Continuing a legacy : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Continuing a legacy

Sebastien Beaud considers himself a lucky man by continuing the legacy of a
French pipe company with a history of more than 135 years

by Stephen A. Ross

genod1

Sebastien Beaud

A group of more than a dozen French preschool children on a field trip to the Genod pipe factory in St. Claude, France, suddenly quiet down as pipemaker Sebastien Beaud dons a headset to protect his ears. All of the children plug their ears with their fingers and some of them close their eyes in fear, while a few of the more inquisitive or brave ones keep their eyes open and inch closer to the lathe that Beaud will use to carve a pipe bowl.

After making sure all the children have sufficiently covered their ears, and checking that none of them will be in the way of the wood chips that will fly from the machine, Beaud powers on the lathe and starts cutting away at the block. The children watch in rapt attention, those who had closed their eyes opening them after discovering that the machinery’s sound is not as loud as they had feared. A few minutes later, Beaud turns off the machine and gives the freshly turned pipe bowl to one of the chaperones leading the field trip to pass among the group.

Almost all of the children show an interest in touching the bowl. Pipemaking, after all, is part of their town’s heritage, with many of them having had parents, grandparents or even older generations of their families working in St. Claude’s pipe industry, which at its peak employed approximately one-third of the town’s population of 12,000 people and made as many as 30 million pipes a genod4year. St. Claude’s residents are proud of their town’s legacy as the pipemaking capital of the world, where reminders of its colorful association with pipes are nearly everywhere, and people from all over the country recognize the town’s important past.

With a youthful and boyish face, Beaud looks as if he could be any one of the children’s older brother instead of an accomplished 33-year-old pipemaker and business owner. It was St. Claude’s reputation that drew the young man to the area to seek employment in the pipe industry. While he was a high school student, he studied sculpture and started making pipes for himself. During a break from school, Beaud traveled to St. Claude and met pipemaker Roger Vincent, who welcomed tourists into his workshop. That visit and conversation with Vincent inspired Beaud to spend every holiday traveling from his home in Belfort, about 120 miles from St. Claude, to work with Vincent.

In college, Beaud studied forest management and fine arts and continued spending holidays in St. Claude, where he also met Jacques Craen, owner of Genod Pipes, a company that traces its history to 1865. Craen had the Genod genod3factory as well as a retail location near St. Claude’s cathedral, and he needed some help with the store. Beaud worked at the shop for two summers and decided that he would move to the town after graduation to pursue a career as a pipemaker.

“I knew that I wanted to find a career that I loved more than just making money,” Beaud recalls. “Jacques could not employ me full time at that time so I contacted all the other pipemakers. I found a job at Ewa.”

At first, Beaud was inspired to make sculptured pipes like those made by his early mentor, Vincent, but once he started working in the factory, he discovered that making sculptural pipes was not as satisfying as he had thought.

“It was a slow evolution of something inside of me,” he explains. “At first I wanted to make very special and complicated pipes, then I realized that it’s just not my thing to create new things all the time.”

Beaud’s plans turned to owning a factory. Having made pipes since 1959, when he was 15 years old, Craen wanted to retire. He approached Beaud about taking genod2over Genod, and in 2006 the younger man agreed. Beaud would own the factory and Craen would devote his attention to the shop, selling antique pipes and the remaining stock of pipes that he had previously made in his almost 40 years as a pipemaker.

The factory that Beaud owns sits off the road behind a courtyard. At the courtyard’s entrance, a sign invites people to visit the Genod factory; otherwise there would be no way of knowing that a pipe factory exists at the location.

Visitors walk through an arched hallway into a courtyard and then access a flight of steps to a second-floor walkway that leads to Genod’s entrance. The front of the factory holds a gift shop and serves as a gathering spot for the larger tours such as the group of preschool children. Beaud displays several hundred pipes for sale at the gift shop as well as pipe accessories and other locally made crafts.

Genod is currently the only factory in St. Claude that welcomes tourists. For €2 (approximately $2.70), visitors may come into the factory and learn the process of pipemaking.

“Last year, I had 6,000 people tour the shop,” Beaud explains. “St. Claude is famous in France for having been the world’s pipe capital. People who come to St. Claude want to see pipes. Tours last for 20 minutes and I explain what briar is. I turn a bowl and polish a pipe so people can see the main steps of pipemaking.”

The factory itself is a large complex with three rooms—a storeroom where Beaud places finished pipes, another room that contains briar, lathes and saws, and a room where the finishing occurs. The factory is big enough to employ quite a few people, but currently only Beaud and an assistant who does the polishing work at Genod.

Still, Genod is rather prolific, with Beaud estimating annual production at around 2,000 pipes for three brands—Sebastien Beo, Genod and Paul Viou. Each of the lines Beaud produces is modestly priced, ranging from around $70 to as much as $500 for special pipes.

“I believe in making pipes for the people,” Beaud explains. “I wanted to make pipes that would be affordable to most people. I don’t want to work for the elite in any way.”

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Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Winter 2014

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