Girard-Perregaux SA

I'm just a novice when it comes to watches but I've heard of Girard-Perregaux and its high-end timepieces. The four-story blue and white headquarters/factory building was built in 1948 and renovated in 1988. It's in a residential area a few minutes walk to downtown La Chaux-de-Fonds (population 35,000) and a few blocks from Ebel, another watch company visited earlier in the day.

The tiny reception contains two small black chairs and a small coffee table. Evidently the indifferent receptionist finds me unimportant as I stand in front of her for a good five minutes while she seems to be engaging in a personal conversation on the phone.

My contact person Dimitri Aubert, Sales & Marketing, is a nice enough guy and I'm grateful for him finding the time to meet with me. However, it's a very disappointing visit. You'd think having read the news clippings (several are enclosed with the letter of introduction) and having checked my website; he'd have an idea about what I've been doing for the past 17 years. Does he think I made my way from California to Girard-Perregaux's headquarters just for a 10-minute talk in a meeting room? Hello! What's so difficult about taking a quick walk around the place to get a feel of the working environment? Do people have offices, cubicles or share working space? What's the décor like?

About 190 people work here and in a nearby building. Parking isn't a problem, smoking is allowed only in private offices and there's no cafeteria but a breakroom (with microwave). It's one hour and a half to Geneva's airport, two and a half hours to Zurich's airport and there's no formal dress code. Any employee perks? One watch a year can be purchased at a discount. I can't see CEO Gino Macaluso's top floor middle office because "he's in".

Anything unusual about their corporate offices? Yes, across the street is an impressive-looking turn-of-the-century villa housing the company's watch museum. A company brochure touts how, "every year, Girard-Perregaux welcomes a stream of visitors to its museum". Well that doesn't include me as Aubert denies my request for a look inside because "it's by appointment only".

Girard-Perregaux watches range in price from 7,500 Swiss francs (about $5,000) to 500,000 Swiss francs ($375,000). What do I think of them? Except for the one Aubert was sporting I never saw or was shown any. A savvy sales and marketing guy would not have let that happen and, would have made sure I was shown the museum.