Riding into St-Imier I knew right away that the building complex
hugging the valley floor in the distance was Longines' headquarters.
How? From the narrow buildings. Yep, after visiting a slew of
watch companies I've learned a few tricks of the trade. Narrow
buildings increase the amount of light shining in on watchmakers'
St-Imier, population 4,500, is spread upon a steep hillside overlooking
part of the St-Imier valley. Longines' headquarters/factory,
though here since 1832, still sits somewhat isolated on the valley's
floor surrounded by unchanged farmland.
While waiting to find out who ended up with my letter of introduction
sent a month earlier CEO Walter von Kaenel I plop down on one
of the two black sofas and take in the elegant marbled floor
reception/waiting area. Several large black and white photos
of actress Audrey Hepburn (deceased) line one wall. Four vases
of white lilies are scattered about along with six glass displays
of watches. An oversized white bust of Ernest Francillon (1834-1900),
one of the founders of Longines, occupies a corner spot.
An assistant to von Kaenel appears in the lobby and says von
Kaenel isn't here today and that no one knows anything about
my letter. I explain what I do and she (I'm sorry I don't get
her name) heads off to find someone to meet with me. In a few
minutes she returns and says if I wait about 10 minutes Phillppe
Kloeti, Human Resources Manager, will be here. I thank her and
tell her that my most unusual request is to see the CEO's office.
Is it possible to see von Kaenel's office? It turns out to be
no problem for this helpful woman. It's a five-story building
with von Kaenel occupying a corner office on the second floor.
He sits behind a large horseshoe-shaped table. Don't see any
plants, note the computer and the three watch advertisements
on one wall. His view out the window? The town of St-Imier up
Around 240 people work here. Employee parking is plentiful with
cyclists enjoy covered spaces, smoking is allowed in the workplace
and there's a cafeteria. Meeting rooms are named after people
in the company and there's no formal dress code. It's 30 minutes
to the nearest freeway, two hours to Zurich's airport and, employees
enjoy discounts on watches (Longines has been part of the Swatch
Group for 20 years).
My meeting with the disinterested Kloeti lasts all of five minutes.
How was my tour of this facility that dates back more than 150
years? What tour? We sat on the lobby sofas for five minutes
and that was the extent of it.
I had heard of Longines' 400-piece watch museum. However, my
request to see it was quickly quashed by Kloeti. Why? It's by
appointment only. Somehow I have the feeling it could have happened
if Kloeti wanted it to. It's pretty frustrating having made it
to this off-the-beaten-path-location and then given a dismal