nearly half of those were in Germany, where the company brand has established a strong presence. According to a study by Gruner + Jahr, out of 325 brands of household goods, Villeroy & Boch had the fifth-highest name recognition among German consumers. Nonetheless, the company sees itself not so much as a brand manufacturer, but as a “lifestyle supplier,” a “seller of ideas” for stylishly furnished bathrooms, for beautifully laid tables, and accessories used elsewhere in the house.
18th-Century Origins in Ceramic Tableware
Villeroy & Boch’s beginnings date back to the summer of 1748 when Fran£ois Boch, an iron founder in the village of Audun-le-Tiche in Lorraine, began manufacturing ceramic dishes. Until that time almost all the porcelain in Europe originated in the Far East and sold for prices only the wealthy could afford. Boch’s dishes cost significantly less than that produced in China and Japan, but was also of such high quality that his reputation soon spread through the surrounding regions and into Luxembourg. So successful did his business become that, in addition to his three sons, he was able to hire six other villagers. Perhaps out of gratitude, the village elected him mayor.
In 1766, Boch received a license from the Austrian empress, Maria Theresa, to build a new earthenware factory in Septfontaines in Luxembourg, call it the “Imperial and Royal Manufactory,” and display the imperial coat of arms. Boch worked at improving the quality of the ceramics at his new facility and introduced various innovative cost-cutting measures, including primitive mass production and more energy-efficient kilns. By the end of the 18th century the Septfontaines factory employed some 300 workers. Much of the factory was destroyed in 1794 by troops of the French Revolution. Within a few years, however, the youngest Boch son, Pierre-Joseph Boch, had returned and rebuilt the factory. In the wake of the revolution, few people could afford the ceramic dishes. However, the demand for Boch ceramics rose rapidly after Napoleon closed continental European markets to popular English porcelain.
Pierre-Joseph Boch was a highly talented artist who designed stunningly beautiful ceramic products for the Boch company. He was also a forward-looking businessman. In 1812, out of gratitude to the workers who had helped him rebuild his business—sometimes without pay—he instituted an early insurance program, which he named the Antonius Guild, after St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of potters. It included disability insurance, health insurance, a pension fund, even burial insurance. The Antonius Guild eventually became a model for the social welfare programs inaugurated by German Chancellor Otto von Bismark at the end of the 19th century.
Jean-Fran£ois Boch, Pierre-Joseph’s son, invented techniques that revolutionized the production of ceramics. He built a state-of-the-art factory in an abandoned abbey he acquired in the town of Mettlach in the Saarland. It incorporated a kiln that burned coal instead of wood, and that ventilated the fumes in a way that enhanced the firing of the clay and burned off as many fumes as possible. He took advantage of the water power provided by a nearby brook. More importantly, he invented a pyrometer that enabled his craftsmen to regulate the temperature in the kiln—long a problem for European porcelain-makers. The process made it possible to achieve standardized high quality across different batches of ceramics. Mass production was also advanced by means of machines that automatically cut pieces of clay into uniform pieces that could then be assembled quickly into a particular design. In 1824, Jean-FranÇois Boch founded a copperplate-engraving studio in Mettlach. The method permitted both mass-producing of ceramic pieces, but also the pictorial designs on the ceramic, which previously had to be painted on by hand.
Another earthenware factory, which since 1798 had been owned and operated by Nicolas Villeroy, was producing ceramic ware in Wallerfangen, just a few miles from Boch’s in Mettlach. Villeroy achieved much of his success by attracting the most talented ceramics specialists to his company, including English experts whom he found imprisoned in Napoleon’s prisoner-of-war camps. But Villeroy could be as innovative as Boch: he had introduced coal-burning kilns even earlier than had Boch and was also experimenting with copperplate printing of designs. He established his own Antonius Guild five years after Boch. In 1836, faced with increasing competition from English porcelain manufacturers, Boch and Villeroy merged their businesses, a union that was made even stronger when Eugen Boch, Jean-FranÇoi’ son, married Nicolas Villeroy’s granddaughter, Octavie. The first joint project of the new firm was the Cristallerie, a crystal manufacturing facility in the town of Wadgassen.
The company continued its innovations in tableware, developing new formulas and production processes for the ceramics. Earlier, in 1829, Jean-FranÇois Boch had developed feldspathic ware, a stoneware that used feldspath. Feldspathic ware had a brilliant whiteness similar to Chinese porcelain and was a remarkably strong, durable material. The company began to produce bone china at the Wallerfangen plant in 1847. Around the same time, it began experiments using color lithography to imprint patterns on china, and also shifted much of the tableware production to a new factory, more centrally located in the city of Dresden. Beginning operation in 1856, the new facility produced simple, everyday tableware that most families could afford, was of the highest quality. Although near important rivers, the Dresden factory also took advantage of the latest medium of transportation, the railroad. By 1900 it was the largest of all Villeroy & Boch’s production facilities.
New Products/Sales Organization Turns Company International
Under Eugen Boch, Villeroy & Boch developed new products and a sales and marketing organization that eventually extended across the globe. The company began to manufacture terra cotta ornamentation for buildings at Mettlach in 1856. Inspired by the discovery of well-preserved mosaic floors built by the ancient Romans, Boch developed architectural tiles that were durable, attractive, and could be mass-produced. He introduced them at a point of rapid, global urban growth. The new division was founded to produce architectural ceramics, and by the end of the 19th century, millions of square yards of the company’s tiles had been used as ornamentation in churches, post offices, theaters, railway stations, official buildings, hospitals, and other buildings throughout the world. The company’s most prestigious commission was to produce the tile floor for the newly completed Cologne Cathedral.
So successful were the tiles that throughout much of Europe the name Mettlacher Platten —or “tiles from Mettlach”— became a generic expression for any architectural ceramic tile, no matter who produced it. Villeroy & Boch had to build a separate factory, the first in Europe that specialized in tile production, in the late 1860s specifically to handle demand for the Mettlacher Platten. In addition to producing the actual tiles, Villeroy & Boch trained its own crews of tiling specialists who traveled worldwide to oversee installation. By 1870, Mettlach tiles accounted for a full 60 percent of the company’s sales. By the end of the 1870s Villeroy & Boch was the most successful ceramics company in the world and employed nearly 7,000 workers.
Having been in existence for 250 years, Villeroy & Boch is one of the oldest industrial enterprises in Europe. Being totally devoted to ceramic, decisive technical achievements were made in this area which serve as an example for the whole branch of industry—from late baroque times up to the present day. There have always been different challenges, but principles have remained the same; principles which have ensured the continued existence of a family business to this very day namely, entrepreneurial flexibility, artistic expertise, technical innovation and social commitment. Over a period of 250 years eight generations of Villeroy & Boch families, as well as their employees, have worked to create a tradition of progress. They have always felt obliged to the people of their time. This support gives us, and generations to come, both the self-confidence and freedom to shape the future—every day.
Another area that became important for Villeroy & Boch was so-called hygienic ceramics. Until the 1900s, homes had a washstand that consisted of a washbasin, a jug, a soap dish, and a chamber pot, all made by hand. These products were made throughout the latter half of the 19th century at Villeroy & Boch’s Dresden works. Around 1900, however, as indoor plumbing spread, the company developed a successful process that automated the production of hygienic ceramics. A mold filled with liquefied ceramic mass guaranteed the uniform thickness of finished product, permitting the precise control of the dimensions of bathtubs, toilets, and washbasins. Ceramic sanitary ware, which included household tiles for bathrooms and kitchens, became the third pillar in the Villeroy & Boch product line, with tableware and architectural tile. Within 20 years, they were being manufactured at three Villeroy & Boch locations, Wallerfangen, Merzig, and Dresden.
In 1902, Villeroy & Boch introduced a new concept in kiln design. First, the new ovens were heated by natural gas instead of coal. Second, several kilns were linked, forming a so-called “tunnel kiln.” Materials moved on tracks through the series of kilns, being fired in the first, gradually cooling off in later kilns, and emerging completely cooled at the end of the line. Because kilns no longer had to be heated before goods could be inserted, nor completely cooled before they could be removed, the design lowered energy costs. The technology was so sophisticated that it remained in use until well into the 1980s.
The company was also a pioneer in worker safety. By the end of the 19th century, although lead was essential to ceramics production, the danger of lead poisoning was well known. At the impetus of René von Boch-Galhau, the son of the ennobled Eugen von Boch, fans, air humidifiers and dust extractors were installed in the company’s factories. Workers could not take food in work areas and had to change clothes when they left work. Boch-Galhau also forbade the use of pure lead in company workshops, replacing it with the considerably less hazardous lead oxide. In the meantime, company scientists looked for safer substitutes.
The Boch family had highly refined aesthetic sensibilities. Eugen von Boch, as well as his niece Anna Boch and nephew Eugene Boch, were accomplished painters. They opened their company to the most advanced artists and designers of the day. Especially important to Villeroy & Boch was the concept of Jugenstil, a philosophy that even the most mundane objects— dishes, coffee cups—should be carefully and beautifully designed. Beginning in the late 19th century, the company commissioned leading Jugenstil artists, including Henry van der Velde, Peter Behrens, and Richard Riemerschmidt, to create washstand sets, tableware, and—most successfully—ornamental tiles. The designs were frequently far ahead of their time and, as a result, were not among the company’s most popular products. Today, however, they are recognized as belonging to the most advance designs of Arts and Crafts school of artists. Later, in the early decades of the 20th century, the company offered a similar outlet to artists from the Bauhaus.
War, the Great Depression, and the Rise of Nazism
When René von Boch-Galhau died in 1908, his company had reached a pinnacle of success. It operated a total of nine factories in Germany and Luxembourg, employed more than 8,000 workers, and made washbasins, bathtubs, ceramic tile for floors and walls, dishes, tiled stoves, decorative objects such as vases and flower pots, sewage pipes, terra cotta figures and architectural ornamentation—virtually everything that could be made of ceramics. The second decade of the 20th century, however, massively disrupted Villeroy & Boch, like much of the rest of the world, caught in World War I.
In 1912, a factory in the Black Forest town of Schramberg was forced to close so a state railway could be built across the land. During the war, Roger von Boch, one of the company’s co-managers, was killed on the eastern front. When peace finally came at the end of 1918, the Saarland, site of two Villeroy & Boch factories, was ceded to France as part of the surrender. The Wallerfangen and Mettlach works no longer had access to important German markets, while the French ones were, as yet, relatively underdeveloped. Other factories were in territory taken over by Poland and the Baltic states—only two remained within the borders of Germany, a factory in Dresden and one in Lübeck-Danischburg. Within two years, however, the company had built and begun operating new facilities in Bonn and Breslau. The Breslau site, in the countryside with considerable space to expand, was particularly promising.
- Francois Boch begins manufacturing ceramic tableware.
- Boch receives a license from the Austrian empress to build an earthenware factory in Septfontaines, Luxembourg.
- Nicolas Villeroy becomes sole owner of the Fabrique de Faience in Wallerfangen.
- Pierre-Joseph Boch founds the Antonius Guild, an insurance program for his workers.
- Jean-Frangois Boch starts work on a state-of-the-art ceramics factory in Mettlach in the Saarland.
- Jean-Francois Boch introduces copperplate engraving to print designs mechanically on ceramics.
- Jean-Frangois Boch and Nicolas Villeroy merge their ceramics businesses into Villeroy & Boch.
- Villeroy & Boch begin operating the first factory that specializes in architectural tile.
- 84-year-old Eugen Boch is ennobled by the German emperor in recognition of his work as a businessman and philanthropist.
- Villeroy & Boch begin operating Europe’s first gas-heated kiln at Mettlach.
- Company is divided among French, German, Polish, and Baltic state territory as a result of World War I surrender accords, leaving some factories without access to German markets and only two in German territory.
- Dresden factory is destroyed in bombing raids; occupying Russian forces dismantle other eastern facilities.
- Company establishes its first foreign subsidiary in Argentina.
- Previously autonomous product lines are established as company divisions.
- Villeroy & Boch converts from a family limited partnership into a public limited company.
- The company begins trading on the Frankfurt stock exchange.
The 1920s were a time of ups and downs for the company. The Saarland branch made steady inroads into French markets, and production at the Dresden plant rapidly returned to pre-war figures. However the highly charged political situation in which the company found itself after the war, with its facilities scattered among countries, led it to reorganize into two largely independent company groups. The facilities in Germany were organized into a public limited company, while those in the Saarland became a limited partnership.
The catastrophic inflation that hit Germany in the early 1920s resulted in a radical simplification of most Villeroy & Boch designs—to keep them affordable. In August 1921, company headquarters and the stoneware plant in Mettlach went up in flames. The Great Depression affected Villeroy & Boch as profoundly as it did the rest of the economy. In 1930, the Dresden factory was forced to closed down for months and reopened with a workforce reduced by 40 percent. The plants in Bonn and Wallerfangen closed in 1931.
The rise of the Nazis and the shift toward a war economy directly affected Villeroy & Boch. In the latter half of the 1930s, the government declared the company nonessential for the war effort and closed its factory in the Saarland—in the meantime returned to Germany through a popular plebiscite. When it resumed production in 1940, its product line was severely restricted to floor tiles and tableware of the most Spartan design. The war itself was catastrophic for the company. Its factories in eastern Germany were lost completely, either destroyed in Allied bombing raids or dismantled and shipped off to the Soviet Union by the Russian occupation forces.
After World War II, France once again took over the Saarland, cutting the company’s headquarters in Mettlach off from the rest of Germany. Company head Luitwin von Boch, who was given political responsibilities by the Allies, worked at reducing tensions between Germans and the French occupation. He co-founded the bilingual French-German University of the Saarland, He also lobbied for the Europeanization of the Saarland—establishing it as an autonomous region that was neither French nor German. The movement was dashed when the area’s population voted in 1955 to be German, but his efforts anticipated the more united Europe of the 1990s.
By the late 1940s, the company had resumed production of its three lines, tiles, tableware, and bathroom fixtures. It established its first foreign facilities in 1951 in Argentina and in 1959 in Canada. In 1972, after having run Villeroy & Boch for 40 years, Luitwin von Boch stepped down and turned the reins over to his son Luitwin Gisbert von Boch Galhau. The 1970s saw the company faced with increasing competition from abroad: mosaic tile produced in Japan and wall tile in Italy, for example. But Villeroy & Boch was able to start successfully cultivating foreign markets itself, in particular the Far East and North America.
As global markets evolved into new forms, however, it became obvious that Villeroy & Boch would have to adapt. In 1982 the company began a far-reaching reorganization. The three product lines, which had always been run as decentralized profit centers, were united as centrally managed company divisions: Tiles, Tableware, and Sanitary Ware. Three years later, in a more radical move, management of the company was broadened from a single general manager to a six-person executive board. An administrative oversight board was also founded that including outsiders as well as members of the Boch and Villeroy families—unprecedented in company history. In May 1987, Villeroy & Boch was converted from a family limited partnership into a public limited company. In 1990 the company commenced trading on the Frankfurt stock exchange. In 1995 a family member once again assumed leadership of the company when Wendelin von Boch was appointed chairman of the executive board. As the 21st century began Villeroy and Boch operated 36 facilities in 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia.
Tile Division; Bathroom and Kitchen Division; Tableware Division.
Fliensenhandel an der Cristallerie GmbH; Villeroy & Boch Creation GmbH; Villeroy & Boch S.A.S. (France); Boch Freres S.A.S. (France); Comar S.A. (France); Ceramica Ligure S.r.l. (Italy; 70%); Villeroy & Boch Ungarn Rt (Hungary; 99.78%); Das Bad Gesellschaft m.b.H. (Austria; 50%); S.C. Mondial S.A. (Romania; 99.04%); Villeroy & Boch (USA) Inc.; Villeroy & Boch S.a.r.l. (Luxembourg); Villeroy & Boch Arts de la Table S.A. (France); Villeroy & Boch Arti della Tavola (Italy); Villeroy & Boch CreaTable AG (Switzerland); Villeroy & Boch Sverige AB (Sweden); Villeroy & Boch Wooncultuur B.V. (Netherlands); Villeroy & Boch Tableware Ltd. (United States); Villeroy & Boch Tableware Ltd. (Canada); Villeroy & Boch Australia Pty. Ltd. (Australia); Villeroy & Boch Tableware (Far East) Ltd. (China); Villeroy & Boch Tableware Japan K.K.; Ucosan Holding B.V. (Netherlands); S.D.P.C. S.A. (France); Villeroy & Boch United Kingdom Ltd.; Villeroy & Boch Hogar S.L. (Spain); Villeroy & Boch Austria Handelsgesellschaft m.b.H.; Villeroy & Boch Denmark A/S (Denmark); Villeroy & Boch Belgium S.A.
Waterford Wedgwood plc; Rosenthal AG; Porzellanfabrik SchÖnwald; Hutschenreuther AG; Porzellanfabrk Waldsassen; Carl Schumann; Schirnding Porzellan Fabrik A.G; W Goebel Porzellanfabrik; Porzellanfabrik Langenthal AG; Porzellanfabrik Mitterteich AG.
Cartigny, Georgette, “New Flair in German Ceramics,” Gifts & Decorative Accessories, October 1985, p 92.
McAlister, Liane, “New U.S. Directions for German China Firms,” Gifts & Decorative Accessories, July 1990 p. 72.
Pouschine, Tatiana, “We Will Remove the Cobwebs,” Forbes, August 22, 1988, p. 56.
Thau, Barbara, “Villeroy & Boch Cookware to Reach U.S. Shelves in 2000; Licensing Deal Brings Tabletop Company’s Designs to New Category,” HFN—The Weekly Newspaper For The Home Furnishing Network, December 20, 1999, p. 20.
Villeroy & Boch: 250 Years of European Industrial History, Villeroy & Boch Aktiengesellschaft, 1998.
Villeroy & Boch: Where the Future has Been a Tradition Since 1748, Villeroy & Boch, 1998.
—Gerald E. Brennan