The word manufacture conveys a different meaning in French than it does in English. Originally, in both languages man-u-facture connoted “made by hand” or “made manually” (in French, la main = hand). In English, the term eventually carried an industrial connotation (“manufacture” or “factory”), but in French the word manufacture retains its original connotation of “made by hand” (the French use another word–usine–to mean “industrial factory”).
An important feature that distinguishes French craftsmanship is a history of large-scale artisanal enterprises–manufactures–employing many skilled craftspeople. The story begins in the eighteenth century with the proliferation of manufactures royales, ventures that put the country’s best craftspeople to work churning out Gobelins tapestries, Sevres porcelain, Chantilly lace, and more luxuries–all in the service of the state.
Today, many large French corporations with international status–companies like Baccarat, Bernardaud, Daum, even Hermes and Louis Vuitton–still operate in a similar fashion, employing sometimes thousands of highly skilled craftspeople in a manufacture where they still make traditional goods, at least in part, by hand.