Our Time in Switzerland: Reuniting with the Home of Watchmaking

Cultural Perspectives • 29 Apr 2022

Our Time in Switzerland: Reuniting with the Home of Watchmaking

by Michael Tay

Before Watches and Wonders 2022, The Hour Glass spent a week discovering Swiss watchmaking culture, from integrated manufactures to artisanal ateliers. Michael Tay, Group Managing Director of The Hour Glass, shares his highlights. 

After three years away, it finally happened. Our 40-person team from The Hour Glass arrived in Switzerland one week before the inauguration of a newly formatted Watches and Wonders 2022 and dug deep into Swiss watchmaking culture. Before discovering the year’s novelties at the fair, I wanted to spend the week prior with our team engaging in a series of visits to watch manufacturers, artisanal watchmaking ateliers and component producers. To have them smell the oils of the manufacture and remember why we do what we do. It was the most intense and gratifying two weeks.

We began our Swiss tour in Neuchâtel, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle with Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin, both highly integrated watch manufacturers with the capabilities to produce movements and dials. It was recently announced that Patrick Pruniaux and his talented team at both brands had just acquired the two watchmaking houses from Kering Group in the industry’s first management buyout. Tag Heuer is another brand that has been deeply rooted in La-Chaux-de-Fonds and as a first time visitor to their research institute, brought a new sense of admiration for the seriousness of their R&D capabilities.

We travelled across to the Val-de-Travers range where our old friend and uber indie artisanal watchmaker Kari Voutilainen had just relocated into his new workshop. When we arrived at Chapeau de Napoleon, we were greeted by Kari and his daughter Venla Voutilainen, who had just joined him after returning from a two year stint in the after-sales department at The Hour Glass Singapore.

Read our interview with Kari Voutilainen on Transparency

Part of the trip also took us to Nyon, discovering the region’s artisanal craft of chocolate and winemaking. More importantly, we toured Hublot’s very complete manufacture and were hosted to a most incredible evening there by a couple of my dearest friends in the industry – Ricardo Guadalupe and Miwa Sakai.

It was then onto Geneva where the first stop was to the Patek Philippe Museum, an institution I refer to as ‘The Temple’. Any visit to Geneva is incomplete without a pilgrimage to this Mecca of horology. We were fortunate to have had Dr Peter Friess, the museum’s chief curator, lead us on a tour of the exhibits. This was my 11th visit to the museum and each time, I am delighted one continues to discover new watches and acquire more knowledge.

We ended our pre-W&W tour at the ateliers of Akrivia. Rexhep and his partner Annabelle were gracious hosts and offered the team a fascinating insight into how an intimate independent artisanal workshop functions. Especially when they produce their own movements, cases and components for the 35 watches they make each year.

The Lives of Artists: Rexhep Rexhepi – Crossing the Threshold

More than just the watches on show, our time in Switzerland offered a wonderful opportunity to reunite with our partners and friends again. This is what I feel is one of the most important aspects of this industry and the reason why I love doing what I do.

Tags: independent watchmaking swiss tradition

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