Guebelin AG

What makes what I do so interesting is never knowing what kind of welcome I'll receive. Crummy receptions were had at Coca-Cola, McDonald's, American Express and Polaroid—all global consumer-oriented concerns one would assume would be PR-friendly and savvy (the last two made my Hall of Shame list–go to Good, Bad & The Ugly heading on homepage). I'm in Lucerne to visit watch and jewellery retailer Guebelin and wonder if it's going to be similar to my visit here two years ago at its much bigger rival Bucherer. Showing up at Bucherer's offices I was summarily dismissed by the management chairman's secretary and told they hadn't received my letter of introduction mailed a month earlier. That was very odd (and suspicious) because in the same building, a few floors up, I visited a DeBeers (diamonds) subsidiary and they had received the letter of introduction sent to them.

Any fears I had of a poor reception quickly vanish as I enter the lobby of the five-story headquarters on the outskirts of Lucerne. Why? Oh I don't know, it might have something to do with the sign near the reception desk which reads: "Welcome Paul Wolsfeld " After checking in with receptionist Pia Haefliger, I'm soon meeting with Sara Guebelin, the 30-year old daughter of CEO Thomas Guebelin. Ms. Guebelin, along with her younger brother are being groomed to be the 6th generation to run the company. It's a special year here as the company is celebrating its 150th birthday.

My visit is fun, extensive and educational thanks to Ms. Guebelin. Built in 1983, the place is home to 50 of the firm's 160 employees. The company has eight stores throughout Switzerland. Though there're no onsite recreational facilities there's a quite nice locker room/shower facility on the ground floor. Some employees go for a lunchtime swim or jog around the nearby lake.

There's underground parking but employees have to pay to park there–though bicycling workers enjoy free covered parking. There's no cafeteria but a break room for eating, smoking isn't allowed, there's no formal dress code (though jeans are banned), it's a five minute drive to Lucerne's city center, a one hour drive to Zurich's airport and 10 minutes to the nearest freeway. Any employee perks? jewelry and watches can be purchased at wholesale prices.

After seeing some of the watchmakers and jewelers in action (Guebelin makes its own line of watches and custom jewelry) I'm taken to a room and told to have a seat. The company's buyer of gems then comes in with some "special" items to show me. First I'm shown two green diamonds. Being the country hick I am I look and nod my head. I then say, "I'm sorry to tell you but I have zero knowledge of gems". "Are these valuable?" I ask. It turns out each is worth over $100,000. I'm then shown a red diamond. I sure as heck didn't know diamonds came in red. How much is this beauty worth? A cool $1 million dollars!

So, if auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's have a gem that's coming up for auction and want proof of it authenticity, where do they go? It might well be the Guebelin Gem Lab, an independent company involved exclusively in the scientific analysis of the nature, quality, provenance and genuineness of gem stones and pearls. That's the place where Sara takes me for a tour on one of the upper floors. Several gem experts give me a run-through of the process. When all is said and done, these guys put their John Hancock (signature) on a piece of paper stating the gem or pearl is what it says it is. One of these gem experts says that people in the international gem trade wouldn't recognize him if they saw him but, would know his signature. Trust is everything in this business.

During the building tour I meet CEO Thomas Guebelin. I ask if I could see his office but am told it isn't possible. No reason is given but it could be he has sensitive documents on his desk, valuable jewelry or maybe he just doesn't want nosey people like me having a look in his workspace.

The company's website has an English version: