November 19, 2019
Wempe’s first watch shop opened in a small German town in 1878. The family-owned company still keeps up tradition—with some modern twists.
The German observatory was purchased by CEO Eva-Kim Wempe in 2005.
More than a century ago, in an isolated village nestled in the eastern part of Germany, watchmaking as we know it was born. Today, the town of Glashütte’s economy is dependent on the craft, which is why it seems fitting that Wempe (700 Fifth Ave.), the family timepiece retail business that evolved to manufacture its own line a little more than 10 years ago, would choose it as a home base.
“We were a little frustrated because most of the other watch companies went up-market and neglected the first-time customer,” says Wempe President Rudy Albers. “And then we decided if no one makes this watch we’d like to offer, we’re going to have to make it ourselves.”
The wristwatches, Wempe Chronometerwerke Glashütte i/SA and Wempe Zeitmeister Glashütte i/SA, bear the family name and are manufactured in a renovated observatory, the first chronometer testing center in Germany.
“The Swiss have their chronometer standards, but the Germans’ tend to be more stringent—the watches are tested in the very final stage—and they have to undergo testing at different temperatures, positions... once it passes testing, that’s when we call it a chronometer,” Albers says. The process is comprehensive—it takes 15 days, and the watch’s largest rate deviation must not exceed five seconds. German accuracy standards dictate that it must also be possible to set the time down to the very second. Only then has a wristwatch earned the right to be called a chronometer.
Wempe’s strict standards aren’t limited to only the precision of its timepieces, though. Michaela Kesselman, the head jewelry buyer at Wempe’s American branch, is responsible for sourcing the gems that adorn both timepieces and well as the company’s own line of jewelry, introduced in 1992. Beyond scrutinizing gems and precious materials for purity and aesthetics, the company takes the ethics of sourcing seriously. Wempe adheres to the Kimberley Process, an international commitment to removing conflict diamonds from the supply chain.
Along with making sure that the company is sourcing materials of the utmost quality, Kesselman’s job is to make what’s old new again. Although Wempe aims to create jewelry that will stand the test of time, if a piece needs a fresh update, the company offers jewelry remodeling services to give it a new lease on life. All of this adds up to what Kesselman calls “a value that can be felt.”
Photography by: Courtesy of Wempe