It is in 1780 that Jean-Etienne Astier, first manufacturer of ochre, sets up an industrial process of separation of ochre and sand. Middle of the 19th century, the ochre industry is at its peak and ochre is exported worldwide.
From 1875, the ore becomes more and more rare and more expensive. We must proceed to underground extraction by wells and galleries. Operating costs increase.
After 30 years of quasi-monopoly, the ocher of Burgundy strongly feels the competition of the ochres of Vaucluse, exploited open-air in the communes of Gargas, Gignac, Mormoiron, Roussillon, Rustrel, Saint-Pantaléon, Villars and Villes-sur- Auzon.
Several operators of Puisaye, including Gustave Parquin and Georges Lechiche, have long been convinced of the need to merge the various companies into one because of competition from too many operators. They succeeded in convincing most of their confreres in two stages : by forming on May 1, 1892, the Comptoir des Ocres de Bourgogne, then the Société des Ocres de France in 1901.
While in 1929 there were still some 18 companies, employing nearly a thousand people and producing about 40,000 tonnes; by 1931, the effects of the global economic and geopolitical crisis will have disastrous consequences on the ochre industry. The decline in ochre was caused by the arrival on the market of new products at the end of the 1940s : on the one hand, petroleum-derived products which replace ochre in the manufacture of rubber; on the other, synthetic pigments.
From the 1950s onwards, the ochre trade was weakened and factories starts to close one by one. The Société des Ocres de France (SOF) keeps its course as well as it can. On October 31th 1973, the company filed an application for cessation of activity with virtually zero production and an empty order book.
Beginning of 1974 : new rebound, the Société des Ocres de France is saved in extremis by Gilbert Guigou.
This native of Apt has just retired, leaving his flourishing masonry business to his two sons Jean Paul and André.
Born in Apt, mason, Gilbert Guigou has been using ochre for years and has always known this industry, present in his city. When he learned that the Société des Ocres de France was bankrupt and to be sold, he did not hesitate for long and invested his savings to buy it back in 1974. The factory is in ruins, the machines unusable. Patiently and with his head full of projects, he will restart production and find new markets.
1985 : Jean Paul and André, Gilbert's sons, sell their masonry business to join their father. The ocurring adventure continues. Jean Paul took charge of the administrative part while André is more oriented towards manufacturing. Nelly, André's wife, like many women artisans, puts her skills as a stenographer at the service of the company. Between the three of them, they found new contracts in the building industry. The company Strasservil, in full development, entrusts them with the manufacture of their whitewash and lime renders. Other well-known companies in the paint industry also use their services. Ocres de France and Lafarge plaster will even create a range of colored plaster.
|First range of coatings and whitewash in 1996|
1996, 1998 and 2014 : the grandchildren Brice, Stéphanie and Pascal join the family business by choice and love of the trade. They then have a common goal : value and boost their heritage as much as possible.
2019 : Under the watchful eye of the elders, the family saga continues and extends over a fourth consecutive generation with the arrival in the company, in 2019, of the great grand-daughter of Gilbert Guigou, Ludivine.
For years, la Société des Ocres de France has remained in the shadow, almost ashamed to have remained standing while so many others fell.
"We had a small office in the factory and we did not really sell to individuals, so we were not well known to the general public who thought we no longer existed or who confused our re-sellers with us" says Sthépanie.
To overcome this, the family decided to open a store on the main avenue of the city; this "showcase" will finally begin to highlight the company.
Ten years later, it's a mission accomplished. But the logistics (storage capacity, communication problem between the sales team and the production) becomes too heavy. Also, Pascal, Brice and Stéphanie are planning the construction of buildings in the factory compound.
Thus, in January 2015, the store team joined the production team. This initiative will be welcomed by customers who will find in the showroom a greater choice of products and timetables better adapted to artisans.
"Today, we are proud of what we represent: French know-how, passed down from generation to generation, a noble product, an ecological industry, an international curiosity, a huge desire to prosper our industrial heritage; to get rich but just so that our grandfather is proud of us and what we have accomplished is a real challenge and we will get there".
Nowadays, the company Ocres de France is the last autonomous company in Europe, which exploits and transforms the ocher ore in pure ocher.