In 1900 a mechanic named Hynek Puc left the company Lokesch and Son based in the Holešovice section of Prague and founded his own workshop in Holešovice where he manufactured shelf labels, metal thumb tacks and Christmas tree ornaments.
In July 1902 he was joined by Jindřich Waldes, a former traveling salesman for the Lokesch factory and together they founded a public business enterprise. The company manufactured small metal objects. one worker and one apprentice worked with them in the workshop. At the end of the same year the partners moved the manufacturing enterprise to a rented building located in a former candle factory in the Karlín section of Prague. At that time a third business partner joined the company, Eduard Merzinger, who contributed to the company 20 thousand Austrian Crowns that he won in a lottery.
The main article manufactured in this little shop was a very fashionable snap and Waldes a spol. has precisely these snaps to thank for its almost dizzying ascent. The competition manufactured the snap using a complicated process, which was primarily manual. Thanks to the automatic machinery built by Hynek Puc in 1903, manual mounting of the snap using tweezers was replaced by a mechanical insetting of the spring into the stud’s springing part, which enabled an unprecedented increase in production. This grew to such a degree that just three years after initiating production of snaps the factory outgrew its space and therefore in April 1907 manufacturing was transferred to a new factory built in the Vršovice section of Prague. This was a state-of-the-art solution in its time: high and airy rooms, changing rooms for men and women, spa, library, gymnasium and around the factory a little park with benches and various exercise equipment. With the modernization of the factory the pace of manufacturing was also increased, primarily thanks to the constantly improving special machinery and tools, which the enterprise designed and built itself and which on the technical side placed it in the forefront of manufacturers of light metal goods. How state of the art the design of such machines was is shown by, among others, just this automatic setting tool. This machine, after a few small alterations none changing its basic character, still meets the needs of today’s very demanding manufacturing requirements, and the same holds true for a number of sequence tools, whose design has not been surpassed by the developments of many decades.
The business man Jindřich Waldes dubbed the snap KOH-I-NOOR – after the reputedly largest diamond in the world, which weighed 186 karats. Legend has it that a gem of the same name was placed in the eye of an ancient Indian god. When Persian conquerors of India first saw the stone shining in the sun they called out “KOH-I-NOOR” (which means “mountain of light”). This is how it got its name. After many adventures including murders, torture and imprisonment of its owners England’s Queen Victoria received it as a gift. The diamond was repolished at the royal jewelers (its mass decreased to 106 karats) and it is set in the Queen of England’s crown.
Naming the snap was one of Waldes’ great managerial and strategic moves.
A picture of the snaps with the stamped letters K-I-N was used as a business logo, with whose help the company expanded onto foreign markets (branch offices were founded in Dresden – 1904, Warsaw, 1908, Paris, 1911, New York, 1912). It was for the advertising campaign in the United States that the world-famous “MISS KIN” company logo – a picture of a girl with a KOH-I_NOOR snap instead of her eye – was developed. It is said that the logo was thought up on board the boat on the way to the America, when it one of the travelers placed as a joke an enlarged snap used for advertising to her eye instead of a monocle. For Waldes this joke was a spark of inspiration, he photographed the girl and his friends the painter František Kupka and Vojtěch Preissig created a new logo from MISS KIN.
The flourishing of the Waldes a spol. company was disrupted by the German occupation in 1939, at that time the factory was renamed after its main product, KOH-I-NOOR.
Company’s growth was interrupted by the occupation and “arianizing” of Jewish assets in 1939. Company management was take over by so-called Treuhänders. The Prague plant was integrated into the Reich war machinery, however antipathy against invaders was apparent in the personnel. Acts of sabotage were practised, and in 1940a fire damaged the upper building section of machine shops.
In May 1945, a revolutionary committee established in illegality took over administration of the plant, and the company was nationalized in October of that year. During following two years, other nationalized plants in the borderland were incorporated. At the end of 1948, Koh-i-noor, associated metal industry plants, state company Prague, had 45 production plants in total.
Despite the unfavourable circumstances, which the company had to contend with (as a typical representative of the light industry, development funds from the state budget could not be relied on it wasn’t possible to ), it continued to develop and increased its capacity year by year. It exported its products to 80 countries worldwide. At that time, the basic division in Prague also included three subsidiaries in Budyně nad Ohří, Malá Vožice, and Kadaň. The state company Koh-i-noor was one of the largest manufacturers of engineering consumer goods in the CSSR after the World War II.
The basic division of KOH-I-NOOR in Prague became a direct successor of the company Waldes & Co. A technological plant was developed in the complex of this division, providing production of machines, equipment, tools, preparations, and moulds for both, own needs and external contracts. The state company Koh-i-noor was conferred the highest award the ORDER OF THE LABOUR in 1967, and in the same year the company received the Czechoslovak Peace Award as the first in this republic.
After 1980, Koh-i-noor was faced with serious organisational and production problems related to limited material resources, reduced number of employees, and increased production for final marketing categories. The main objectives of the company’s development included gradual modernization of the production base, deepening impacts of technical development in all areas of company operation – in particular reducing labour intensity and material and energy consumption, and innovation of the production program. After 1985, new production programs were assigned to individual Koh-i-noor plants.