Caran d'Ache SA

Checking out watches at jewelry and watch shops to get an idea of prices, advertising and display techniques I began noticing stores also carried high-end writing instruments. Besides the usual names of Montblanc, Waterman and Parker, I kept coming upon Caran d'Ache. It turns out Caran d'Ache is a Swiss company and it's headquartered right here in Geneva. In town for one just one more week I send my letter of introduction to Managing Director Silvio Laurenti with one week's notice of my pending arrival instead of the usual four weeks. Will the company come through?

Boy, I'm four miles from downtown Geneva and you can't get much closer to the French border as it lies about a stone's throw away. You have to pass through a gated entry to set foot on the headquarters/factory complex but it's no problem for me on a bike as I cycle around the restraining bar and unmanned booth.

From information garnered from the company's website I knew the company was founded in downtown Geneva in 1924 and the factory/head office moved out here to the suburbs in 1974. However, the six-story head office building with the company's name in big letters atop the structure looks much older. Time has not been kind to the dowdy-looking building.

The receptionist speaks very little English but seems to understand I want to talk to Managing Director Laurenti's secretary. Six glass display cases grace the lobby each containing spiffy-looking writing instruments. Dated 1929, on one wall hangs a large six-foot by 10-foot painting displaying the vast colors of Caran's crayons. In a few minutes Laurenti's secretary Clair Clevien appears. Aw jeez, Clevien says they hadn't received my letter of introduction but agrees to answer questions even though she's been with the company only a few months.

Sitting in the company's large and blah-looking ground floor cafeteria I talk fast. Why? Lunchtime is over but the place reeks of cigarettes thanks to chain-smoking cafeteria workers taking a break. About 280 people work here. Employee parking is plentiful, smoking is allowed in the workplace, meeting rooms are named after lines of pens, it's less than a mile to the nearest freeway and seven miles to Geneva's airport. Any employee perks? The company's extensive lines of pens and pencils at cost.

I can't see Managing Director Laurenti's second floor middle office because "he's in a meeting". Though I'm near the reception area I could tell his second floor office was nearby because he's a cigar smoker and the stench from a fresh-lit cigar was drifting down. My visit consists of the lobby and cafeteria so I'm out of luck in finally finding out how they put that thin little piece of lead into pencils.