The Economy of Glass in Switzerland and in Romont
Glass manufacture in Switzerland
Until about the 15th century glass objects were imported from the Black Forest or Murano. Artisanal glass factories then began to appear in Switzerland. They produced glass for everyday use, and were located in forested areas to use wood as fuel for their furnaces. Emigrant craftsmen brought the techniques from Germany or Italy. In the 18th century, several factories were established in the country. Traditional glass factories close to the forests, however, faced high transport costs and could not compete with companies located near railways or ports, where coal was imported and finished products exported. Wood became scarce, local sand was often of poor quality, and increasing competition eventually shut down these glassworks.
The 19th century saw the opening of hollow glass factories. The Moutier glassworks, the only producer of pane glass, was founded in 1840. It ceased production in 2017.
The first semi-automatic bottle-blowing machine dates back to 1859. Shaft furnaces, heated by gas, arrived in 1870.
In the 1950s, there were five hollow glass factories in Switzerland: 1,500 employees produced 25,000 tonnes of glass annually; the country still had to import 6,000 tonnes. Vetropack was founded in 1966 as a result of the merger of several factories and became the only producer of container glass in Switzerland. The majority of the country's glass factories process imported float glass: machining, forming, cutting, treatment ...
The glass works at Semsales
In the village of Progens (Canton of Fribourg), the proximity of the coal mines of St. Martin encouraged immigrants from the Black Forest to set up a glass factory in 1776: the Société des Mines et Verrerie de Semsales. In the 1800s the factory was in full operation, under the direction of the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Bremond (the story goes that, as Louis XVI's personal secretary, he had to flee the Revolution, first to England and then to Switzerland). The Glassworks then produced window glass and bottles in various shapes, sizes and colours. In the mid-19th century, the Glassworks produced about 1 million bottles per year, and 3 million around 1900. The director at the time, engineer Théodore Quennec, patented a new furnace in 1882, which tripled production.
The fuel came from the mines and peat bogs of Crêt. It was then the first glass factory in Switzerland. In its early days, the factory employed around 300 people in the production and extraction of coal. Many farmers in the region earned a side income. Work began from the early age of 13, and women were employed in sorting and cleaning. At the time of closure, 150 workers were still employed. Since the arrival of the railway, coal was imported from France and Germany, where it is cheaper and of better quality.
In 1913, the glass factory was bought by a rival factory in Saint-Prex, and ceased its activity in Progens in 1914. It seems that the political powers of the time, unconcerned with industrialization in the region, did not show any support for the company, which was nevertheless the most important employer in the Canton.
A few years before his death, the artist Jean Tinguely decided to set up his studio in the warehouses and halls of the former glassworks.
The Glas Trösch group
Glas Trösch has been working with the transparent material of glass for over 100 years, with great competence and detailed know-how in all areas of glass. The group of companies is active in the manufacture, coating and processing of glass for exterior and interior applications, for the automotive industry and for technical glass. The Glas Trösch Group employs around 5,000 people at 60 locations in Europe and overseas. Of these, 1'600 work in Switzerland.
Today, Glas Trösch is Europe's largest family-owned glass manufacturing and processing company.
The Saint-Gobain Group
The Saint-Gobain Group of companies designs, produces and distrinutes materials for construction, transport, infrastructure and industry applications. 190,000 employees work in the Group's establishments in 64 countries: Saint-Gobain is one of the 50 largest industrial companies in the world. Saint-Gobain has been expanding in Switzerland since 1937. Today, Switzerland is one of the 10 most important countries for the Group, with more than 2,000 employees.
The French Manufacture Royale des Glaces de Miroirs was founded 350 years ago, during the reign of Louis XIV. It set up its main production site in a northern village and took its name: Saint-Gobain. The company prospered rapidly. In the 19th century, a chemical component was added to the activities of the company, launching its international expansion. At that time, glass was widely used in large public buildings: railway stations, greenhouses, department stores, exhibition halls.
The Saint-Gobain group currently manufactures all types of glass products. It has eight research centres for all its fields of activity: a quarter of the products manufactured today did not exist five years ago!
The Saint-Gobain subsidiary ISOVER SA is the leading manufacturer of fibre glass insulation in Switzerland. The head office and production site are located in Lucens in the Canton of Vaud. With 170 employees, ISOVER is one of the largest employers in the region. Since its foundation in 1937, the company has been continuously developing new products with a strong focus on sustainability. ISOVER products are central elements in energy-efficient renovations as well as new buildings and are made of 80% recycled glass.
Vetrotech Saint-Gobain International AG
The founders of Vetrotech are descendants of Giesbrecht Glas, a company founded by the glassmaker Norbert Giesbrecht in 1884 in Bern. From being a family business, the company evolved over the generations into Giesbrecht AG, Switzerland's leading glazing industry, then Vetrotech, before being acquired by the Saint-Gobain group in 1995.
For Vetrotech, safety is a priority. Everyone should be assured of their safety no matter where they are – an infallible security. That's why the company specializes in the development, manufacture and marketing of high-performance fire protection and safety glass. Thanks to its wide selection of products resistant to fire, impact, attack, bullets, explosions, pressure and even storms, Vetrotech offers innovative solutions for the most demanding applications.
Vetrotech is headquartered in Flamatt (FR) and has more than 1000 employees worldwide. Its seven main production sites (one of which is located in Romont) are spread over three continents, ensuring reliable supply in more than 60 countries through regional sales offices that provide global coverage.
Erie-Electroverre SA ThermoFisher Scientific
The first electric glass furnace was developed in 1935 in Romont in the factory then called Electroverre Romont SA, which became Erie Electroverre in 1983 and then Erie-Electroverre ThermoFisher Scientific. The plant has a furnace capable of holding 200 tons of molten glass, and its vertical stretching machines produce extra-thin (0.6 to 6 mm thick) extra-white glass sheets. The processed products are used in the fields of medicine (laboratories), industry, photography, watchmaking and electronics.
Active in Romont since 1950, Kowalski Verre is a family business specialising in glass for construction and furnishing. Shower enclosures, doors, barriers, floors, roofs, kitchens, decorative glass, insulating glass, glazing with integrated blinds: the company's twenty or so employees work for architects and private individuals.
Louis Kowalski, descendant of a family of mirror-makers of Polish origin, began his career at Electroverre in Romont. With his wife, he founded “Louis Kowalski – Vitrerie et miroiterie” in 1950. His sons Michel and Roland also trained there. The company became the “Manufacture de verres et glaces Kowalski SA” in 1966. A factory was built ten years later, and enlarged in 1981 to make room for a new insulating glass production line. In 1989, Roland and Danièle Kowalski took over the management of Kowalski Verre, joined in 1995 by two of their children.
Association Suisse du Verre Plat (ASVP)
The Swiss Association of Plate Glass brings together professionals of the flat glass sector in Switzerland, from artisans to industrialists.
Glaziers shape, install and maintain glass in architecture, for thermal and sound insulation, fire protection, statics, aesthetics, interior design, façades, frames, etc.
The association represents their interests, both technical and professional, vis-à-vis public services and other professional and economic entities. It is the umbrella organisation for the plate glass industry in Switzerland. It deals with questions concerning the vocational training of glaziers, employment policy, or safety and health at work, and organises the exchange of information and experience between its members.
The basic training for glaziers lasts 4 years and ends with the Federal Certificate of Competence (CFC). The apprentices work four days a week in the company and attend vocational school on the fifth day. At the end of their training, they may obtain a Federal Certificate as a glazier foreman/woman or as a glass project manager. A master glazier exam can also complete the training.