Since its foundation in 1748, Villeroy & Boch has developed into one of the world’s leading ceramic producers and a lifestyle brand. A look back at a unique history shows how the company has managed to achieve this while remaining true to its identity and values.
A businessman and a royal cannon-founder wrote the first chapter in an 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. 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 manufacturer in the country. The tableware was generally described as “in the Luxembourg style” and marked the start of early industrial mass production - and “Septfontaines” became a byword for quality far beyond Luxembourg's borders.
The move to Mettlach, at the time in the French department of Sarre, followed in 1809. Jean-François, a member of the 3rd generation 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 a new furnace system or a ‘pyrometer’*, he also came up with a white and extremely strong earthenware material that was significantly cheaper than expensive porcelain. In doing so, he made this “white gold” affordable to wider sections of the population, heralding 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, later going on to take over complete 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 the copperplate process to produce decorated products at more affordable prices.
Two families, one global company
Boch and Villeroy were competitors. They both wanted to assert their presence - in particular against the dominant English industry. The companies merged in 1836 and experienced rapid growth. 1843 saw the creation of the Cristallerie Wadgassen, producing glasses to complement the tableware offering and improve market prospects in Germany and abroad. It worked. From Paris to London, Warsaw, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Scandinavia, Southern Europe and finally North and South America: Villeroy & Boch conquered the tables of the world. The company became one of the first global players of the 19th century.
Inspired by an archaeological find, Eugen von Boch (4th generation) began experimenting with tiles. The result was the “Mettlacher Platten”, attractive and very hard-wearing tiles that became a global success. The first “mosaic factory” was created in 1869, soon becoming the world’s biggest producer of floor tiles, based in Merzig. Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, Cologne Cathedral, the tunnel under the River Hudson in New York were all decorated with “Mettlacher Platten”.
In 1856, Eugen Boch set up an earthenware factory in Dresden, going on to introduce 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 products shape styles. They are presented at international exhibitions and win awards. The company supplies the finest tableware to European stately homes and upper classes, equips prestigious venues, as well as swimming pools, hotels and banks with tiles, terracotta and sanitary 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. But the families were 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 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.
One open secret of Villeroy & Boch's success is the art of repeatedly combining traditional and modern elements in harmonious and successful fusions. The same remains true in its centenary year of 2018: precisely 250 years after its creation, the company's first and oldest decor is revealing a new look. The delicate blue floral tendrils of “Old Luxembourg”, the brindille pattern, have been adapted and given a contemporary feel, under the name of “Vieux Luxembourg Brindille”. From past to future. The circle closes and continues.
*Thermometer for contactless temperature measurement
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.