Luxury is what you don’t see, and here’s an example: the black used by one premium brand is not the same as that used by another, but the difference is so subtle that it would be difficult to reproduce on a print medium. Our trade is all about controlling the invisible,” says Éric Wauters, describing the work performed by his family’s printing business, which he codirects with his father, Jacques, and his brother, Thierry.
Today specialized in manufacturing cardboard boxes for leading wine, spirits, and fragrance brands, the company has been in business for more than 110 years. Founded in 1909 in Paris’ Marais district by Charles Wauters, it originally specialized in gilding for bookbinding, which involved manually embellishing leather book covers with gold foil using bronze gilding irons. In the 1960s the company diversified into packaging, and during the same period moved to a large site in Villebon-sur-Yvette, a suburb of Paris, where it has been able to grow its industrial activities over the years.
In 2002 the company acquired B.Pack, a Burgundy-based box manufacturer. With two complementary factories and 150 employees, the small industrial group reached a turnover of €25m in 2020 (including €15m for Wauters). The company is a recognized purveyor of sheet-fed offset printing and will soon have six presses thanks to recent investments: following the installation of a third machine at B.Pack last spring, during the lockdown, this year Wauters will acquire a new Heidelberg, which includes a cold stamping module, a first for the company.
While cutting-edge technology has replaced craftsmanship, something of the old artisan spirit lingers on in the company. Mainly because luxury-level quality and attention to detail require human skills; colors are carefully mixed and inspected by the human eye — yes, there are eyes for color just as there are noses for perfume.
Wauters uses the human touch throughout production, which now includes multiple processes like hot stamping, embossing, lamination, coding, cutting, and gluing. The work is not carried out assembly-style on the offset press, but in stages on other machines, which each represent a craft that is being preserved through knowledge transfer. “As a small business, we still value in-house training, especially through apprenticeships, but also development within the company. Here, you can start by packing orders and wind up doing offset or hot stamping. Our staff evolves within the company along with the sensitivity to luxury that they acquire. And that takes years to develop! Even an experienced offset operator who joins our team will need at least two years to get up to speed,” explains Eric Wauters.
One of the printer’s strong suits is still hot stamping, using either a flat or cylinder press. Flat presses, which operate at lower temperatures, produce finer patterns, while cylinder presses produce larger areas of solid color. Spools of metalized film have long since replaced gold leaf, but the process still requires care and precision. The same is true for embossing, and the two techniques are often combined; raised gilding being all the more prestigious. “People come to us for the impossible, because we like to perfect things,” says Frédéric Ansart, Sales Director for Wauters. “For example, to compensate for flaws in a sheet’s planarity and obtain identical embossing on every sleeve made with the same sheet, we place a certain thickness of tissue paper on the other face, in other words the male element of the tool presses the sheet against the pattern plate component.” A little like lining a waffle iron—and that’s just one of the many secrets the printer uses to achieve the perfect box.
This article was originally published in the spring issue of our sister publication Formes de Luxe.