LEICA | As the second production site, Vila Nova de Famalicão has been part of Leica's corporate history for a long time. Currently, more than 800 employees produce essential components for the Leica product range at this site located in the north of Portugal. The current plant, operational since 2013, covers an area of 52.400 m², of which 12.677 m² are reserved for production, 3.047 m² for assembly, 3.244 m² for optics and 4.827 m² for mechanics. In the last year, the turnover reached 82 million euros. But the most important thing is that behind this data there are people; people who have worked steadily for the company's success over the past decades and have contributed to transforming the traditional company from Wetzlar into a truly European company, capable of transmitting Leica's values and precision to the world with passion.
The community includes not only employees who work directly in the factory, but also photographers who use Leica cameras as a tool to capture the infinite aspects of the world. This year the success is celebrated, on the one hand with the exhibition “From Famalicão to the World: 50 years of Leica in Portugal”, and, on the other, with another exhibition presented at the Leica Gallery Porto: “Alfredo Cunha. Portugal from 1973 to 2023” – the famous photojournalist and Leica enthusiast's engaging tribute to his native land.
Looking back to 1973: it was ever-rising production costs in Germany in the mid-1973s that prompted optical instrument maker Ernst Leitz Wetzlar to look for other locations in Europe. The choice fell on the north of Portugal and in particular on the city of Vila Nova de Famalicão, which already boasted a tradition in precision mechanics. The initial phase, started in June 1976, involved the production of components for microscopes and cameras. This was followed by the production of the Trinovid binoculars and, starting from 3, the assembly of the Leica R6. The product range was steadily growing in the following years, reaching the pre-assembly of the legendary Leica M8 and the Leica RXNUMX.
In 2004 the Portuguese factory already occupied an area of 21.000 m²; while in 2008 the foundation 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 expansions followed, such as a planning office, whereby the Leica family continued to grow. Today, Leica in Portugal also produces state-of-the-art optical instruments dedicated to wildlife observation and hunting. The elaborate handcrafted production of Leica binoculars, spotting scopes, laser rangefinders and rifle scopes is part of the regular production program in the modern factory.
Last but certainly not least, a Leica Store – including the Gallery and Academy – was opened on 1 December 2016 in one of Porto's historic buildings, in the heart of the city: the former headquarters of the Excelsior Café. In 2017, the experience and engineering skills of Leica Customer Care Sport Optics also settled in the Vila Nova de Famalicão plant, thus increasing the added value and level of innovation associated with the production site.
Now is the time to celebrate half a century of this undoubtedly successful partnership. The exhibition “From Famalicão to the world: 50 years of Leica in Portugal”, currently exhibited at the Casa das Artes and accompanied by a special edition magazine, reveals all the facets of these five decades of joint commitment. But the gaze is not directed exclusively back to the years of history and friendship of the Portuguese-German company, but also looks to the future; after all, innovation always remains at the heart of activities, both in Famalicão and in Wetzlar.
Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG: “It is no secret that Leica's success is also deeply rooted in Famalicão and thus in this factory. The results speak for themselves: it is one of the most advanced systems in the optics sector”.
Vitor Freitas, Head of Operations and Member of the Board of Management: “What you find here is passion and perfection. Here the staff is particularly motivated and this, I believe, is the reason for our success. To put it like it is: the way we work here corresponds to how the brand is perceived on a global scale”.
Pedro Oliveira, Operations Manager and member of the Board of Directors: “Leica represents a certain set of values. Today we have a factory that represents a point of reference in the optical sector. For us it is important to grow with people and make them grow. Our long-term employees are important to us because they are the ones with the experience and knowledge of our products, knowledge that cannot be found in manuals. We aim for a perfect balance between experience and innovation”.
Leica Camera – A partner for photography
Leica Camera AG is an international manufacturer of photographic systems and sports optics of the highest level. The legendary reputation of the Leica brand is based on a long tradition of excellent quality, German craftsmanship and German industrial design, combined with innovative technologies. An integral part of the brand culture is the diversification of activities undertaken by the company for the advancement of photography. In addition to the Leica Galerie and Leica Akademie scattered around the world, the Leica Hall of Fame Award and, in particular, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA) stand out, which is considered one of the most innovative sponsorship awards in existence today. In addition, Leica Camera AG, headquartered in Wetzlar, Hesse, with a second production site in Vila Nova de Famalicão, Portugal, has a worldwide network of its own national distributors and retail stores called Leica Stores.