A table gleaming with ice-bright porcelain tableware is a given in the most stylish of homes and restaurants and we have German innovation to thank for that. Johann Friedrich Böttger, alchemist at the court of Augustus the Strong, perfected the formula for European porcelain in 1708, transforming the aesthetics of the world’s dinner tables for ever. Today, German designers are still at the forefront of porcelain manufacture, bringing creative innovation and artistry to every candle-lit supper or Sunday lunch date.
One of the best-known names in German porcelain is Villeroy & Boch. Formed by the union of two long-running ceramics companies in 1836, the brand brought together Jean-François Boch’s ingenious mechanised production methods and Nicolas Villeroy’s copper-plating printing system. The venture paid off; company sales now total €848.6m. The brand continues to breathe new life into the world of tableware, winning a German Business Innovation Award in 2005 for the production methods used to create the NewWave Caffè series. As its international PR manager Michael Bruss states, ‘Through the centuries, Villeroy & Boch has proved its ability to introduce important innovations in ceramic production processes. Innovation-power is one main feature of our corporate history.’
Villeroy & Boch remains committed to its German roots. The company headquarters in Mettlach also acts as a showcase for the legacy of the label, thanks to the on-site ceramics museum. But this is no mere history lesson; the brand combines its heritage with contemporary flair. As Bruss explains, ‘Our products present the convincing combination of tradition and modernity, industry and culture … No comparable company has a richer tradition.’ This rich tradition has lead to commissions for some of history’s most celebrated figures. ‘We furnished Lady Diana, the royal family in Monaco and Cartier in Paris with special tableware collections,’ he adds.
For Nymphenburg – which, like Villeroy & Boch, can trace its beginnings to the 1740s – the focus remains on craftsmanship. The brand, based in the grounds of Nymphenburg palace on the outskirts of Munich, sees its dedication to time-honoured manufacturing skills as the thing that sets it apart from its contemporaries. ‘Nymphenburg is the last place where all products are entirely made by hand,’ says Anders Thomas, the company’s CEO. ‘That is what makes us special.’
The intricacies of Nymphenburg’s handcrafted works are evident in both its animal figurines and its ornate tea services, such as the floral Rokoko range and the Pearl collection, which was originally reserved exclusively for the company’s aristocratic founders, the Wittelsbach family. Today, a service can take up to two years to deliver, such is the level of work that goes into its creation. As Thomas explains, ‘Manu factum means in Nymphenburg what it always did – completely handmade, using techniques passed on from generation to generation. This is the only way to assure the unrivalled brilliance of porcelain that Nymphenburg’s global reputation is based on.’
Around 130 years after Nymphenburg and Villeroy & Boch began trading, porcelain newcomer Rosenthal was founded in Erkersreuth by Doctor Philipp Rosenthal. During the tenure of his son, the brand carved itself a niche in the porcelain market by implementing high design concepts into its products and partnering with esteemed artists of the day, including sculptor Henry Moore and surrealist Salvador Dalí; more recent collaborations have included designer Karl Lagerfeld and Italian fashion label Versace. ‘The younger Rosenthal strove for a radical break with traditional porcelain design,’ explains Sabine Schrenk, Rosenthal’s head of corporate communications.
Last year Versace and Rosenthal celebrated 20 successful years of partnership, which has seen them carry the high-octane Versace aesthetic off the catwalks and into the home. For Rosenthal, as Schrenk explains, ‘the aim has always been, and still is today, to transfer modern design to the tabletop … Beauty and perfection of the highest standards: Rosenthal signifies nothing more and nothing less.’
Explosions of colour
Balancing beauty and practicality is something that Fürstenberg, another of Germany’s historic brands, has certainly achieved with its porcelain tableware. This has earned the company many years of success, and its latest collections are certain to win it many more admirers. ‘The trend in porcelain is to return to more lavish, more classic and more elaborate decorations,’ says Fürstenberg’s Andreas Blumberg. ‘Our newest pattern, Rajasthan, picks up this trend brilliantly. The explosion of colour and ornaments on a classic, elegant porcelain form combines tradition with innovation.’ With a new generation embracing porcelain, the world’s tables are becoming ever more glamorous with the help of German brands.