#Interview : Michel Bernardaud, CEO & Chairman of Maison Bernardaud

10 March 2023

Could you tell us about the history of the Maison Bernardaud (creation, founders, objectives)?  

Bernardaud, a French porcelain manufacturer founded in Limoges in 1863 and still family-owned to this day, has consistently aimed for excellence, quality and creativity. In a perpetually changing industry at the vanguard of design and innovation, our Maison develops technologies and know-hows that constantly push beyond the boundaries of the firing arts to craft increasingly complex pieces in our Limoges workshops. For 160 years now, our desire to take porcelain on to unchartered territory has led us to working with the greatest chefs, artists, designers and prestigious luxury brands. With over 600 employees, Bernardaud is the largest French porcelain manufacturer. As a representative of the fifth generation, I'm happy to say that the sixth generation is already poised to bring French porcelain and French style excellence to the world for many years to come.

Since 2003, Bernardaud has been fostering manual intelligence through our corporate Foundation by offering unique career paths in some of its workshops in Limoges. Additionally, in 2020, our Maison started promoting the art of entertaining and the history of tableware through the Institut Bernardaud, which organizes workshops and conferences in Limoges and beyond.

The Maison has received several certifications and awards for its know-how in the field of the decorative arts. Could you tell us more?   

Like all porcelain manufacturers in Limoges, Bernardaud is protected by the IG (Indication Géographique) certification which was created in 2017. In addition, as of 2007, Bernardaud was awarded the EPV (Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant) certification which recognizes French companies with exceptional craftsmanship and industrial expertise. Some of our craftworkers—modellers, decorative painters or enamellers—have also been personally recognised for their precious know-how, for instance by winning the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition. Others, through an initiative launched by the Colbert Committee of which Bernardaud has been a member since 1964, were promoted to the rank of Chevalier des Arts des Lettres. It is essential that our know-how should be protected, and we are proud that it should be spotlighted.

Specifically, what is the Maison's sustainable commitment? 

As a 100% mineral product (50% kaolin, 25% feldspar and 25% quartz), porcelain is sustainable by nature, which makes it an incomparable ceramic and material for the future combining numerous qualities such as resistance (nothing will alter it), hardness, translucency, impermeability and whiteness. In addition, we have engaged in an ambitious environmental policy (carbon footprint calculation software, periodic comprehensive energy audits, etc.) and we multiply initiatives to lighten our carbon footprint with, for example, the optimisation of our firing processes through heat recovery for our driers; our constant search to lower our energy consumption through the implementation of LEDs, or our participation in the France Relance plan in Nouvelle-Aquitaine alongside 15 other companies in the region.

How is Bernardaud a key economic player for the area? (Number of visitors, partnership with major local events, etc.)?  

The company whose name I bear has always identified with Limoges porcelain. Our roots in this town are precious and I am particularly attached to them because we are, and always will be, linked to this town. This is also the motivation behind the creation of the Fondation Bernardaud corporate. For the past 20 years, the Foundation's mission has been to showcase our know-how while sharing the story of porcelain and our Maison as an integral part of local history. This cultural venue includes a discovery tour which explains the history of porcelain and how it is made, as well as a annual themed exhibition highlighting international artists, which testifies to the thriving activity surrounding contemporary ceramics. Our boutique and factory store complete this porcelain experience.

We are proud to welcome tens of thousands of visitors from France and abroad every year, and to collaborate with local stakeholders to promote our town. For example, we developed a ticketing partnership with the Adrien Dubouché National Museum so that our visitors might enjoy both venues at a discount. We also participated in influencer promotional campaigns for Limoges as a tourist destination, implemented by the Tourist Office. 

Who is the main clientele of the Fondation Bernardaud corporate (before COVID)? And what changes have you seen since the pandemic? 

With the pandemic, families refocused on domestic life and rediscovered the pleasure of sharing meals together. Consequently, since 2020, we have been witnessing a true craze for porcelain and tableware. Initially, this was reflected in our business activity, specifically via our website and social networks, and we are pleased to note that this interest has not plummeted: the number of visitors to our Foundation has returned to pre-COVID levels and the Institut Bernardaud offer is attracting a growing number of curious visitors.

What major upcoming events do you have planned (visiting tours, events, etc.)? 

We will be celebrating our 160th anniversary this year as well as the 20th anniversary of our Foundation. Over the years, we addressed several themes through the Foundation's exhibitions: light (Watt’s Up? ), jewellery (Un peu de terre sur la peau ), flowers (C’est le bouquet ! ), love of good food (Céramiques Gourmandes ) and even new technologies (Sans les mains ! ). The 20th exhibition, called 1 400°C , will be inaugurated next June and, exceptionally, instead of featuring different types of ceramics, only porcelain in its most contemporary aspects will be featured.

As I mentioned earlier, our Maison founded the Institut Bernardaud three years ago, to act as an ambassador of French style art de vivre and to rekindle interest in the art of entertaining and being entertained, via workshops and conferences. As an example, after our discovery tour of Limoges, visitors may enjoy a range of exclusive experiences, such as a 30-minute conference in French and English on the introduction of tea and coffee in the 18th century, while enjoying a sweet treat and a hot beverage (served ,of course, in the Bernardaud tableware of their choosing). Our expert teams at the Institute work ceaselessly to create new modules with various themes (also available digitally) and new content (such as the @Bernardaud posts on Instagram, identifiable by their white label) including unusual anecdotes and exciting information.