D. Swarovski & Co.

It's Saturday and I've just cycled into Innsbruck. Many times when arriving in a city over the weekend I'll spend the time scouting the locations of companies to be visited. On Monday I plan to visit Swarovski, the world's largest manufacturer of cut crystal, so Sunday morning I take a practice ride to their offices in Wattens.

Wattens, with a population of probably 5,000, lies a dozen miles east of Innsbruck. In the city center I find a larger than life-size statue of Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) who founded the company here back in 1895. A few minutes more riding around this small town brings me to the entrance of a Swarovski plant located amidst a residential area. I ask the guard at the gated entry if this is where the corporate offices are located and he points to a building about 20 yards away. I always like to ride around the perimeters of these factories just to get an idea as to their size so it's off I go. It's a big facility and goes on for blocks. What's amazing is what I find on the other side of the factory: Swarovski Crystal Worlds. Be sure to click on the photo accompanying this story to get a better look at this sparkly-eyed, water-spouting head of an Alpine giant. It's 11 AM on a Sunday morning and there must be a dozen tour buses lined up in the large parking lot. I ask myself, what the heck is all this?

Opened in 1995, Swarovski Crystal Worlds is the most visited cultural-tourist attraction in Western Austria. Over 3.8 million people have toured the 20,000 square foot visitor center, which is entered by walking under the giant's mouth. It's been so successful that they're currently constructing a 20,000 square foot addition. I have a feeling they'll be showing this off to me on Monday. Continuing my ride around the perimeter of the factory I now pass a half dozen or so homes built behind a wall. Mature trees and dense vegetation tells you the homes have been here for quite a while. Hmm, could this be the Swarovski family compound? In town I find a visitor's information board with an aerial view of the area posted on the board. Yep, it looks like a family compound and it's adjacent to the Swarovski plant.

Privately held D. Swarovski & Company generates revenues of $1.7 billion and employs 13,400 people. A business magazine ranks the Swarovski family as one of wealthiest in Europe.

It's a rainy Monday morning as I arrive at the head office building and check in with receptionist Andrea Pichler, who is wearing a Swarovski bracelet. Sabine Buechele, International PR Department, is my contact person. The reception area contains black tables with gray chairs, white walls and a gray floor. Pictures with glass designs of animal figurines hang on the walls and there's a mixture of real and fake plants scattered about. It isn't until I have a look in the 10 glass enclosed cases around the room that I realize how much Swarovski's products are in everyday use. Women wearing shoes, purses, necklaces and dresses with beads of crystal are more than likely to be from Swarovski. At John F. Kennedy's birthday party in 1962, Marilyn Monroe wore an evening dress sparkling with more than 10,000 Swarovski crystals. The dress was later auctioned for $1 million. Remember entertainer Liberace? His outrageous clothes and even his piano were encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Go to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and the Chateau of Versailles in Paris and you'll find Swarovski chandeliers. You know those reflective glass-like pieces embedded in roadways to help keep you in your lane (pavement markers)? Those are from Swarovski along with grinding tools and abrasives. Go into a sporting goods store and ask to see top-of-the-line binoculars for hunting and bird watching? Yep, it's a good chance they'll show you Swarovski binoculars.

Buechele greets me in the lobby and suggests going over to Crystal Worlds for a tour. Sounds good to me. Jeez, the place is crawling with tourists. Inside the giant are seven underground chambers each having a different theme. Crystalline works of art by artists such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring can be found along with the world's biggest crystal (weighing 135 pounds). Personally, I'm most impressed with the immense see-through wall inside one chamber containing 12 TONS of colorful cut crystal stones.

After the tour we head for the lounge area where we sit down and go through my questions. How many people work in the head office? They don't break it down. Besides this factory there's another several miles away. A combined total of 5,400 employees work in the two, which obviously gives credence to calling Wattens a company town. The tallest building in the complex is nine stories. Parking isn't a problem here with plenty to go around. Smoking is allowed in the offices, it's 20 minutes to nearest airport (Innsbruck), five minutes to nearest freeway and though there's no corporate aircraft there's a helipad.

My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is denied. Why? Buechele says outsiders aren't allowed in the factory. "But isn't senior management in an office building?" I ask. Buechele says management is spread among a variety of buildings. I ask if I can see Helmut Swarovski's office, he's on the Board of Management. "No", answers Buechele. "Why?" I ask. It's then I learn the reason. According to Buechele they don't allow outsiders onto the premises because the process Swarovski uses to produce crystals is a trade secret. Somewhat incredulous I say, "What? You mean other companies can't do what Swarovski does?" "No", she answers. Buechele goes on to say that the machinery used in crystal production is built in-house, thus not letting outsiders know how it's done. Wow, I never realized this. Still, I'm not interested in seeing the factory-only the offices of senior management. Sounds like a lame reason to keep out visitors.

The charming Buechele doesn't let me leave empty-handed. I'm given two cool gifts; one is a tiny crystal globe-for my global trek and the other is a tiny crystal-laden bicycle.

Oh, and for a final piece of trivia. Remember back in 1972 when the "Mood Stone" became the rage? You know, the stone that changes its color according to the mood of its wearer? Swarovski was/is the main supplier