In 1890, Sainte-Croix, nestled on the “balcony of the Jura”, was the world capital of music box production and accounted for 10 per cent of Swiss watch exports. The popularity of the music box was dented significantly 16 years later when Thomas Edison presented his phonograph. But the local Reuge company overcame this crisis and many others since and last week celebrated 150 years of uninterrupted manufacturing.
The significance of the event was marked by those who attended it, with the guest of honour being Swiss Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, who came to view a selection of the company’s products in the admirably decorated shell of the company’s new manufacturing site (the entire workforce is scheduled to move in there in spring 2016). Mr Ammann praised the company for being a precursor of Silicon Valley over a century ahead of its time by inventing the first “digital memory”, since the pins inserted into the cylinders used in the firm’s music boxes equate to an arrangement of binary ones and zeroes to indicate whether a note should be played or not.
Much like the companies in Silicon Valley, Reuge learned to innovate, but did so long before the American behemoths. The music box had to be turned into a luxury object, new jobs had to be created to decorate and embellish the boxes and new customers attuned to Swiss luxury had to be found. The company now faces the next 150 years with a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, backed by a new investor and with an unceasing amount of innovation. The musical coffee machine presented earlier this year is just one example among many.
Reuge is the only company in the world that possesses the savoir-faire to produce traditional mechanical music boxes. This is probably why the company’s products are chosen as official state gifts because of their uniqueness. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann offered one to the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to congratulate him on his election; Sheikh Al Thani of Qatar presented one of the company’s singing bird automata to US President Obama on an official state visit and the mayor of Sainte-Croix, Franklin Thévenaz, even claims to have seen three Reuge music boxes in the Kim Il-Sung museum in Pyongyang, North Korea! It is also why such renowned brands as Ferrari, Harry Winston, Vertu and Baccarat approach Reuge for bespoke creation that enhance the value of their own products. Long may it continue!