Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sunday bike ride in Geneva past Swiss watch facilities Part 1

For more than 20 years I bicycled around the world visiting the head offices of over 4,000 of the world’s biggest companies ( In 2003 and 2004 I visited more than 100 Swiss watch companies. The Swiss watch industry generates something like $20 BILLION in revenues a year. Being a complete watch novice, a great time was had visiting and learning about this somewhat secretive but fascinating business. 

Sunday is my favorite day bicycling in a city as traffic is sparse and nobody’s around—especially in Switzerland with retail stores required to close. So, I thought it would be fun on a Sunday to cycle past some of the watch companies visited 10 years ago to see if buildings were added/subtracted or companies moved to new premises. So, unless you are a watch aficionado you’ll probably find these photos boring. 

Go to my website: and click on the "Watches and Chocolate" heading to read the stories from 2003/2004. Following this posting there will be a Part Two featuring more watch companies revisited in the Swiss Jura area.    

I'm in a light industrial area less than a mile from Geneva Airport and since my 2003 visit Chopard had added another connecting building to its head office/factory complex.

 This building stands to the left of the buildings in the previous photo.
 This is the rear of Chopard's property. Watch price category: high-end
This new, not completely finished, unmarked building sits on the edge of Chopard's property. Is it part of Chopard? Being curious, I stop a man walking his dog. The man lives nearby and says it's workspace for independent watchmakers----sort of a cooperative. Hmm makes sense. Plenty of new independent watchmakers have started up. Why? Most have worked for the major watch companies and want to do their own thing. An even more compelling reason: profit margins on watches are huge. I'm still curious as to whether Chopard owned or still owns the property or maybe the land was donated?
A couple blocks from Chopard I see a sign for Montres DeWitt. This is good news as I visited the company back when it was just starting out. Located on a beautiful estate in the Geneva countryside, offices were in the owner's splendid chateau with the watch workshop in an impressive guest cottage.
 This is the side of the building for DeWitt.  Watch price category: high-end.
Also a few blocks for Chopard stands Roger Dubuis. Visited the place when it was brand spanking new.
 Another view of Roger Dubuis--now 60% owned by Richemont Group. Watch price category: high-end.
 From the parking lot of Roger Dubuis I could toss a grapefruit to this complex going up next door.
 Richemont, owner of a slew of luxury watch brands, is building a multi-building campus.
Another view of Richemont construction site. 

In another light industrial park roughly four miles from Geneva one finds Patek Philippe's head office/factory complex. It's tough taking photos as much of it is hidden behind shrubbery. Great memory of an excellent reception. 

 Side street view of Patek Philippe's factory. Watch price category: high-end
The building on the left is part of Patek Philippe and on the right is Rolex. How about that, two of the "big boys" in the watch industry stand side by side.
Another view of the front of connecting Rolex buildings. In the city of Bienne, Rolex has a massive production complex of modern black reflective buildings similar to these which run for several blocks.  Watch price category: high-end.
Several blocks from Patek Philippe/Rolex stands Frederique Constant. Wow, when visiting back in 2003 offices were on the other side of town in an ugly warehouse-type building from the 1960's. Watch price category: low to middle ($500 to $3000).
Harry Winston, known more for jewelry than watches, wasn't on my list to visit back in 2003/2004 probably because they didn't have their own facility/people doing the timepieces. I bet it was contracted out. What do I mean?  Well, guess I'll have to tell you this story:

More than 30 years ago I was bicycling through downtown La Jolla, California and spotted a wallet near the curb. I stopped, checked it out and ended up putting it in an envelope and mailing it back to the owner in New York City. Several weeks later I receive a package in the mail. Turned out to be a Tiffany clock and enclosed was a note from the man's wife thanking me for returning the wallet. So, 10 years ago while visiting a watch company I was being shown around by the CEO and I spotted the exact same Tiffany clock--though without the Tiffany name stamped on it. The CEO said they manufacture all of Tiffany's clocks but, asked me not to mention it. He went on to say that watch companies contracting with other watch companies to put together their timepieces happens quite a bit.
 Side view of Harry Winston across an empty lot. The Swatch Group now owns Harry Winston.
This is Piaget's head office/factory. I visited Piaget back in 1996 when they were located on the other side of Geneva in a former cigarette factory. Nice upgrade.
 Rear view of Piaget complex. Owned by Richemont Group. Watch price category: upper to high-end
Visited Vacheron Constantin back in 2002. Head office was at their flagship store in downtown Geneva. Don't know if this is a production center or also the new head office.
View of Vacheron Constantin from the backside where you can see a new building being added. Watch price category: high-end.
In 2002 I visited Raymond Weil and thanks to its CEO, it gets the prize for the worst reception received at a watch company. If you looked up the word "jerk" in the dictionary you would probably find a picture of CEO Oliver Bernheim. How did he get his job? It probably helps when you marry Founder Raymond Weil's daughter. Watch price category: low to mid-range.

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