Sunday, September 8, 2019

La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland (Part 2) Swiss Watches

In 2018 Swiss watch companies generated sales of more than $51 BILLION. In 2003/2004 I cycled around Switzerland visiting more than 100 Swiss watch companies. Diving into the secretive world of watchmaking was fascinating. You can read these stories at On a Sunday in 2014 I cycled around Le Chaux-de-Fonds and nearby Le Locle cycling past watch companies to see if buildings were added on to, renovated or offices relocated. You can read those stories by going to the 2014 archives of this blog. So, today (a Saturday in August 2019) I thought it would be fun to just cycle around La Chaux-de-Fonds and see how many companies I can spot who are in the watch business.

Figuring out what Montremo (the company in the above photo) does isn't too difficult as those are watch dials on the sign. Checking out their website I learn they are an independent enterprise.

This is the backside of Montremo's factory/head office. Business must be good as they are adding an addition.
I visited Corum watches back in 2003 and received a nice reception. They're located directly next door to Montremo. In 2013 Corum was bought by a Chinese company. The surrounding area is primarily residential. 
Beauregard Manufacture SA occupies a two-story building on the main drag through La Chaux-de-Fonds. It's an independent enterprise making parts for watch bracelets--more specifically pins, screws and laser welding bracelets.

This two-story intriguing-looking building stands in an industrial area in downtown La Chaux-de-Fonds.  There's no name or plaque on the building--not even a mailbox. You can't see a thing when peeking in the front door windows as it's blocked off and looks like it's no longer used as an entry door. From past experiences, I'm 100% sure the place has something to do with watches due to its large windows (watchmakers need lots of light) and secure look (watch companies use precious metals and gems). After circling around the building several times I was just about to give up when a guy walks out a side door.  I told him I'm from California and was cycling around town looking for watch companies. He says, "you'll find a lot of them around here". I ask him what goes on in the building and he replies, "it's a goldsmith".  Bingo!

Back in 2004 I visited head offices of The British Master SA located several blocks from this photo. They own several watch brands; Graham and, Arnold & Son. Both watch brands have offices in this building which houses other tenants.
 This two-story building sits on a hillside and peeking in the reception area windows (it's Saturday) I don't see anything inside telling me what they do.  See next photo.
Using this sign out front of the building I check the internet for G & F Chatelain SA. Wow, they make watch & jewelry components AND, they are owned by Chanel. It's here they make those white ceramic watches for Chanel and the other brand Chanel owns: Bell & Ross. Plus, they do contract work for other watch brands.
Business must be good at G & F Chatelain 'cause they've just added a large structure to the 80,000 square foot main building. Over 350 employees work here.
 Back in 2014 I saw this building being built. It's some kind of production facility for Patek Philippe.
This building stands in front of the Patek Philippe building.  Fehr has been in business since 1924 and manufactures watch dials.
 This is the rear part of Fehr's building. The company is independent.
Back in 2014 I cycled past here. Greubel Forsey creates unbelievable watches--with prices to match. Founded in 2001 I visited their previous rented digs in La Chaux-de-Fonds back in 2004. They specialize in watches with tourbillon--which adds mega-bucks to the price. Richemont bought a 20% stake in 2006.
 Greubel Forsey's place was built in 2009.  This new modern structure was built into the landscape and connects to an adjacent ancient farmhouse.
Peeking in the front door windows of Greubel Forsey's farmhouse it looks like the space is used as the company cafeteria. This building dates back to 1736. How do I know?  Check next photo.
 This date is stamped above one of the windows.
This is Cartier's watch production facility. I cycled up to it back in 2014.
 This is a renovated farmhouse to the left of Cartier's production facility. In 2014 a farmer told me it's used by Cartier for entertaining and media events.
I cycled past Sellita's new building back in 2014 and at the time I wasn't aware of its significance. Sellita manufactures watch movements. So? ETA, a subsidiary of the Swatch Group, has for years held a virtual monopoly over the manufacturing of watch movements. Besides supplying Swatch Group's 19 watch brands with movements it also supplied outsiders. In 2002 Swatch Group's CEO announced they weren't going to supply outsiders (competitors!). This would have been catastrophic to the hundreds of small and mid-sized watch companies which relied of ETA parts because there were practically zilch alternatives. The Swiss government intervened and ordered ETA to continue supplying movements until January 2020. So, guess who has stepped up to the plate and become ETA's closest competitor. Yep, Sellita.
Evidently things are going well for Sellita as this covered walkway bridge goes from their main building to a brand new addition across the road.
This is Sellita's new building addition--which isn't quite finished. 
Universo occupies this building. Back in 2014 it was under construction when I cycled past. Universo manufactures watch hands. It's part of the Swatch Group.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland (Part 1)

It's Saturday and there's a weekend festival in downtown La Chaux-de-Fonds, population 38,000. The main drag through town is blocked off with food stalls and a carnival taking over. That would probably explain why there's no water spraying out of this beautiful fountain---note the turtles. **Don't forget you can click on each image and it'll enlarge. Nestled in a valley smack dab in the middle of the Jura mountains, La Chaux-de-Fonds is also known as the "Siberia of Switzerland". From what I've heard winters can be long, cold and overcast (yikes!).
The whole city of La Chaux-de-Fonds has been designated a UNESCO site.  Le Corbusier (1887-1965), one of the world's most famous architects was born here. This house is is called "Maison blanche" or White house. Le Corbusier designed the house in 1911.
Le Corbusier was only 24 years old when designed "Maison blanche". Who was the house for? His parents. By the way, his parents had to move out after 10 years to a more affordable modest home down the steep hillside.
Just around the corner from "Maison blanche" is another of Le Corbusier's works.  Villa Jaquemet was built in 1908. Jeez, Le Corbusier was only 21 years old!
 It's fun cycling along the heavily forested steep hillsides of the city.
These aren't fancy villas like the two Le Corbusier properties but, quite a few wood chalets are tucked away in the forest.
 Why the heck would these people want a Tyrannosaur rex in their front yard is beyond me!
A half-block from the Tyrannosaur rex stands this cool-looking watchtower(?) home with a clock face in the middle. How old is it? Does somebody live there? Down the street I meet an older couple in their front yard---who look like they've lived there for years. The wife speaks English and says she knows nothing about the place except that it's part of a compound located on the other side of a deep canyon.  Jeez, how could this couple not be curious of its history?
So, I make my way around the canyon to find this view. I wonder if the tower is used as a guest cottage?
This street is named Rue Louis-Joseph-Chevrolet. Why? Louis Chevrolet (1878-1941), co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911, was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The main fire station in La Chaux-de-Fonds is having an open house today and showing off all their fire fighting equipment including new and old trucks. I'm dating this one from the 1960's?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Lake Zurich, Switzerland Part Two

 On the edge of Rapperswil (population 27,000) a farmer has gone whole hog to sell his wares.  
It's somewhat common finding self-service vending machines near farms dispensing fresh milk. In France I've come across many boulangeries with vending machines outside their shops for after hours shoppers who need their baguette fix. But, this farmer has gone big time with his offerings. I count 66 items for sale including apricots, cherries, apples, juices, various jams and bottles of wine.
 All the goodies look to be home made. But what about the wine for sale? Go to next photo.
 The wine is from the farmer's hillside vineyard located just a few yards away.
A view of downtown Rapperswil. Zurich (population 400,000) anchors one end of the lake and Rapperswil anchors the other end.
 Another view of Rapperswil and its castle.
 A nice day for boating on the lake.
 People in Zurich seem to have a thing for placing statues on their balconies.
 This couple is naked.
 This wooden chicken rules the roost.
 Wood carving in downtown Zurich.
The Limmat River flows through Zurich's city center.  Part of it has been diverted and turned into a humongous fresh water, slowly flowing swimming pool for the locals. Many office workers grab a quick swim during lunch.
This Italian coffee shop/bakery is my "go to" place for pastries in Zurich. They have absolutely the best cannoli.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Lake Zurich, Switzerland Part One

In this photo you can see Lake Zurich in the distance. It's about a 60 mile bike ride around the lake.  Steep hillsides rise up around most of the lake. Densely populated towns and villages line the shore. However, get above the ridge line of the hills and it's sparsely populated with beautiful farmland. I live in southern Switzerland (French-speaking part) and every summer my bike and I head up to northern Switzerland (German-speaking part) and do some exploring. These are photos from around the lake.
Lots of farms and cows. These are "normal" cows--- you know the ones for milk, cheese and chocolate.
Believe it our not, these are Texas Longhorns. What the heck are they doing in Switzerland? (check out the huge horns). There's a sign posted on the fence (it's in German) but I see the words "Texas Longhorns".
 This house has lots of flowers. Click on the photo to to enlarge.
 These goats climbed up on the roof to get a better look at me.
Cycling the back roads take you past farms with self-service stalls (you pay via the honor system).
 House flying the Swiss flag.
So, I've been cycling past this place for years. Note the building scaffolding on the left. Story continues with next photo.
For years it was an abandoned former hydraulics factory. Located smack dab in the middle of a residential area way above Lake Zurich. Any property around Lake Zurich is mucho bucks. About four years ago I saw renovations going on at the site and I assumed the town was repurposing the site as a sports complex (indoor pool, soccer etc...). There was an onsite construction office and I walked in and asked the guy what was going on here. The man wouldn't answer me and said it was private property.  Story continues with next photo.
Three years ago I pedaled past the site and found several of the structures had been renovated and several more were in the process of getting a makeover. I stopped by the onsite construction office again and was again given the runaround by the same guy.  I asked him why he was being so secretive but he just shrugged his shoulders. Story continues with next photo.
So, I went around to the backside of the site and found a mailbox with the name "Galerie Bruno Bischofberger AG" stamped on it. That night I went on the internet and found my answer as to what the heck is going on here.  Swiss born Bruno Bischofberger, 79 years old, is a very well connected art dealer and for decades had a gallery in central Zurich.  He made a fortune. How? He was responsible for bringing 20th century American pop art to Europe--including artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg.  However, his big claim to fame was his longtime business relationship with Andy Warhol. In 1968 Bischofberger entered a "first right of refusal" contract with Warhol and it lasted until the artist's death in 1987. In other words, he got first dibs on Warhol's works. Story continues with next photo.  
Bischofberger lives close by and has a huge personal collection of not only 20th century art but, Swiss folk art, furniture, glassware, ceramics, silver and more.  So far, six buildings here have been converted from industrial sheds including three clad in concrete and three in aluminum or steel. Who's responsible for each building's design? His daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are architects. Oh, and one more little tidbit. So far, there's 250,000 square feet of space for Bischofberger to show and store his collection. To put that in perspective: an American football field (including the end zones) is 57,600 feet ------put five of those together and you've got the size of Bischofberger campus. Supposedly when all the construction is finished it'll be open to the public.
 Saw this out front of a home.
Another view of Lake Zurich from high above.
On the shoreline road that wraps around the lake you pass the head office and original factory of chocolate heavyweight Lindt & Sprungli. The smell of chocolate is always in the air.
Don't recognize the Lindt name? Their high-end chocolate is big in Europe. Company revenues were over $4 billion last year. They've been located at this site since 1899.  Did you know the company bought Ghirardelli in 1998 and bought Russell Stover candies and Whitman's chocolates in the USA back in 2014?