The Villeroy and Boch Co. opened in 1748 under the direction of Francois Boch and his sons, Pierre-Joseph, Dominique, and Jean-Francois. The Boch family was held in high esteem by the townspeople of Audun-le-Tiche, France. Before making the decision to manufacturer porcelain, Francois Boch designed and manufactured bombs for France and the Holy Roman Empire. His work had made him somewhat of a folk hero. Although, the bomb-making business was profitable, Boch was concerned for the well being of his sons. As a result of testing various bombs, Francois Boch sustained a number of injuries, including permanent loss of his hearing. Wanting something better for his sons, Francois exited the bomb-manufacturing business and began producing porcelain.
The company experienced a number of set backs in its early days. Francois Boch was unaccustomed to the production of porcelain and did not have the correct formula to produce attractive and durable tableware. Until the writing of the American Constitution in 1889, there were no laws protecting what is now known as intellectual property. As a result, those who knew the formulas for producing items like attractive and durable porcelain often kept them as industry secrets. Acquiring information of this variety proved difficult and rare. However, the Boch brothers’ younger sister, Catherine, met and wooed a gentleman named Pierre Valette. Pierre Valette bared the industry secret of producing a finely made porcelain that was easily decorated using limestone. Because of his marriage to Catherine Boch, Valette was more than willing to share.
Throughout the 1890’s, Villeroy and Boch focused on producing “ceramic sanitaryware.” These products range from bathtubs to industrial tiles. The added dimension of sanitaryware to Villeroy and Boch’s tabletop ceramic products proved to be a profitable move. The company also opened a new factory in Merzig, located in the northeastern region of Saarland, Germany. For the next two decades, Villeroy and Boch continued growing and prospering. However, the company would face many more challenges.
World War One had a devastating effect on Europe’s people and Villeroy and Boch. The terms of the Versailles Treaty annexed the Saar region of Germany to France. In 1920, Villeroy and Boch opened two new factories in Bonn and Breslau. Throughout Germany and Europe post war inflation reached record highs. Despite the economic challenges of the period, Villeroy and Boch’s leadership remained undeterred. The company invested heavily in artists and master craftsmen.
Villeroy and Boch used the time between the two world wars to experiment in new forms of art, glazes, and methods of producing ceramic products. A new type of architecture and design swept through Europe and the Americas: Bauhaus. The Bauhaus school of design was founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. Gropius sought to provide students of architecture and design an education that consisted of a balance between aesthetically pleasing art and master craftsmanship. The students and educators of the school wrote a bold manifesto that served to define the purpose of Bauhaus art and design. It proclaimed, “The school is the servant of the workshop in which students receive a thorough training in the crafts as the indispensable basis for all artistic production.” The artists of Villeroy and Boch received a great deal of inspiration from the Bauhaus manifesto. Whereas Bauhaus worked to merge art and culture through architecture and design, Villeroy and Boch worked to merge design with lifestyle. The wide range of products offered by Villeroy and Boch advanced the company’s goal.
In 1932, the Nazi regime declared the modern art of Bauhaus “a form of art-bolshevism that must be wiped out.” This and other Nazi edicts resulted in Villeroy and Boch being forced to produce undecorated porcelain items for the duration of the Second World War. Germany’s changing political and economic climates resulted in many of Villeroy and Boch’s employees being suspended or laid off from work. Production and output dropped to a third of the company’s previous capacity. The company spent the next fifteen years focusing on survival. In an act of desperation, Villeroy and Boch’s shareholders installed 26-year old Luit von Boch-Galhau as the company’s managing director. The board of directors held a number of reservations regarding this decision because of the leader’s age. Boch-Galhau successfully led the company for the next four decades. In order to save Villeroy and Boch from utter collapse, the company’s new managing director closed most of Villeroy and Boch’s sales centers and dissolved the company’s group of manual workers who installed industrial tiles. At the same time, he made sure that exports increased. These techniques proved very successful and Villeroy and Boch was quickly stabilized.
Just as the company began to recover from the world depression of the early 1930’s, many of Villeroy and Boch’s employees were called to military service. Germany was preparing for war. Boch-Galhau adopted a definitive anti-National Socialism approach to running Villeroy and Boch. Despite this, the company was not entirely unable to avoid ties with the Nazi regime – Villeroy and Boch was an active participant in the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Employment Front). This Nazi organization helped to find work for unemployed Germans. Throughout the duration of the war, the Nazi government closely monitored the work of Villeroy and Boch. The company was deemed “non-essential to the war or German life.” As a result of this, the government would look first to draft Villeroy and Boch workers into the German army.
Villeroy and Boch was devastated by the war. After the Americans crossed the Saarland border, it took eight months to clear the ruins of the Villeroy and Boch factories. In the face of adversity, Boch-Galhau remained undeterred. He vowed to return Villeroy and Boch to its rightful place in the world’s ceramics market. Further problems were encountered when Germany was divided between the allies – the Soviet Union occupied and installed a communist government in the East while America and Great Britain occupied the West. In addition to this conflict, much uncertainty arose with respect to whom the Saarland belonged. Before the war, Saarland was considered French occupied German territory. After the war, France reclaimed the Saarland and instituted the franc as the official currency of the land. In 1957, Saarland would be returned to West Germany. It is during this same year that Villeroy and Boch officially returned to pre-war production levels.
The second half of the twentieth century has proved to be extremely profitable for Villeroy and Boch. After war reconstruction was complete across Europe, the company was deemed the largest manufacturer of ceramic products in Europe. In 1972, Luit von Boch-Galhau transferred management of the company to his son, Luitwin Gisbert von Boch. This historical transfer of power would occur again in 1998 when leadership of the company was handed to Wendelin von Boch, the company’s current managing director. Although the company has faced tremendous challenges and adversity, Villeroy and Boch continues to be a global leader in the production of ceramic products. Replacements, Ltd. carries a large selection of patterns from this amazing company, including Amapola, Petite Fleur, and Design Naif.