Written by Staff

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

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How does one of Europe's oldest tobacco companies celebrate 120 years of remarkable international success?

It throws one heck of a party, complete with one extraordinary party favor.

Swiss-based Villiger & Sons, a leading manufacturer of European cigars and cigarillos, recently celebrated its 120th anniversary with an international crowd of dignitaries and tobacco industry heavyweights. The elaborate party took place at Schloss Lenzburg, a spectacular eleventh-century castle in Lenzburg, Switzerland. And it was at this party that Heinrich Villiger, longtime CEO of Villiger & Sons, distributed a truly special gift: the Villiger 1888, the company's first and only hand-rolled premium cigar to be created in its twelve decades of operation.

The new Villiger 1888 cigars presented following dinner. (from right: Heinrich Villiger, Matias Maragoto and Kasper Villiger, with cigar presentation) Heinrich Villiger introduces Matias Maragota while explaining the process of developing the cigars. Heinrich and Kasper Villiger light up the first Villiger 1888 cigars.

1888: The Root of Innovation
The year 1888 was a milestone in the European tobacco industry. In that year, numerous cigar manufacturers were established in Switzerland. Among these was a company named Villiger, founded by 28-year-old Jean Villiger in the Swiss town of Lucerne.

Just fourteen years later, in 1902, Jean Villiger passed away at the age of 42. His widow, Louise, wasted no time in continuing what was still then a young company. She was courageous and committed, taking on a leadership role in business and industry at a time when such a thing was unheard of for a woman.

However, it was Louise's determination and vision that set the tone for the company's future success. In 1910, she founded a subsidiary just across the Swiss border in the German town of Tiengen, allowing Villiger to tap into the much larger German market. This pivotal decision positioned Villiger as an international tobacco interest, which opened the door for the continued expansion and market growth that sustained the company through two world wars.

Following World War I, Louise handed responsibility for the company to her two sons, Hans and Max Villiger. From then on, the company became known as Villiger & Sons. Under the able leadership of Hans and Max, Villiger & Sons grew rapidly over the next few decades, becoming known as the largest factory of “Swiss-type” cigars in Germany. By the late 1930s, more than 2,000 employees were engaged in manually rolling cigars at two different factories in Munich.

Both Munich factories were destroyed in air raids during World War II, but Hans and Max quickly returned the company to stable footing. Their strategy? A focus on innovation in the marketplace. Examples include the Villiger-Kiel cigars; the Villiger Rillos, the first cigarillos with attached mouthpieces on the European market; and what were then called ECO cigarillos, a new category of cigarillos with filters that are now produced by every multinational cigarette manufacturer in the industry.

The development of innovative products, coupled with novel advertising campaigns, reinforced the Villiger & Sons brand and continually expanded its share of the European tobacco market. Over time, this approach established Villiger & Sons as a renowned and respected leader in the modern European tobacco industry.

Today, Villiger & Sons enjoys wide success in the European market. Last year alone, the company sold more than 600 million cigars and cigarillos, all of which are now machine made from automated production facilities in Switzerland, Germany, and Indonesia.

In addition to its own brands, Villiger & Sons has expanded its market reach by partnering with Cubatabaco to form two joint ventures that serve as the exclusive importers of Cuban Habanos in Germany (5th Avenue Products Trading GmbH) and Switzerland (Intertabak AG). Indeed, Villiger's relationship with Cubatabaco is a unique one - they are also one of a very few manufacturers outside of Cuba to source Cuban leaf for their products.

An Anniversary to Remember
It was this history of success that was recalled and celebrated so grandly during Villiger & Sons' anniversary party at Schloss Lenzburg. The event was a virtual "who's who" of the international tobacco industry, with more than 70 representatives from the company's foreign importers - many of whom came from overseas - on hand to celebrate.

The international crowd featured notable European tobacco industry executives, all of whom came to pay tribute to the legacy of Villiger & Sons. These included Mr. Jarl Uggla, president of Swedish Match International; Beat Burger, CEO of the Burger/Danneman Group; Steffen Rinn, from the cigar manufacturer Don Stefano; and Ernst-Michael Hasse, executive director of Schwering & Hasse Elektrodraht GmbH in Ludge, one of the oldest cigar factories in Germany.

The celebration was also joined by many political dignitaries, namely Canton Lucerne representative Mr. Marcel Schwerzman and Municipal Council of Pfeffikon (where Villiger & Sons is headquartered) representatives Mrs. Margrit Dommen and Messrs. Kuster and Merz.

In addition to Heinrich Villiger's role as host, other members of the Villiger family assisted with the festivities. Kudos were shared with Kaspar Villiger, Heinrich's brother and former longtime business partner who currently serves as a minister in the Swiss government. Monika Villiger, the company's former export director for several decades, and Corina Villiger, current Villiger & Sons board member and daughter of Heinrich, were also recognized during the event.

Guests are presented with their first Villiger 1888 cigars. Short Robustos in tubes with Puritos in 5-pack. Guests enjoy Villiger cigars, hors d'ouevres and cocktails with an orchestra in the castle courtyard before dinner.

Another Step Forward, with a Nod to the Past
True to its history of innovation, Villiger & Sons chose this 120th anniversary celebration as the perfect venue for introducing a new cigar that represents a marked departure from its roots: the Villiger 1888.

The Villiger 1888, the first hand-rolled premium cigar produced by Villiger & Sons, celebrates the specialized tradition of craftsmanship for which premium cigar-making is known. Its development was personally overseen by Heinrich Villiger, whose decades-long commitment to the tobacco industry has earned him a reputation as “one of the last grand old men of the tobacco world.” His knowledge of tobacco leaf and manufacturing of cigars spans many decades and many miles of travel throughout the world. Heinrich was intimately involved in procuring the help of skilled artisans, selecting the cigar's premium tobacco leaves and wrappers, and determining its final, handcrafted composition.

To create this new masterpiece, Heinrich and key Villiger staff members worked in partnership with two premier Latin American premium cigar producers, Matias Maragoto and Adalberto Ruiz Calderon. Maragoto, who runs cigar manufacturer Abam S.A. in the Dominican Republic, is widely recognized as a master of the high art of cigar production. Calderon, Maragoto's uncle, works with ASP Enterprises, whose plantations in Equador are known to produce some of the best cigar wrappers in the industry.

In a major collaborative effort, Villiger, Maragoto and Calderon worked tirelessly to create the Villiger 1888, discarding more than a dozen sets of prototypes until the perfect mix of flavor, complexity and balance was achieved. The resulting Villiger 1888 line, which includes a Corona, Robusto, Short Robusto and Purito, is not available in the U.S. at this time.


0 # 1888 CoronaMark M. 2010-12-22 12:34
One very tasty cigar, had the luxury of smoking one of the 1888 Corona's at a cigar show. One very major problem though....not a single local cigar shop sells them, even on-line, no one carrys this beauty...this stick tastes like non other I've ever smoked, how the heck do I get a fiew boxes of these? Someone, please throw me a bone here....

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