Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunday bike ride in Le Locle past Swiss watch facilities Part 2

I bicycled around the world for more than 20 years visiting the head offices of over 4,000 companies. In 2003/2004 I visited more than 100 Swiss watch companies. On a sunny Sunday 10 years later I decided to cycle past some of the watch companies visited in Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds to see if buildings were renovated, added on to or offices relocated.  Go to my website:, then click on the "Watches and Chocolate" heading to read the stories of my first visits. This is Part Two of my Sunday bike rides with the earlier post of the Geneva area being Part One.  

Nestled in narrow valley in the Jura Mountains, this is the road leading into Le Locle (population11,000).
 Pretty nice looking town hall building.
 Across from the town hall you've got flowers.
This is Zenith, a mish-mash of office and factory buildings some dating more than 100 years ago to a mere 40 years ago. LVMH owns the brand.
Another view of the main entrance to Zenith. Actually, they couldn't tear down some of old structures if they wanted to as they're protected (historic). Zenith is one of only a handful of watchmakers that can use the word "manufacturer" in their name. Zenith produces their own movements.
This multi-building complex stands on the top of a steep hillside and houses the corporate offices/factory of Tissot.
 Tissot is part of the Swatch Group.
 Montblanc occupies this good-looking villa located almost directly across from Tissot.
This level, added under the Montblanc villa, with its floor to ceiling windows is obviously a watch workshop. I received a real crummy reception back in 2004 which wasn't the norm when visiting Richemont brands.
The colors of Ulysee Nardin's buildings are still blue. Though this year (2014) the company was bought by Kering, the French luxury goods firm.
This is a light industrial park on the edge of town and it's some kind of production facility for Audemars Piguet.
Across the street from Audemars Piguet is Choco-Diffusion, a chocolate company visited back in 2004.
Choco-Diffusion specializes in "tourism" chocolate--such as miniature milk cans filled with pieces of chocolate. See their stuff at airports and tourist shops. Quality chocolate isn't what you're buying.
Looking through the office front doors at Choco-Diffusion I spot this pile of gold chocolate bars. Business must be good as up the road a mile I see they have a new warehouse building. One summer I cycled around Switzerland and Belgium visiting chocolate and cookie companies. This was one of the few companies that let me depart without any samples.
Pass by this production facility for Breguet on the outskirts of La Chaux-de-Fonds, population 35,000.
 Thanks to the closed gate, I can't get a closer look at the Breguet facility. Part of Swatch Group.
 Wow, this lone building wasn't here 10 years ago.
On closer inspection I see it's Cartier. Nice looking structure. I take my camera out and start snapping pictures when a voice comes over an intercom located near the red gate telling my I'm not allowed to do that. Yeah right. He says he'll call the police. I told him to go ahead.
 Cycling around the perimeter of the fenced-in Cartier site I see this farm building inside the fence.
Looks like it was recently renovated. I man who lives up the hill from here comes down and talks to me. Says Cartier uses the barn for entertaining and media events.
When I visited Greubel Forsey back in 2004 they had offices near downtown La Chaud-de-Fonds. Now, they've relocated to a light industrial park close to Cartier. Pretty cool looking complex with a converted barn connected to a modernistic structure.
Still remember from my visit in 2004 that the prices of their timepieces STARTED at $300,000 and there was a waiting list. Richemont owns a 20% stake.
Jaquet Droz has this new structure directly across the street from Greubel Forsey. Didn't have them on my list to visit back in 2003/2004. Why? Well it seems the name Jaquet Droz was resurrected not that long away. By who? The Swatch Group.
Watch companies spend lots of money on marketing. One of the tricks I found they do is exaggerate their length of time in business. For instance, Google "Jaquet Droz" and up pops a result from their website saying "since 1738". Well, that part is true but from 1788 to 2000 the company went kaput. In 2000 Swatch got rights to the name and Jaquet Droz had its rebirth. Quite a few watch companies have done this where they find a long dead watch name, buy the rights, start the brand up again, then in their marketing make it seems as though the company has been in business since the 1800's.
This is some kind of new production facility for Patek Philippe.
Side view of Patek Philippe building. Notice the structure is bounded by farmland. The man who walked down from a house up on the hill says the remaining farmland is protected so, this industrial park area can't be expanded
Not too far up the road leading to La Chaux-de-Fonds I find this complex for Breitling.  This is not their head office.  I received a very, very crummy reception from them at their offices near Bienne.  
Louis Vuitton and Dior have offices here.
Tag Heur is in this building. Used to be in the town of Marin. Horrible, horrible treatment from snotty receptionist back in 2002. Part of LVMH.
Production facility for Ulysee Nardin in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Graham and Arnold & Son were in another downtown La Chaux-de-Fonds building when I visited in 2004.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Historic trains in Geneva 2014

It's a late Sunday morning and I'm bicycling around an industrial area near Geneva airport and come across a poster taped to a light pole. It's announcing an exhibit of historic locomotives this weekend. Figuring it would have to be somewhere with train tracks I cycle around and finally find the place. It's a festive atmosphere with the yummy smell of sausages being barbecued.

What's the story? This railroad siding hadn't been used in years and was recently repaired and reopened so, ABB (a large industrial Swiss company with a warehouse facility to the right of the green train) and several other businesses in the area put this exhibit together as a sort of grand re-opening party.
 I count 12 locomotives with about half French and half Swiss.

I wouldn't be surprised if the French trains were from the huge train museum in Mulhouse, France I visited several years ago.

So, what was really cool about this exhibit was the fact visitors could climb into the train cabs and engine rooms---something that has ALWAYS been forbidden at all the train museums I've ever visited.

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.