Being the largest family-owned company within the fine jewellery and watches industry, Wempe strives to produce jewellery and watches of the highest of quality, that last forever and can be passed on through people’s own family for generations to come. FOUR catches up with Managing Director, Lynn Schroeder, at Wempe’s illustrious London store on Bond Street, who gives us a 101 on all things Wempe and tells us there is something very exciting afoot for its new jewellery line…
Tell me about Wempe and its stores…
We are the biggest family owned company within the industry which has been around since 1878. Mrs Wempe is the fourth generation and the driving force within the company. We now operate in seven countries including New York, Madrid, Paris, London, Beijing, Vienna and Germany where, given it is the country where Wempe first began, we have 19 stores.
What is it exactly that Wempe are known for and people are drawn to because of?
I think our customers are drawn to Wempe because of the product that we have to sell. Mrs Wempe started a new initiative around 12 years ago, which saw us producing our own products as well as buying and selling other quality products. In this day and age, I think is quite unique for a company to say they are a brand and not just a retailer. Turning from a retailer into an own brand means we are now producing our own jewellery and our own watches. In a few words: we’re constantly evolving as a company.
What started the transition from a retailer to a brand?
When Wempe first began, Mr Wempe wanted to make sure that a customer who had just finished an apprenticeship or who was maybe only 21 years old and he or she wanted to buy themselves something very special, that they will always be sure that they can find something in Wempe. Over the last 15 years or so, watch brands have become more expensive. Mr Wempe wanted these customers to come into the store and find something no matter what their price range was. That inspired the process to start producing our own watches and to become a brand, rather than just a retailer. With our jewellery, there was a time when Mrs Wempe went to jewellery fairs and she looked at buying items. Increasingly, she began enjoying the products that she held in her hand less and less and questioned whether to put her name on them. That was when she decided it was time for Wempe to start creating its own jewellery, to the quality that the Wempe’s name stands for.
With evolution in mind, how does Wempe adapt to changes in fashion and trends. Are your designs classic or are they fashion-led?
Wempe’s evolutionary philosophy does show up in our designs because we want to watch out for the needs of our customers. When there were fluctuations in the economy and people were not so sure how or what to spend their money on. So, we decided to go a very conservative quality route: simple but extremely good quality. That’s because in the long term, our customers appreciate more than quick designs. They want to have recognition throughout the years. So we started to develop that in our jewellery line. We developed our designs and we thought things through so that the quality is so significant that our customers can pass on their buys to their children, too.
Aside from simplicity and quality what is Wempe’s key philosophy?
Customer service. We want to make sure that our customer knows the advantages of coming here. Everything that we do, or any new systems we put in place, how we train ourselves, the main focus is: the advantage of the customer. Everything from customer events, to advertising, our watch service to the way that we treat people and the experience they have when they come into the store - even the after service following the sale in itself - we are always trying to make sure we get the best for the customer and we go the extra mile. We are very well known through customer service.
We also don’t like to see ourselves as a retailer. We like to think of ourselves as being a partner for life. Years ago, you would have your doctor and you had your lawyer, both of whom you would visit tie and time again when you need them. You also had your jeweller whom you would invest the same trust in. People take note of that loyalty and pass it on through generations. Everything that is related to luxury has a certain element of trust. You get to know who are supplying you with your products and learn to trust them. Diamonds are a very good example. If you don’t trust your jeweller or you haven’t built up a good relationship with them, how do you know that what you have is really what they say it is? That’s not how we like to operate. We see ourselves as a jeweller and as a partner for life. We are not here for the quick sale, we’re here for the long run.
Tell me about how Wempe sources its materials and its manufacturing process…
We work with very trustworthy diamond suppliers in Antwerp. We have an in-house diamond grader who, as we speak, is flying to Antwerp to make sure that all we buy is the quality that we expect. Every single stone is viewed by her before we take it in. All of our diamonds are sourced from legitimate partners and all of our diamonds are track able.
Our atelier in Germany has a team of 40 people, including designers where the designing, setting and complete production takes place.
I would say from all the jewellery we have, about 70% of is manufactured in our atelier, which is in Germany close to Stuttgart. We also buy things in addition from very select partners who we have long-term relationships with. These are partners who are well known for their quality and expertise in the industry and every once in a while we will buy from them.
Tell me about Wempe’s well-renowned watches…
We work with the most prestigious watch brands in the world for our watches, including: Cartier, Lange and Soehne, Vacheron Constantine, IWC and Panerai. We sell these brands watches here on their behalf but we also have our own watches. We now have two watch brands of our own. One is called Zeitmeister, which is a collection of simple, automatic or manual winding watches with some functions. For these watches, we do not manufacture the movement but everything else. We also we have another line, Chronometerwerke, where we manufacture the mechanism as well. So we do both!
I should also mention that we are also the biggest ship clock supplier in the world! We have a strong ship clock history. The manufacture of our watches is what relied on that history.
What should we be watching out for this year from Wempe?
There are a few things. Right now we are introducing a new jewellery line called Voyage, which is set to be released in April. It is for the modern woman who travels a lot and likes her wardrobe to have a variety of jewellery to match and it is the talking piece of the summer. The price range is between £500 and £2,500 and the idea is that you can pick and choose and put different varieties of the rings together.
Another project is one which hasn’t been announced yet so I can only give you the bare details! We are in the process of designing a few jewellery masterpieces. The inspiration is coming from 11 world cities. These masterpieces will end up in a museum and from these masterpieces - which will all be rings and will be designed by our in-house designer and her view of a particular city – we will then create a completely new jewellery line inspired by this.