The Bundesverband Klavier (BVK) — the German piano manufacturers’ association — has created a new “Made in Germany” certificate of quality to distinguish pianos that are 100% made in Germany from those that are claimed to be but are not. The BVK hopes that the new certificate will provide more security and clarity for customers, and help the German piano industry better compete with Asian makers of lower-priced pianos.
Says BVK chief executive Burkhard Stein, “Of the more than 300 companies active worldwide in the piano industry, 95% claim that their products are manufactured in Germany. In fact, there are only 13 companies in Germany that still manufacture high-quality upright and grand pianos. These companies are distinguished by a high proportion of manual craftsmanship, centuries of experience and tradition, successful design, prestige, and particularly the excellent sound and playing quality of the instruments they manufacture. This makes the slogan ‘Made in Germany’ so desirable for piano manufacturers worldwide, and entices them to tell the most adventurous stories, only to mislead the customer and suggest that he is choosing an instrument made in Germany, although it is not the case.”
Although the 95% figure mentioned above may be an exaggeration, most of the world’s piano makers today are based in China, and the primary stimulus for the creation of the new certificate appears to be allegedly false claims made by Chinese companies. From time to time, concerns have also been voiced about claims of German origin made by members of the BVK itself. Part of the problem stems from the fact that, under German law, a company can claim that its pianos are “made in Germany” if more than half the added value comes from German labor. But because German labor is so much more expensive than the labor of many other countries, particularly China, a piano mostly made in China and requiring only slight work in Germany to complete may nonetheless qualify for this designation. For example, according to sources I consulted, a typical hourly wage (in U.S. dollars) for a German piano-factory worker is about $21, whereas his Chinese counterpart earns only around $3. This means that a piano could, theoretically, have 87% of the hours needed for its manufacture take place in China and only 13% in Germany, and still legally qualify as “made in Germany.” Even if the actual calculation is more complex than this, you can readily see the sort of shenanigans that can result from this policy.
The new BVK “Made in Germany” certificate, although it lacks the force of law, is intended to create stricter standards than those under German law. To obtain the certificate, the manufacturer must, first of all, be a member of the BVK, and apply for the certificate to the organization’s executive board. Second, the brand’s main production steps must take place in Germany. These steps include: gluing the soundboard to the back frame or rim, fitting and installing the cast-iron plate, stringing the instrument, gluing the cabinet around the instrument, installing and regulating the keyboard and action, tuning, and voicing. It is not necessary that the parts and materials be from German suppliers; for example, the cast-iron plate and the entire keyboard and action could be made elsewhere. When granted, the certificate is good for two years, after which the manufacturer may apply for renewal.
The German Chambers of Commerce in various countries, particularly China, are cooperating with the BVK in publicizing the new certification in order to prevent forgeries. For this reason, the Chamber of Commerce logo appears on the certificate along with the BVK logo.
For a list of certified “Made in Germany” brands, see the BVK’s website. Keep in mind that a company must apply for the certificate to receive it; the certificate is not given automatically. Therefore, the fact that a company or brand is not on the list does not necessarily prove that its instruments are not made in Germany. On the other hand, since applying for the certificate costs nothing, I know of no reason why a qualified company would not apply.