Ozdoba CZ – traditional Czech producer of Christmas baubles

Photo: Ozdoba CZ

With Christmas just around the corner, a search is underway in many households’ attics or basements for ornaments that will – in due time – decorate the Christmas tree. In many families, trees will be adorned with the colourful glass globes, spikes, figurines and other baubles whose tradition in the Czech Republic goes back to the times of the Great Depression. In this edition of Marketplace, we follow the story of Ozdoba CZ, one of the oldest Czech producers of glass Christmas ornaments

Photo: Ozdoba CZ
One of the traditional producers of Czech Christmas baubles is the firm Ozdoba CZ, based in the east Bohemian town of Dvůr Králové. One of the owners is Miroslava Juklová who explains the origin of the company.

“It goes all the way back to the year 1918 when our great-grandfather started his business with glass beads. After 1933, he then began producing thin-walled blown glass ornaments in the form we still produce them now.”

The shift in production came after the Great Depression. A government programme, run by a state glassmaking institute, offered unemployed glassmakers courses to retrain them and teach them how to produce Christmas baubles. The company’s founder, Václav Berger, also joined the programme.

“He originally made glass beads that were exported to India and other countries where this was good merchandise. But then, the region of the Jizera Mountains was hit by the Great Depression; many glass makers were unemployed. They had a lot of these beads on stock so they figured they would use them to make ornaments such as angels, locomotives, and the like, and they would hang these on Christmas trees.

“But then a state glass-making institute opened courses for the unemployed glassmakers to teach them how to make thin-walled ornaments of the same kind they made in the German town of Lauscha, renowned for its glassblowing.”

Miroslava Juklová, says the state also helped the entrepreneurs with sales.

“They were first retrained and then, the authorities looked for contracts for them, mainly abroad. And at this time, our great-grandfather opened two factories – one in Bílá Třemešná, the other in Trotinka – that produced this type of ornaments. But he wasn’t a member of any guild or anything, he would always work on his own.”

Václav Berger,  photo: Ozdoba CZ
The family business took off, and all four of Václav Berger’s sons joined the firm – in different positions.

“He had four sons, and each of them worked in the family business. One of them became a glassblower, two were businessmen and the fourth studied technology and contributed with several technological innovations. For example, he designed a more effective burner and he also created a clip which is used to this today. That’s the clip with a little spring that’s used to hang the decorations on the tree.”

The company prospered until 1948 when the communist authorities nationalized the business. The production in Mr Berger’s two plants grew; in fact, the bulk of the Christmas ornaments were sold abroad – in the United States, the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands and some other countries. In fact, only about 10 percent of the production was sold on the domestic market.

Miroslava Juklová says the success of the east Bohemian Christmas baubles is owed to the original idea of the state authorities in the 1930s, which, besides providing retraining courses, also involved several Czech artists in the production process.

“When the glass-making institute opened those courses back in the 1930s, they worked together with a number of renowned Czech artists such as Professor Jaroslav Brychta who designed the ornaments. That, along with the craft of the Bohemian glassblowers made the ornaments popular with foreign clients. Our company makes lots of figurines based on those designs and they are still very popular.”

After the fall of communism, the business was returned to the descendants of the founder. However, the family decided to launch production in a different location as Miroslava Juklová explains.

Photo: Ozdoba CZ
“One factory ceased to exist in the meantime, the other one, in Trostinka, was given back. But when we got it, it was stripped of all the equipment and the building itself was quite run-down. So the family decided to buy other premises and start from scratch. They only had some of the original figurines our great-grandfather saved from the nationalization and some silver as well.”

The firm was officially restored in 1995, and the first few years were very successful.

“It was definitely in the time after the Velvet Revolution, around the year 1995, when the family company was revived. In that period, Christmas tree ornaments were really good merchandise. But then in 2001, the US dollar sank, which made it more difficult but we were still prosperous. In 2006, even before some of the big Czech glassworks collapsed, this one company went under that sold our goods and from one day to another, we lost some 80 or 90 percent of orders.”

But the firm Ozdoba CZ survived. It was able to find new clients abroad, and also shifted its focus on the domestic market.

“We had to let some of your employees go. But then we hired a new export manager who revived some of the contacts and brought in new orders. So thanks to this, we survived the years 2007 and 2008. We also searched for new clients on the Czech market and we were successful. In fact, the interest among Czechs in glass Christmas decorations has been growing in recent years.”

Today, Ozdoba CZ still produces baubles based on the original pre-war designs. Miroslava Juklová says some of them have not gone out of fashion and are still very popular. In designing new ornaments, the firm looks to the latest fashion trends.

“We certainly follow fashion trends, in clothing and in home decoration, and we adopt our collections to match the style that is in for the season. Last year, we went to the Christmasworld fair [in Frankfurt] where our painters found some inspiration as well. Also, our customers come to us with requests of colour spectrums and we design models and submit them for their approval.”

Photo: Ozdoba CZ
Miroslava Juklová says that this year, no extravagant colours are in fashion.

“This year I think red is very dominant, which is a traditional colour, and also white which was highlighted at the Christmasworld fair, as the colour of winter and frost.”

In recent years, Czech producers of Christmas ornaments have had to face growing competition from China. They are usually plastic and therefore much cheaper. But Miroslava Juklová from Ozdoba CZ believes Czech customers will always prefer her company’s products.

“As one of my colleagues says, Christmas comes around every year, so hopefully we will always have work. But there is a difference between our products and those from China because if it’s really painted on glass, it has more glitter and style. Chinese products are usually plastic even though they have come up with blown glass ornaments but they are not really elaborate. Our advantage is in the decor; I don’t think the Chinese designs are something people would like to put on their Christmas trees.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on December 19, 2012.