Longines



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' workbenches.

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 the hill.

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 reception.