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SWISS MADE

The best that can be in tweezers 60 years of Rubis

Actually, one might think at first glance, tweezers are rather commonplace tools. They are necessary for handling small, delicate things that are difficult to grasp with bare hands. So why bother about it any further? Well, with a bit of thought, it is easy to see that our world simply would not be the way it is without these seemingly mundane instruments. Tweezers are needed: in precision mechanics - just think of watchmaking, - in the semiconductor industry, without which there would be neither computers nor mobile phones, in electronics, biotechnology, medicine and, last but not least, in cosmetics and body care - to name just these examples. So not so banal after all? In principle, it is true, tweezers are simple tools. Precision is decisive for their quality and usefulness. And achieving this is anything but simple. The world of tweezers is a world where the smallest changes make a big difference. The demands that precision tweezers have to meet in order to serve their respective purpose have not only grown in recent decades, but have also become more diverse. All this is excellently reflected in the history of a company that was founded exactly 60 years ago and today produces - at least in the sectors in which it operates - probably the world's best tweezers: the Outils Rubis. 

The story of Rubis is exciting on several levels
It offers an insight into the development of precision tools, it has been associated with a remarkable female entrepreneur for over three decades, it exemplifies what successful brand building looks like and how industrial production can be maintained in the high-wage country of Switzerland, and last but not least, tweezers can be used to address one of the great, central questions of design, the question of the relationship between technical requirements and design, purpose and form, function and aesthetics.   

Precision tweezers for the watch industry
The founders of Outils Rubis SA came from French-speaking Switzerland. They understood the craft of making tweezers and had moved to Ticino, which had a friendlier climate, probably for health reasons. Here, in Stabio to be precise, the southernmost corner of Switzerland, they set up a company to produce precision tweezers in 1961. Their customers included above all the noble Swiss watch manufacturers, who used these instruments to produce their mechanical movements. This explains the name Rubis - it refers to the rubies that are used as bearing jewels in high-quality watch movements and are inserted with the help of the finest tweezers. The young company's sales seemed assured - the watch industry was booming in the 1960s. Nevertheless, in the middle of the 1960s there was a change of ownership. Paul Baldesberger, a businessman from Zurich, took over the majority of shares in the company. For Baldesberger, who had gone to Asia before the World War and became prosperous there, the commitment to Rubis was just one investment among others. He was never active here as an entrepreneur. He delegated the operational management to a managing director and only travelled to Ticino a few times a year to keep track of things.
That went well for a long time. When in the 1970s there was a crisis in the Swiss watch industry, Rubis succeeded in opening up a new market in the emerging semiconductor industry in the USA, which ensured the survival of the company for the time being. But when Baldesberger died in 1981, the situation became precarious. In view of the continuing weakness of the dollar and the incipient migration of semiconductor production to Asia, the one-sided dependence on the American market became a serious danger to the continued existence of Rubis. Added to this was an outdated machine park as well as inadequate factory premises.

The era of Fides Baldesberger
At this critical moment, a young woman entered the picture who was a complete stranger to the tweezers business and completely inexperienced as an entrepreneur: Fides Baldesberger became the owner of Rubis. The company was part of her father's inheritance. She had previously studied art history in Geneva and gemmology in the USA. She subsequently worked as a gemmologist in Geneva and at the Antwerp Diamond Exchange. This is all well and good, but what good was it when the task was to take care of a struggling tweezers company? In this situation, there were three options: 1. Let everything continue as before and hope that it would somehow work out well. 2. Sell the company as quickly as possible. 3. Take the company into her own hands. Who would not have advised her against it? Fides Baldesberger, however, daringly decided to do just that. She familiarised herself with the subject matter quickly and with great commitment. In 1984 she took over the company. A year later she became Managing Director, and in 1987 she also became Chairman of the Board of Directors. And again, just one year later, in 1988, she received the Veuve Clicquot Award for Entrepreneur of the Year!
With a great deal of diligence and persistence, thanks to a quick grasp and clear-sighted problem analysis, and on the basis of a series of wise decisions, Fides Baldesberger had succeeded in making her company fit for the future again. Probably, she says today, she had inherited some of her father's entrepreneurial talent. She reorganised production and administration, she travelled to Asia to establish business contacts with the fast-growing semiconductor industry there and to end the one-sided dependence on US exports. The diversification of the sales markets was a correct and important step. But another decision was to prove even more momentous: the idea of entering the cosmetics market. In this way, she provided the company with a second business pillar that was less susceptible to economic cycles. At the same time, she was able to start creating a brand.
Seen from today's perspective, this decision seems obvious and almost compellingly logical. Why not make use of the know-how in the manufacture of precision tweezers in an area where, as Baldesberger knew perfectly well as a woman, there is a great demand but practically no quality products? Admittedly, easier said than done. A good product alone does not guarantee success on the market. You first have to get a foothold in this market in order to sell premium tweezers to women. And nobody was waiting for this new provider from Switzerland!

It was a long and difficult road to success and recognition.
New, attractive products have to be developed and designed, a new brand has to be built up, promoted and established. All of this was done virtually on her own and without a powerful marketing department in the background. Around the turn of the millennium, it was done: Fashion magazine Vogue named the Rubis tweezers the "best of the best" and the famous American make-up artist and cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown declared the Rubis to be "the Ferrari of tweezers". And finally, the South China Morning Post compared the all-round versatility of the Rubis eyebrow tweezers with that of  Swiss Army Knife by saying – “Rubis tweezers are like a Swiss Army knife for (eye)brows”. Around a dozen national and international design awards - including the reddot and iF Award - testify to the esteem in which Rubis products are held by the design world. In 2001, Fides Baldesberger was awarded the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award in Switzerland. Shortly afterwards, she was appointed to the Board of Directors of Swisscom. Evidently she had done a number of things right. It was evident that she and Rubis - against all odds - were made for each other.

But this also belongs to the story
Where there is a successful product, the copiers are not far away. A well-known brand makes it easier to fight against this, but in the long run it is no guarantee for sustainable success. This is something that has to be worked on again and again, with interesting product developments - it is no longer just tweezers - and lively communication that is appropriate for the times. Fides Baldesberger tirelessly accepts these challenges even after decades in the business. She enjoys developing her company and her products. And she is not one of those people who lets someone get the better of her so easily.

"Beauty out of function and as a function"
Anyone who looks at Rubis' products, especially those she designs herself, will quickly realise: Fides Baldesberger is an aesthete. It has always been like that, she says. She loves that which is beautiful and authentic. This explains her interest in art, her fascination with gemstones, her enthusiasm for simple, intrinsically flawless forms - such as those embodied in Rubis tweezers. Her enthusiasm for architecture and landscaping also has its roots here. In recent years, together with the internationally renowned Spanish landscape designer Fernando Caruncho, she has created an impressive synthesis of architecture and landscape design in the mountains above Lake Lugano, of which we are yet to hear.

It takes years to develop a timeless product, a classic like the Rubis tweezers.
Aesthetics are essentially the result of function: from the perfection with which the tweezers fulfil their respective purpose, from the precision with which they were created. Small, simple marvels of craftsmanship. On the subject of form and function, the Swiss designer and artist Max Bill coined a phrase that reads like a characterisation of Rubi's products: "Beauty out of function and as a function". Beauty as a function - this is not only relevant for Rubis' cosmetics division, but also for technical tweezers. Aesthetics, says Fides Baldesberger, is almost a moral obligation for us. This is because the users of electronics tweezers often work with these instruments all day long. They appreciate the beauty of their everyday tool as much as the technical competence and their practical quality.
In other words, the aesthetics of Rubis tweezers are a crucial part of their functionality.  They increase the joy of the object and the emotional attachment to the small tools. That's how we humans tick. Among completely similar but differently coloured cups, we intuitively choose the one whose colour we like best for some inexplicable reason, and we usually remain loyal to it for a long time. Fides Baldesberger knows this. The numerous colour and pattern variations of many Rubis tweezers bear witness to this. Of course, the variants of introduced models are also motivated by the laws of marketing: in this way, one generates attention for a product in a media market thirsting for news, which in essence can no longer be reinvented.
Incidentally, to mark the anniversary, Rubis is launching a special edition of tweezers with an embedded ruby - a tribute to its history and its name. If you like, it can also be read as a tribute to the gemmologist in Fides Baldesberger.         

Craftsmanship tradition and modernity
Outils Rubis was founded as a manufacturing company firmly based on traditional craftsmanship. Not much about that has changed in six decades. Certainly, there are new machines and certainly a few more than in the early years. Here and there, modern industrial robots have even found their way into production. Their deployment is not always problem-free. Stainless steel, from which the Rubis products are made, is a wonderful material. In contrast to a completely homogeneous plastic, however, it is sometimes stubborn, resistant and its reactions are difficult to predict when it comes to processing. Robots are then quickly unable to cope. In this respect, the employees, their know-how, their joy in perfection, their experience and sensitivity are still at the centre of production. Every product passes through many careful hands before it leaves the workshop. At the end, in the finishing and inspection, it is rigorously tested and given that finishing touch that makes Rubi's products so unique. Precision means everything here. 

Swissness
Fides Baldesberger sees this striving for perfection as Swiss in the best sense of the word. For her, Swissness is much more than lip service and marketing.  At Rubis, it is part of the company's DNA. All products are 100% Swiss made from raw material to finished product.

All the values associated with "made in Switzerland" - innovation, design, quality and precision - are embodied in Rubis products. This meets the expectations of brand and creates trust in it.

What will happen next at Rubis - after the anniversary? Baldesberger is optimistic. As long as we remain innovative, the future is open to us. Quality will always be in demand and most people understand that it has its price. After so many years when the world only seemed to be about getting more and getting cheaper, a new awareness of quality and sustainability has emerged in recent years. This is combined with a renewed appreciation of craftsmanship. That is a very positive development.