Montres Corum S.A.

La Chaux-de-Fonds, situated at an altitude of 1,000 meters and home to 35,000 inhabitants, likes to brag about its status as the highest city/town in Europe. Though it's June and a very hot 80-something degrees right now, in the winter La Chaux-de-Fonds gets called the Siberia of Switzerland.

It's a steep ride from the city center to reach Corum's headquarters/factory on the hillside. Walking would probably take ten minutes. The facility sits in a mixed-use area with residential homes located across the street.

Standing in front of Corum's complex one can immediately see the dramatic differences in ages of the buildings. Directly ahead stands a modern four-story, all-glass structure built in 1995 and acting as bookends and connected to the glass structure are two brown, three-story 1960's buildings.

After checking in with the two friendly receptionists I peruse the eight watch display cases in the lobby. Though a watch novice, I immediately recognize one display containing a Coin watch. Introduced in 1964, what Corum has essentially done is to make a watch using an American $20 "Double Eagle" gold coin. How much for one? With an 18 carat gold bracelet it's your for a cool 24,750 Swiss francs or about $18,000.

Oh, oh, it doesn't look good as I'm told they hadn't received my letter of introduction sent a month earlier to CEO Severin Wunderman. This sounds a little strange as the letter was mailed via Swiss Post less than 60 miles away. Rene Bannwart founded Corum in 1955 and in 2000 the company was sold to Wunderman.

Time ticks away as I sit in the lobby while they try to find someone to meet with me. Actually, the waiting isn't so bad. Why? From the big picture windows in the waiting area one can look across a small empty field to the zoo. What? Yep, La Chaux-de-Fond's public zoo is a stone's throw away and guess what? Admission is free. From my seat I can see black bears pacing around their enclosures. A large somewhat abstract oil painting of CEO Wunderman hangs on a downstairs wall near the reception area.

It's about 5:15 PM when Nicole Baume, Public Relations, greets me. Though she has no advance warning as to what I'm doing Baume ends up giving me a nice reception and tour of the facility.

There's plenty of employee parking, no smoking in the workplace, the cafeteria serves hot food, there's no formal dress code and it's two hours to Geneva's airport. Any unusual employee perks? Discount on the purchase of a Corum watch.

CEO Wunderman's corner office on the second floor isn't very big and except for the hardwood floor is spartanly furnished. However, his office walls are unusual. Why? All the walls are completely covered with press clippings on Wunderman.