From what I've seen riding around Geneva and from what I've heard
and read, the most well-to-do-area to live in is suburban Cologny.
Located only a few miles from downtown Geneva, the homes in Cologny
are large with great views overlooking Lake Geneva. However,
if you keep going further past Cologny you'll end up in Vandoeuvres,
a heavily-wooded area with large estates and country living.
I'm here in Vandoeuvres looking for a watch company called Cederic
Johner and it's absolutely gorgeous cycling along the quiet country
roads. It's around 8:15 AM and drizzling when I come upon the
address. It's a house set back from the road with closed iron
gates blocking entry. Looking through the fence I see grounds
that seem to go on forever. Curious as to the size of the property
I decide to follow the road and fence/wall. Jeez, the wall goes
on for several blocks. At the other end of the property stands
an impressive several hundred year-old mansion. Going back to
the closed iron gates I spot the names DeWitt and Cederic Johner
taped to the mailbox. I buzz the buzzer/intercom and a woman's
voice comes on. I explain who I am and how I sent a letter of
introduction a month earlier to Cederic Johner. The woman says
Cederic Johner no longer exists and has been taken over by DeWitt.
Hmm, I've never heard of DeWitt and ask if I could have some
literature. The woman agrees and buzzes open the gate.
I'm greeted by Laurence Borcard-Bovet at the door and learn they're
actually closed for vacation. "So why are you working then?",
I ask. Borcard-Bovet heads up marketing and corporate communications
and says she has some odds and ends to finish. I tell her I'd
like to add DeWitt to my list of watch companies visited and
ask if she'd have a few minutes. She agrees and it turns out
to be a great visit thanks to the accommodating Borcard-Bovet.
This two-story building was formerly a guest housea BIG
guest house. In 2002 Cederic Porter turned it into a watch workshop
but, it didn't work out and was taken over by DeWitt, which itself
was established only in1999. A dozen people work here. Parking
is plentiful, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace, there's
no formal dress code, it's a 20-minute drive to Geneva's airport,
15 minutes to the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to downtown
Geneva. Come lunchtime you can whip something up in the full-size
kitchen and eat outside on tables. Did I mention the place sits
on a small hill overlooking beautiful farmland with the majestic
mountains of France in the near distance? Did I mention the birds
chirping and how peaceful it is here?
Around 9 AM a man walks in and I'm introduced. It's Jerome de
Witt, CEO and owner. He doesn't have a very difficult commute.
Why? That's his mansion at the other end of the property. This
former guest house, plus the large expanse of well-manicured
grounds between the two are his also.
The upstairs corner office of CEO de Witt is very modest. There's
a nice wood floor, no plants, nothing on the walls, a computer,
family picture and two watchmakers workbenches. The view out
his window? The scenic farmland as well as the mountains in nearby
Taking the staircase up to the second floor one can't help but
notice the six-foot tall oil painting portrait of Napoleon hanging
on the wall between the two floors. What's the significance?
Jerome de Witt has quite the bloodline as he's the fifth generation
in the line of descent of King Jerome, Napoleon's brother. Curious
to find out if this DeWitt watch making business is an ego thing,
just a hobby or something for a successful businessman to tinker
with on the side I ask de Witt questions. My conclusion? He definitely
has a passion for watches and likes the whole watch making process
from beginning to end.
DeWitt's spiffy-looking watches aren't cheap, with a price tag
starting at $8,000. Each timepiece contains the engraved words
"Manufacturee a Vandoeuvres" (Manufactured in Vandoeuvres)--not
the "Geneve" stamp used by others in the Geneva area.
It could be the start of something big.
Company website: www.dewitt.ch