Wetzlar, 1st September 2023. For the past fifty years, a part of the Leica family has been located at a factory in Portugal. This is reason enough to celebrate the success, diversity and community that has bound the company’s headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany and Famalicão together for half a century.
As a second production site, Vila Nova de Famalicão has been part of Leica’s company history. More than 800 employees now produce essential components for Leica products at this location in northern Portugal. The site, which went into operation in 2013, has a surface area of 52,400 m², with 12,677 m² for production space, 3,047 m² for assembly, 3,244 m² for optics, and 4,827 m² for mechanics. The turnover in the last year reached 82 million euros. More importantly are the people who stand behind the figures – people who have worked steadily on the success of the company over the past decades and have turned the traditional Wetzlar company into a European venture, which passionately conveys the values and precision of Leica to the world. The community includes not only the employees working directly at the factory, but also the photographers who use Leica cameras as their tool for capturing the world. This year, the success is being celebrated both with the exhibition ‘From Famalicão to the World: 50 years of Leica in Portugal’, and with an additional exhibition presented at the Leica Gallery Porto: ‘Alfredo Cunha. Portugal from 1973 to 2023’, which is a moving tribute to the homeland of the renowned photojournalist and Leica enthusiast.
What is found here is passion and perfection. The people here are so committed, and that, I believe, is the reason for our success. Let’s just call it what it is: the way we work here is how the brand is perceived on a global scale.
– Vitor Freitas, Managing Director and Executive Board member
Looking back to before 1973, it was the rising costs of production in Germany in the mid-sixties that moved the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar optics factory to look for supplementary locations within Europe. The choice was made for northern Portugal and the town of Vila Nova de Famalicão, where a tradition of precision mechanics already existed. The initial phase, which was launched in June 1973, saw the manufacturing of components for microscopes and cameras. This was followed by the production of Trinovid binoculars, and, as of 1976, the assembly of the Leica R3. The range of products grew consistently over subsequent years, including the pre-assembly of the legendary Leica M6 and with the Leica R8.
In 2004, the Portuguese facility already occupied an area of 21,000 m²; and in 2008 the founding stone was laid for the construction of the current complex, which, after an investment of 23 million euros, was inaugurated on March 21, 2013. Further extensions, such as an Engineering department, were to follow, and the Leica family continued to grow. Today, Leica in Portugal also produces cutting edge optical products. The intricate, handcrafted manufacturing of Leica binoculars, spotting scopes, and sport optics equipment are part of the fixed production programme in the modern factory. More recently, 1st December 2016 saw the opening of a Leica Store, with an additional gallery and academy, in what was formerly the Excelsior Café, one of Porto’s historic buildings in the heart of the city. In 2017, the Leica Customer Care Sport Optics expertise and Engineering competences were established at the Vila Nova de Famalicão factory, increasing the added value and level of innovation.
Leica stands for a certain set of values. Today we have a factory that represents an optics industry benchmark. It’s important for us to grow with the people, and to develop them. Our very long-term employees are important to us because they are the ones with the experience and knowledge about our products – knowledge that can’t be found in manuals. We aim for a perfect balance of experience and innovation.
– Pedro Oliveira, Managing Director and Executive Board member