INTRO: Known for its delicate figurines and highly-decorated dinner services, Meissen, Europe's oldest porcelain manufacturer, is preparing to celebrate its 300th anniversary.
MOREINFO: State-owned Meissen, based in the town of the same name in eastern Germany, is hoping to overcome the economic downturn at a time when Irish firm Waterford Wedgwood has called in receivers, prompting its German unit Rosenthal to file for insolvency. And under a new CEO, Meissen wants to reposition itself as a luxury brand to rival Louis Vuitton or Bulgari, and expand its range to include jewellery and watches. Joanna Partridge reports for Reuters
In the Meissen porcelain factory - work continues as it has for almost three hundred years.
Known for crafting china and figurines for French kings and Russian tsars - Europe's oldest porcelain maker and its 800 workers, based in eastern Germany, are also looking to the future.
Few modern consumers use a 120-piece dinner service or have a display case to show off their figurines.
But Meissen's new CEO Christian Kurtzke wants to reposition Meissen as a luxury brand along the lines of Louis Vuitton or Bulgari, even though he expects sales to drop further in 2009.
SOUNDBITE: CHRISTIAN KURTZKE, MEISSEN CEO, SAYING (GERMAN):
"We're bringing in growth measures to combat this, especially in the field of interiors, away from tableware. With our figurines, with Meissen architecture and watches and jewellery, where we are already active, whether our partnership with Glashuette, or with Mont Blanc. This year we're going to present our own new jewellery collection."
Meissen's known for its high levels of craftsmanship.
And antique pieces can also be a good investment, fetching high prices at auction, says Herbert van Mierlo, a valuer at Sothebys.
SOUNDBITE: Herbert Van Mierlo, Sotheby's Registered Valuer, saying (English):
"It's a collectors' market, and that means that all the Meissen pieces, eighteenth century, the very rare and distinguished which are of big interest for collectors, they sell very well."
But some people like collector Dietrich von der Heyden buy Meissen simply because they enjoy it.
SOUNDBITE: Dietrich von der Heyden, Meissen Collector, saying (German):
"I think Meissen porcelain is art, but I want to live with art. I don't only want to admire the pieces in a cupboard, as our grandparents used to do."
But as the luxury sector also suffers from the global economic crisis, Meissen's CEO has his work cut out.
Bringing out new ranges, made in the traditional way, Meissen hopes to lure new customers to ensure the brand sees out another 300 years.
Joanna Partridge, Reuters