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Business

A Legacy in German Porcelain

Continuity and reliability are hallmarks of Villeroy and Boch, which has kept porcelain in the family for more than eight generations.

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Porcelain fit for kings, or Auntie Em.

Few things are forever, unless you’re talking about a certain German porcelain maker.

For more than three hundred years, Villeroy and Boch has been producing the porcelain and ceramics, on which both kings and your Auntie Em served their dinners on. Add to that another distinction: The company, still based in an old cloister near the French-German border, has remained in family hands for all but five years of its existence.

"We make all our decisions for the long term," Wendelin von Boch told Deutsche Welle TV. "I think that’s one advantage of a family business."

It also helps if that family business’s reputation stays intact over the course of three hundred years, as Villeroy and Boch’s has. The company was one of a number of porcelain companies grounded in the 1700s, when a German chemist first discovered how to make hard past porcelain. Von Boch’s family specialty was the Mettlach ceramic tile, which became the preferred floor material for 18th and 19th century kings.

The firm’s fortune rose with the reputation of German porcelain in the world. In 1809, von Boch’s family moved into a building belonging to part of a baroque cloister. Eight generations later, von Boch remains in the villa in Mattlach on the Saar river.

"My family lived in this part of the building and today I have my office here," von Boch said. "It’s an amusing story."

Tough years for German porcelain

It hasn’t been all smiles for his business, though. As buyers found they could import high quality but less expensive porcelain from other parts of the world, Germany’s once renowned porcelain industry suffered major losses. The number employed in the industry has sunk from more than 50,000 in mid 1980s to less than 37,000 at the end of 1999, according to IG-BCE, the union that represents industry workers.

Factories are still closing in northeast Bavaria, where 90 percent of porcelain-makers were based before 1990, robbing small towns of their main employers.

Villeroy & Boch Geschirr Switch

Villeroy & Boch

Villeroy and Boch has been able to stay afloat turning their attention to building luxury kitchens and baths. Von Boch created a wellness segment that has proved profitable.

"We’ve had to learn a lot . How to improve our marketing," von Boch said. "We’ve been moving into items like whirlpools, for example and we’ve had to develop an expertise in steam baths."