The greatest crafts to have survived the centuries

By Patek Philippe

From glassblowers to kimono makers, discover five of the world’s oldest family businesses whose philosophies of perfection have seen them stand the test of time

Barovier & Toso: The Glassmakers

Murano, the series of islands linked by bridges in Italy’s Venetian Lagoon, is home to one of the world’s oldest, continuously running, family businesses – Barovier & Toso. It was here that in 1295, the Barovier family began the tradition and specific technique of decorative glass making that is still used by the company today.

One family member in particular, Angelo Barovier, was responsible for catapulting the company into international stardom. With a scientific education that led him to continuously experiment with the chemical makeup and physical properties of glass, Angelo discovered how to create a flawlessly clear transparent glass, known as crystalline. The creation fitted in perfectly with the beauty ideals of the Renaissance and the company didn’t look back.

By the end of the sixteenth century, three Barovier brothers had their own glassmaking factories on Murano, each of which had their own trademark: an angel, a bell and a star. Today, these three symbols appear together in the Barovier crest. It wasn’t until 1936, that the Barovier family merged with the Toso family’s Fratelli Toso Glassworks, to form Barovier & Toso. Today the company’s creations are used by many of the world’s biggest brands, from Louis Vuitton and Cartier, to the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels.


Chiso: The Kimono Makers

Founded in Kyoto in 1555, Kimono making company Chiso is still operating to the same exacting standards. The kimonos are manufactured by a family business managed by the Nishimura family that have worked for Chiso for 15 generations.

Today, a Chiso kimono typically takes three to four months to create but in some cases 18 months. The company once spent a decade creating a dyeing technique for one very special indigo kimono.

The company, which has a manufacturing policy of “the creation of beautiful items”, often uses famous painters to design kimonos but also draws from its own library that’s crammed with books and filing cabinets filled with kimono designs dating back hundreds of years. These designs are then drawn on the silk fabric with a blue liquid made of a type of grass, purple spiderwort. The artist will then spend about a month painting the pattern onto the kimono using sometimes up to 50 dyes. Recently, Chiso has been using computers in the design process. It now sends digital versions to clients to show potential mixes of pattern, colour and material.


Toye, Kenning & Spencer: The Accessory Makers

The Toye dynasty begins in 1685 when a family of French Huguenots, disguised as cattle-dealers, sailed into London’s River Thames. Setting up base in Bethnal Green (then known as Hope Town), the family began a business of weaving, lace-making, embroidery and gold and silver wire making which, three centuries later, is not only still going strong, but is run by the same family.

Combining these ancient techniques with the latest in computer technology, Toye & Co designs and manufactures jewellery and identity products for governments, corporates, clubs and associations, among others.

The company holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty The Queen as supplier of gold and silver laces, insignia and embroidery and was commissioned to manufacture the medal presented to serving personnel in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.


Klotz: The Violin Makers

Violin making runs deep in the small village of Mittenwald, about 100 kilometres from Munich. It was here that Matthias Klotz settled in around 1685, opened up a lute making workshop and later founded the Mittenwald school of violin making. Members of the Klotz family passed on their trade to the families in the village and it wasn’t long before the family name, along with the town, became synonymous with great violin making. So great were the violins, in fact, that Mozart himself composed and performed five violin concertos and wrote the string component of many other works with a Klotz.

Violin production from Mittenwald was so prolific that at one point: “nine-tenths of the violins which pass in the world as [reputable violin label] ‘Stainers’ were made by the Klotz family and their followers”, according to contributor Edward John Payne in “A Dictionary of Music and Musicians” in 1900.


Patek Philippe: The Watchmakers

Founded in 1839, Patek Philippe is Geneva’s oldest independent family-owned watch manufacturer. Founders, Antoine Norbert de Patek and Adrien Philippe had one goal: to develop, manufacture and assemble the finest timepieces in the world. Today, the company remains faithful to the same artisanal techniques used by its founders but combines these skills with advanced technology.

The strict standards applied to every step of the development process, and in the long months of crafting and finishing, make each Patek Philippe a  distinct creation. For instance, as if spending 200 to 300 hours assembling a minute repeater wasn’t enough, a Patek Philippe watch is then passed on for the review of President, Thierry Stern. Only his ear can mark the final approval of the timbre and confirm that each watch’s minute repeater has the unique sound of a Patek Philippe chime.


The art of watchmaking

To achieve the highest level of quality and reliability, Patek Philippe invests in innovation with new materials and leading-edge technologies, while continuing to preserve the tradition of ancestral watchmaking know-how, and maintains the industry’s strictest quality control standards. For more information go to


Click here to discover how Patek Philippe makes their watches


Read More: You Got a Gift Card You Don’t Want. Now What?

You might also like