|Industry||Sewing and embroidery systems|
(Owner and Chairman of the Board of Directors)
Claude Dreyer (CEO)
|Products||Bernina sewing machines|
|Revenue||CHF 244million (Consolidated net turnover in 2020)|
Number of employees
|1200(Annual average for 2020, of which approx. 270 in Steckborn)|
Bernina International AG is a privately owned international manufacturer of sewing and embroidery systems. The company was founded in Steckborn, Switzerland, by a Swiss inventor Fritz Gegauf. The company develops, manufactures, and sells goods and services for the textile market, primarily household sewing-related products in the fields of embroidery, quilting, home textiles, garment sewing, and crafting. The origins of the company lie in the invention of the hemstitch sewing machine, invented in 1893 by a Swiss inventor and entrepreneur Karl Friedrich Gegauf. Currently, the company's products include sewing machines, embroidery machines, serger/overlocker machines, and computer software for embroidery design.
1890–1926: Karl Friedrich Gegauf and the invention of the hemstitch sewing machine
The present-day Bernina International AG was founded by Karl Friedrich Gegauf in 1893, when he decided to pursue an apprenticeship as a mechanic instead of studying medicine. After completing his apprenticeship, he worked in the Baum embroidery machine factory in Rorschach. In 1890, Karl Friedrich Gegauf set up his own business in Steckborn, Switzerland, opening an embroidery and mechanical workshop for the manufacture of his own invention, a monogram embroidery machine. Together with his brother Georg, a salesman, Karl Friedrich ran the Gebrüder Gegauf (Bros. Gegauf) company. Through his involvement in the textile industry, he noticed how laborious it was to produce hemstitching, which until then could only be done manually. Consequently, in 1893, Karl Friedrich Gegauf invented the world's first hemstitch sewing machine, capable of sewing 100 stitches per minute. In 1895, the Bros. Gegauf workshop was completely destroyed by fire, except for the prototype of the hemstitch sewing machine, which was the only thing that could be rescued. Karl Friedrich built a new workshop in an old barn, where the focus was no longer on embroidery, but on the construction of the hemstitch sewing machine. About 70 people were employed in the serial production of the hemstitch sewing machine. The mechanical production of hemstitching, whether as embellishment for handkerchiefs, tablecloths, or bedspreads, was commonly referred to as "gegaufing", because the name Gegauf became famous in the industry.
1926–1947: Fritz Gegauf and the development of the first Bernina household sewing machine
In 1919, Fritz Gegauf, one of Karl's sons, together with his father, filed a patent application for the "Wotan" hemstitch sewing machine, which became another international success for the company, which changed its name to "Fritz Gegauf". After being in Paris selling the company's tin openers, which had no market in Switzerland, he returned to his home town. His brother Gustav and he took control of the factory after their father's death in 1926. During the Great Depression, Fritz Gegauf joined forces with the embroidery factory, Brütsch & Sohn in St. Gallen, which was also operating in the red. By the end of 1932, they had developed the company's first household sewing machine, which they named Bernina. The Bernina was soon being produced as furniture-cum-sewing-machine, which required the building of a new, attached furniture factory in Steckborn. As of October 26, 1937, a total of 20,000 machines had left the factory in Steckborn. In 1937, he introduced the first Bernina zigzag machine and in 1945 the world's first portable zigzag machine with a free arm on the market. In 1947, Gustav Gegauf left the company. By mid-1963, one million Bernina zigzag sewing machines had been manufactured in Steckborn. Since then, the company has commonly been called Bernina, although, since 1947, its official name has been "Fritz Gegauf Aktiengesellschaft, Bernina Nähmaschinenfabrik".
1959–1988: Odette Gegauf-Ueltschi and the fully automatic sewing machine
Since 1959, Odette Ueltschi, Fritz Gegauf's daughter, took the lead role at Bernina. She took over the management after the death of her brother in 1965. In 1963, the first Bernina sewing machine with a patented knee-activated presser foot lifter, the 730, appeared on the market. From 1963 onwards, the subsequent model, the 730, was produced, and in the same year, the millionth Bernina sewing machine was manufactured. The top-seller of all the models was the 830 class, which came into production in 1971 and continued until 1981. In 1981, the company took a further step in the development of household sewing machines. The 930 model was the first machine with a stretch-stitch function. It was followed by the 1130, the first fully automated sewing machine, launched in 1986. The enduring mark which Odette Gegauf-Ueltschi left on the company is reflected in the name of the bernette sewing machine line, formed by a combination of the first half of the brand name and the second half of her given name.
1988–2009: Hanspeter Ueltschi and the first sewing computer, expansion of markets and production
Hanspeter Ueltschi took over the management of Fritz Gegauf AG in 1988 from his mother Odette Gegauf-Ueltschi, and currently runs the company as owner and chairman of the board of directors. After studying business administration at the University of St. Gallen, Ueltschi spent seven years gaining professional experience in the USA before getting into the leadership of the family company in Switzerland. Ueltschi further expanded the leading position of the company in the sewing machine technology sector, brought down manufacturing costs, and promoted product innovations and marketing. He ushered the computer age into the business with the artista 180, Bernina's first sewing computer, and ensured the continuous development and optimization of computer technology in the sewing sphere, as shown by the successive models of the artista, as well as the aurora series. In doing so, he made strides toward his declared goal of making sewing more appealing and more popular worldwide. In 1990, the company set up a production facility in Thailand in addition to the main factory in Steckborn. Bernina Thailand is owned by Bernina International and is managed locally by a Swiss management team. Ueltschi is also largely responsible for establishing the US as a key market and expansion to the new markets in Eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and India, as well as in the Middle East. He renamed "Fritz Gegauf AG" to "Bernina International AG" to accommodate the trend toward globalization and the success of the company brand. Under the leadership of CEO Claude Dreyer (2008 to 2020), Bernina diversified into longarm quilting machines, multi-needle embroidery machines (Melco), and launched several sewing machine series with the new Bernina hook system. In 2020, the L 850 and L 890, two overlockers with an air threader developed at the Swiss headquarters, were launched. Since 2021, the company has been under the operational management of CEO Kai Hillebrandt, while Hanspeter Ueltschi is Chairman of the Board of Directors. His children Katharina and Philipp Ueltschi have joined the Executive Board.
The Bernina Textile Group is a globally active group of 15 companies doing business in 80 countries. The company operates in the product categories such as household sewing and embroidery machines, household overlocker machines, longarm quilting machines, multineedle embroidery machines, accessories (presser foot, embroidery hoops and other accessories for sewing, quilting and overlocking), and computer software for embroidery design.
Subsidiaries are established in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the USA. The subsidiary Benartex, headquartered in the United States, sells printed textiles and quilting fabrics in particular. OESD, another subsidiary, develops and sells embroidery designs. Brewer, engaging in the sewing supplies market, offers sewing and crafting notions, patterns, books etc. The Bernina Textile Group's turnover has grown since 2016, from CHF 185 million to CHF 244 million.
The latest model, B 880, is the company's current flagship model, while the 7 series models are Bernina's most advanced products, equipped with the Bernina hook system for 9 mm stitch width at up to 1,000 stitches per minute.
Aurora 440 QE
|Bernina 8 Series|
|Bernina 5 Series|
|Bernina 7 Series|
|Bernina longarm quilting machines|
|Bernina 4 Series|
|Bernina L 8 Series overlocker|
|1932–1945||Model 105||First household sewing machine bearing the Bernina brand name
Manual sewing machine manufactured by Fritz Gegauf
|1938–1945||Model 117||First BERNINA zigzag sewing machine.|
|1945–1963||Model 125||First electric Bernina free-arm zigzag sewing machine|
|1954–1963||Model 530||First Bernina with patented snap-on presser foot and semi-automatic buttonhole-sewing function|
|1963–1982||Model 730||The 730 model, with patented knee-activated presser-foot lifter|
|1971–1982||Model 830||First Bernina with electronic foot control—the top-of-the-range model for 11 years|
|1982–1989||Model 930||First Bernina with stretch-stitch function and an especially powerful motor|
|1986–1989||Model 1130||First computerized Bernina with fully automatic one-step buttonholes and stitch memory|
|1989–1998||Model 1230||Model with expanded memory capacity and fully automatic one-step buttonholes, including eyelet buttonholes|
|1993–1998||Model 1630||Top model: 9mm stitch width, over 400 stitch patterns, monograms, five alphabets, sewing in 16 directions possible|
|1998–2002||Artista 165,180||Top model with Customized Pattern Selection software for customer-specific settings, optional embroidery module, conversion of scanned templates to embroidery designs|
|1999–2020||Model 1008||Basic Electro-mechanical model. Not computer controlled. Metal body.|
|2001–2002||Activa 145||Simple compact sewing machine: Computerized; individually adjustable memory for stitch patterns, buttonhole repeat, stitch library, patchwork presser foot|
|2002–2006||Artista 200||World's first sewing and embroidery computer: Microsoft Windows operating system, CD-ROM drive, LCD display, more than 850 stitches, programmable function key, memory function for stitch combinations and embroidery designs|
|2004–2006||440QE||World's first sewing computer with Bernina Stitch Regulator system for consistent stitch lengths at variable sewing speeds, especially for quilters|
|2004||Artista 640||Advanced sewing computer: Extensive utility and decorative stitch programs, optional embroidery module with built-in embroidery software and optional BSR system|
|2006||Artista 730||High-end sewing and embroidery system: Utility and decorative stitches, embroidery designs, many automatic settings such as thread cutter, touchscreen, BSR system, CFL light. Optional embroidery module|
|2008||Model B830||World's biggest and fastest sewing and embroidery system for home users: 1100 sewing stitches/min, 1000 embroidery stitches/min, extra-large bobbin (40% more capacity than before), fully automatic needle threader, 360° multidirectional sewing, 7-inch TFT screen, especially bright working area (30 LED lamps), more than 1000 stitch patterns, 150 pre-installed embroidery motifs by international designers|
|2009||Model B820||Similar to the B830, but without embroidery functionality (not upgradable) or sideways feed (multidirectional sewing), and with a smaller screen and fewer stitch patterns|
|2011||Model 580||Sewing and embroidery machine, top model of the Bernina 5 series: 227 stitches, of which 186 decorative stitches, optional embroidery module, large TFT touch screen, memory function, embroidery function integrated and 100 embroidery motifs|
|2012||Model 780||Sewing and embroidery machine with Bernina dual transport, Bernina 9 gripper, large embroidery module, BSR, 1306 stitches, 130 integrated embroidery patterns, including sewing consultant and tutorial, top model of the Bernina-7 series|
|2014||Model Q 24||First Bernina long-arm quilting machine with 24-inch free arm, stitch regulation via integrated BSR sensors, 2.200 stitches per minute, designed for use on a quilt frame of 3,55x1,2 m (length x width), installation at the parent plant in Steckborn, until now, Bernina has only been producing household sewing machines with the Q 24 model and the smaller Q 20 to a new, semiprofessional customer segment, the so-called prosumer. For the long-arm quilting machines, a new assembly line was set up in the Steckborn headquarters.|
|2015||Model 790||Further development of the B 780 with new gripper (in the sister model B 720 for the first time also available with 5.5mm stitch width), adaptive thread tension, embroidery module, embroidery designer and BERNINA stitch regulator.|
|2018||Series 4||Bernina launches the 4 Series. The compact sewing machine models are equipped with the Bernina hook.|
|2020||L 850 and L 890||With the Bernina L 850 and L 890, Bernina launches two overlockers with air threader, completely developed in Switzerland. The most important feature is the Bernina One-Step air threader: with a brief press of the foot pedal, the thread is guided through the machine by air, and the looper automatically moves to the correct position.|
Bernina developed embroidery design editing and full digitizing software branded under its own name and written by industrial digitizing software manufacturer Wilcom International Pty Ltd.
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- Daniela Dujmic-Erbe: Bernina - Der rote Faden in der Welt des Nähens, 2006, ISBN 978-3-033-01045-1
- Fredy Meyer: Der Erfinder Karl Friedrich Gegauf, 2010, Medien Konstanz GmbH, ISBN 978-3-942058-00-1
- Verein für wirtschaftshistorische Studien: Schweizer Pioniere der Wirtschaft und Technik, 1969, Zürich, Band 21