Sebastien Beaud: Genod Pipes and the Tradition of Saint-Claude

Portrait of Sebastien Beaud by Artur Lopes | Daily Reader

Portrait of Sebastien Beaud by Artur Lopes

Throughout the history of pipe making, numerous geographic hubs have introduced various styles, brands, and techniques to the world. English factories dominated the early 20th century; Italian workshops around Cantù and Pesaro welcomed distinctive design interpretations; artisans across Denmark, Japan, and the United States further expanded techniques and design styles; and more recently, American and Chinese brands using CNC technology have created new horizons. Among these historic hubs, though, France remains the progenitor of the briar pipe. Specifically, Saint-Claude, France, is the cradle of briar pipe making.

Despite a humble population of only around 10,000, the quaint, mountain town is responsible for introducing briar as a pipe-making material, and it was once home to the world's largest concentration of pipe factories. While many of those original brands are no longer in production, their physical factories remain, with some still crafting pipes the French way. Sebastien Beaud is among those continuing to curate this 150-year tradition, and he's responsible for fashioning Genod pipes from his idyllic workshop in Saint-Claude.

He's supervised Genod pipes since 2006, and his work is rooted in exacting craftsmanship and a style that honors Saint-Claude's deep pipe-making legacy. A pipe smoker himself, he's particularly drawn to quarter-bent shapes and Semois tobacco — occasionally enjoying an aged English mixture by Dunhill or another vintage marque. Sebastien also enjoys spending time with his family and being active outdoors, whether swimming or riding his motorcycle through the mountains of eastern France.

An Early Interest in Pipes

Sebastien Beaud: Genod Pipes And The Tradition Of Saint-Claude | Daily Reader

Since his early years, Sebastien has been interested in and drawn to woodworking. "Both my father and grandfather were into woodworking as a hobby," he says. "My father taught me wood carving, but it wasn't originally with pipes." In high school, Sebastien began smoking a pipe, and it merged instinctively with his passion for woodworking. "I wanted to try smoking a pipe because I liked pipes as objects. I thought they were more interesting than cigarettes, so I would smoke a couple of pipes here and there," he says. "I had one pipe that I had bought from a tobacco shop, and soon I wanted to make my own pipes. I didn't have any briar, though, so I just used some random hardwood I had."

Sebastien grew more and more fond of carving pipes, gradually moving away from the wooden sculptures he was crafting before in favor of making pipes. "Pipes are both aesthetically interesting and poetic. A pipe is something that you use; it's not something that you put down just to collect dust," he says. Pipes appealed to Sebastien for their combination of utility and artistry, and he also appreciated their recreational aspect as something beneficial yet not necessary — more of a blessing than a necessity. "Yes, a pipe is something that you actually use, but it's not essential because we don't really need to smoke to survive. I mean, we do as pipe smokers," he jokes. "Some people don't smoke, and they survive anyway — I don't know how they do it — but what I liked about pipes was that inherent tension as something useful but not essential."

For Sebastien, pipes weren't merely tools necessary for tobacco combustion; there was a romanticism, a poetry to them. "When I was young, I would read books about pipes, and they often said that pipes were for intellectuals. I disagreed with that," he says. "To me, pipes are for dreamers: A pipe is an invitation to dream. Maybe pipe smoking helps people think, but to me it was for dreaming." At this time, too, he was reading The Lord of the Rings, and Sebastien connected with Tolkien's love for pipe smoking through those books. "There's that fantastic chapter in The Two Towers when Saruman the White's fortress, Orthanc, is destroyed and they find his tobacco cellar," he says. "The entire chapter talks about tobacco and pipe smoking, and I felt good reading about it." As for many pipe smokers, Sebastien connected to the pipe-smoking community through Lord of the Rings, increasing his desire to continue making pipes of his own.

Saint-Claude's Hospitality

At that time, Sebastien lived in Belfort, France, and decided that he needed to visit the pipe makers of Saint-Claude to learn how to make pipes and to procure briar. "To me as a Frenchman, pipes were all about Saint-Claude. I knew there were Danish pipe makers and everything, but Saint-Claude remains the cradle of the briar," he says.

Pipes appealed to Sebastien for their combination of utility and artistry, and he also appreciated their recreational aspect as something beneficial

In other areas of the pipe-making world, showing up to a pipe factory unannounced would likely be met with raised eyebrows and hurried hospitality. But for Saint-Claude, this phenomenon is normal and encouraged. The town benefits annually from tourists visiting old pipe factories, and there's a long tradition of hosting visitors and giving factory tours throughout the summer. Today, Sebastien and Genod receive around 3,000 visitors a year, so the tradition remains well alive.

"There's a tradition here centered on people visiting the workshops," says Sebastien. "People can walk in my workshop and pay a small fee to see how we make pipes. Genod has been doing this since the 1970s, and other workshops too. There are tours that take tourists around Saint-Claude to see the cathedral and the pipe factories." Not only is this tradition viable income for the local economy and the pipe workshops, but "it's helpful for us as pipe makers to share what we do and how we do it, talk to people, and show them that there are still people who love to work with their hands and make pipes in France," says Sebastien. "It's good for us pipe makers too: We aren't bears in a den," he laughs. "So, we get to talk to new people, and sometimes they give us new ideas. They bring us out of the dust a little bit."

Not only do tourists bring some levity to the work environment and add positive social interaction, their visits also encourage the workshops to stay organized and prepared to receive visitors. "When we make pipes full-time, we just have boxes of stummels and mouthpieces and pipes everywhere in the workshop," he says. "You can't have that in the summer with 50 people around looking at everything, asking questions, walking around. It's not possible." Saint-Claude's tourism tradition divides the year for pipe makers: There's a season of hosting tours and then another devoted solely to pipe making. "Welcoming visitors is a whole other job than making pipes," Sebastien says. "In the summer, we are more dedicated to tours, and in the winter we're more dedicated to pipe making — when we can be more creative and not distracted."

For decades, the pipe factories of Saint-Claude, and Genod in particular, have fostered this tradition of hospitality. It remains as much a part of their identity as pipe making, so if you're ever in eastern France during the summer, don't miss the chance to visit the cradle of pipe making and the historic workshops there, like Genod.

Sebastien in Saint-Claude

Sebastien Beaud: Genod Pipes And The Tradition Of Saint-Claude | Daily Reader

Sebastien's first visit to Saint-Claude was a catalyzing event. "It was a really amazing experience," he says. "I visited the pipe maker Roger Vincent and just took in the feeling of the workshop, everything that was around: the tools, the briar, the shop, all of the finished pipes. I came back home with three blocks, and when I looked at the wood, I felt like it was a cake, something to eat." Sebastien was so affected by the experience that he began returning to Saint-Claude every weekend, taking the train from Belfort and spending a day in workshops. "I would visit Genod and Roger Vincent, and I would just talk to these people," he says. "I felt good in a pipe workshop."

People can walk in my workshop and pay a small fee to see how we make pipes. Genod has been doing this since the 1970s, and other workshops too.

During this period, Sebastien was a university student, studying forest management and fine arts. He was unsure of what exact trajectory he wanted to pursue in the future, but he knew that he felt at home in the workshops of Saint-Claude. "I remember one visit to Roger Vincent when I was just hanging around," Sebastien says. "He was really busy at that moment, and he said to me, 'But in the end, what do you want?' I didn't have an answer to that. I didn't know what I wanted; I just wanted to be there. I just wanted to see the briar. To see him working. To see the tools. To feel like I was in my own workshop. I don't know. I wanted to feel good, and I felt good in this workshop." Looking back now, he sees that while he didn't pursue his specific fields of study, being a pipe maker does, in a way, combine his educational pursuits: "Pipe making is a bit of a mix between forestry and arts, so it was natural for me to become a craftsman, a pipe maker."

After numerous weekend visits, Sebastien eventually started working for Genod as a summer job. "The first year I worked as a salesman in the store, and the second year I worked as a guide for tourists in the workshop," he says. "At that time, though, I still wanted to be a craftsman and have my own workshop, but I wanted to make sculptural, freehand pipes." The opportunity to make pipes finally arrived when Sebastien accepted a position at the EWA workshop in the early 2000s. "I knew a little bit about pipe making and woodworking in general — sanding and everything, but working for EWA, I learned to turn bowls and fit mouthpieces," he says. "This is where I really learned how to use typical Saint-Claude tools and how to make pipes the French way. Then, after work I would go to Roger Vincent's place, and he trained me on sanding and finishing."

It was while working at EWA that Sebastien also developed a love for classic pipe shapes, a departure from his early desire of fashioning more sculptural designs. "After working on classic pipes, I found that for me it was more meaningful to make pipes that people keep in their pockets and that they smoke everyday," he says. "I still appreciated sculptural pipes, but I really wanted to make pipes for everybody, pipes that were good smoking tools." The opportunity to have his own workshop and craft classic, everyday pipes soon arrived when Jacques "Jacky" Craen, the then proprietor of Genod, asked Sebastien if he would be interested in succeeding him as Genod's owner and manufacturer.

Sebastien was so affected by the experience that he began returning to Saint-Claude every weekend

Sebastien Acquires Genod

Sebastien Beaud: Genod Pipes And The Tradition Of Saint-Claude | Daily Reader

"For a while, Jacky kept asking me, 'Do you want to take over my workshop?' I always said, No, I want to make sculptural, freehand pipes,'" says Sebastien. "Eventually, though, I came to the shop and said, 'Okay, I'm ready. I want to do something with you.'" In 2006, Sebastien took over the Genod workshop, but Jacky recognized the benefits of a slow transition, staying on to assist the younger pipe maker. "I was lucky because Jacques was very good. He didn't just sell me his workshop and go away," says Sebastien. "For the full first year after I took over, he would come every morning and ask if I had any questions. Instead of wasting two days looking for a tool and not working at all, I would just wait for the next day and ask him, 'Oh, where did you put such-and-such tool?' That saved a lot of time, a lot of stress. I mean, it went very well; there was a time of transition."

Sebastien's passion for pipes and desire to make them full-time in his own workshop were finally realized, but it was not without hard work. "I was so happy to become a craftsman and to work for myself. It's what I had always wanted since I first started coming to Saint-Claude," he says. "Of course, it was a challenge, but it went well. I had to work hard, and I did. I worked hard, and I can't complain now."

Moreover, taking over Genod and being mentored by Jacky in the process afforded Sebastien new opportunities: He was able to travel to pipe shows and meet new people from around the world, promoting the pipes he was now making. "I love meeting new people, and Jacques took me to the Chicago Pipe Show," he says. "I don't get to take many holidays, but thanks to my job, I can travel and meet a lot of fantastic people."

The opportunity to make pipes finally arrived when Sebastien accepted a position at the EWA workshop in the early 2000s.

Working for himself also provided Sebastien the freedom to create his own schedule and priorities. "With pipe making, you have a lot of freedom. You can meet people. You can travel the world. You can stay in your workshop. You can do anything. You just have to choose," he says. "If I want more tourists, I can advertise more for tourism. If I want to make more pipes, I can just close the door and make more pipes. If I want to travel, I can take a suitcase and travel and go sell pipes anywhere."

Genod History

By acquiring Genod, Sebastien was continuing a history that dated to 1865 when the workshop was established by the Comoy family. Several decades later, George Vincent-Genod — Jacky Craen's grandfather — joined the Saint-Claude workshop. "After the original owners decided to leave in 1923," Sebastien says. "Vincent-Genod kept running the workshop by himself with his employees. Then, he brought his grandson Jacques Craen to work with him."

At this time, the brand "Genod" didn't yet exist as we know it today. The workshop, like many of that era, made pipes for numerous other companies. "Jacky, though, decided to create his own brand and at the same time, to open his workshop to the tourists," Sebastien says. "This was back in the 1970s — 1974, specifically. He created the brand Genod in honor of his grandfather." While Genod as a pipe brand wasn't created until 1974, the workshop — the same shop that Sebastien uses today — is the same one established over a century prior to the Genod brand's official founding.

The Genod Workshop

Sebastien Beaud: Genod Pipes And The Tradition Of Saint-Claude | Daily Reader

For Sebastien, the Genod workshop is a special place. "There's wood everywhere," he says. "There are pieces from the last century and even the century before that. We still have the belts that were linked to the water wheel before 1900, before electricity. That's why it's so important for me to show it to visitors. This workshop is part of a deep, deep history."

With pipe making, you have a lot of freedom. You can meet people. You can travel the world. You can stay in your workshop. You can do anything. You just have to choose

The Genod workshop is a time capsule, preserving over 150 years of pipe-making history. "I might have one of the oldest operating workshops in the world," says Sebastien. "Chacom is an older company, but they moved to a new shop. Genod's workshop is really historically interesting. It's warm because the ceiling and the walls are all wood, and there's all the old machinery."

This old machinery was originally powered by a giant water wheel, but it was replaced after the turn of the 20th century in favor of electricity. Though electric motors now power the workshop's 10 lathes, they're the same lathes from the 19th century, still fashioning pipes over 150 years later.

While Sebastien utilizes this same historic space and the same vintage machines, it's noteworthy that the workshop is not the factory that it used to be, and it's important to Sebastien that the two be differentiated: "I don't like when my workshop is called a 'factory.' I have only one employee, and I'm not a factory. Genod used to be a factory back in the 19th century," he says. "There's this image of the factories of the time — with the belt and the machines by the windows, with large exhibition windows and everything. That was the factory at the time. But today it's just a very small workshop with two people, two friends working with lathes that can turn without electricity. We have an electric motor now, but it's the same principle — theoretically they can turn without electricity."

The frame and the bones of the original Genod factory still exist, and are still used, but it's a much smaller, more intimate workshop today. While each pipe is still made on lathes from the 19th century, they pass through only two pairs of hands now. Sebastien has done well to preserve the identity and history of the original workshop while transforming it into something much more personal and intentional.

Genod's Pipe-Making Process

Sebastien and his colleague, Jean Bouloc, fashion every pipe that leaves the Genod workshop, and they produce roughly 2,000 pipes per year. "I was looking for somebody to help me with production, and Jean was looking for something more interesting than his old job," says Sebastien. "I trained him, and now he does well, very well. He's very meticulous. He pays a lot of attention to details, so it's good." Such a substantial quantity of pipes between only two people requires a very efficient production process, and over the course of Saint-Claude's rich pipe-making history, factories have perfected a systematic method of making pipes — a method that Sebastien and Genod continue.

Though electric motors now power the workshop's 10 lathes, they're the same lathes from the 19th century, still fashioning pipes over 150 years later.

"Back in the day, the lathes and tools were designed by machinists in Saint-Claude specifically for pipe making in Saint-Claude. It's the typical tooling of Saint-Claude, and it's pretty much the same in every workshop. We all basically have the same tools." Such homogeneity ensured that anyone could work in any factory without having to relearn processes specific to each workshop, and it benefitted Sebastien when he started working for Jacky and later acquired Genod: His work at EWA and tutelage under Roger Vincent translated directly to Genod's tooling and process.

The Saint-Claude method of pipe making prioritizes a systematic approach involving multiple lathes, each arranged for a specific pipe-making aspect to eliminate the need for constant adjustment while making a pipe. "We turn the bowl with several lathes," says Sebastien. "We have one that drills the chamber and turns the top of the bowl. Then we turn the shank pretty much the same way, and we have a special tool to turn the bottom. Then we drill the holes, fit the mouthpieces, and refine the stummel by hand on sanding discs."

Some pipe makers around the world utilize a belt sander to complete a stummel's shape, but in Saint-Claude, Sebastien and others use a special type of sanding disc. "We use a special disc," he says. "It's not flat, so you can play with the shape of the disc depending on the shape of the pipe. The discs come in an assortment of shapes. We fold the sandpaper over it, and then we can work with it according to the specific pipe." While this method is now used by pipe makers outside of Saint-Claude, it's endemic to the French city, its origins born out of Saint-Claude's long-standing pipe-making tradition.

Genod Style

Sebastien and Genod's design style is as equally rooted in Saint-Claude's history as the workshop's production process. Classic shapes saturate Genod's portfolio, and they remain virtually unchanged since the workshop's inception in the 1800s. "We make classic shapes," Sebastien says, "because those are the types of pipes that people have in their pocket and smoke regularly, and we showcase the briar's natural grain with simple, traditional finishes. We'll also sometimes add an adornment like a horn or briar mouthpiece."

over the course of Saint-Claude's rich pipe-making history, factories have perfected a systematic method of making pipes

Many of these shapes, too, are based on models from decades ago, and Genod's history and identity are well rooted in the use of horn mouthpieces. Moreover, many of these pipes are crafted from incredibly old briar that's been at the Genod workshop since long before Sebastien even started making pipes. "I have very old briar from decades ago," he says. "Most of the straight shapes I make are from this vintage briar, so it is very dry and very good for smoking. Dry briar and classic designs help make our pipes the best smokers possible."

Not only are Genod pipes crafted in one of the oldest workshop's in Saint-Claude — and by default, the world — their style preserves vintage French pipe design. One would be hard pressed to distinguish a pipe made 100 years ago in the Genod shop from one that Sebastien completed yesterday. For collectors drawn to antique French pipe design, few brands meet the mark like Genod, and the pipes' prices represent an undeniable value for reliable, daily smoking.

The Future of Genod

Much of Genod's success and excellence is rooted in tradition, so pursuing dramatic innovation and modern-day trends isn't a benefit to Sebastien. However, he's continuously inspired to improve his pipes and to make them to the highest standards possible. "People really like the pipes we're making, so our goal is to make more," he says. "We are happy, and we're going to keep making the pipes better, to make them better smokers. But I don't want to grow big, big. We want to stay a family workshop, so we can focus on the pipes, but we're committed to making more pipes and better pipes while improving our efficiency."

Most of the straight shapes I make are from this vintage briar, so it is very dry and very good for smoking. Dry briar and classic designs help make our pipes the best smokers possible."

Though Sebastien has no intentions of leaving pipe making any time soon — he's still quite young — he is eventually interested in following in Jacky's footsteps and finding a protégé to succeed him. He has two kids, and perhaps the workshop can stay in Sebastien's family when he eventually retires. "My daughter helps me in the workshop sometimes, but she just cleans the pipes," he says. "I'll have to figure out if either of my kids really want to pursue pipe making, or if they want to do something else. If they want to do something else, it's not a problem for me. I'll find someone else with good motivation who will be happy to take over exactly the way I did with Jacky."

For the time being, though, Sebastien is committed to stewarding Genod and offering pipe smokers some of the best French pipes available. Explore our current selection of Genod pipes and experience for yourself Sebastien's craftsmanship and the iconic legacy of Saint-Claude pipe making.

Category:   Makers and Artists
Tagged in:   Genod Pipes Sebastien Beaud

Comments

    • Jeff Weiner on April 7, 2024
    • Great article on Genod!! Jacky is a fine gentleman whose lifechas been about pipes and his lovely wife. S├ębastien has taken over and has been doing a fine job carrying on the St. Claude pipe tradition. St. Claude is a special place for pipe smokers and visiting there is time well spent.

    • Olie Sylvester on April 7, 2024
    • Loved reading this. Sebastien is such a great guy and wonderfully unique part of pipe history.

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