JeanRichard SA

In 2003 I visited Girard Perregaux and this year (2004) I'm visiting JeanRichard, the second of two high-end watch brands owned by the Sowind Group.

From the city center of La Chaux-de-Fond it's a five minute walk up a hillside to JeanRichard's offices in a turn-of-the-century villa. Within a block are the offices and workshops of Girard Perregaux. Also nearby is Villa Marguerite (built 1918), an impressive former private home housing the Girard Perregaux watch museum and, still another spiffy-looking villa where Luigi Macaluso, CEO of Sowind Group, lives when in town. The turn-of-the-century were good times for La Chaux-de-Fonds' booming watch industry and it was in this area where the city's wealthy and elite built large and ornate turn-of-the-century villas to look down over the city.

Built in 1908, this four-story villa is listed–meaning it's a protected historic building. Over the years I've visited quite a few companies residing in such structures and most fight not to have the historic designation because it severely limits renovations of the exterior and interior.

No big flashy signs here, only a small plaque on the outside letting visitors know they've found the right place. My visit turns out to be a lot of fun thanks to Michel Santschi, Sales & Marketing Manager, who gives an extensive tour of the place even though he hadn't seen the introduction material sent a month earlier to company president Gino Macaluso.

Twelve people work here. Beautiful hardwood floors are found throughout and employees can get their daily exercise by hiking up and down the stairs as there's no elevator. Smoking is allowed in the workplace, there's no formal dress code and it's two hours to Geneva's airport. La Chaux-de-Fonds does have a small airport on the edge of town but it's mostly used by owners of private aircraft, which includes Sowind Group owner Luigi Macaluso. Any employee perks? Employees are given a JeanRichard watch to wear while working and can purchase one watch a year at cost.

Evidently in later years the villa was split up into two different units/apartments. Why do I say this? On separate floors are full-size working kitchens, then again I guess if one were really wealthy or just plain lazy, you could have more than one kitchen installed.

A beautiful mosaic floor leads out to a backyard terrace. Crossing the backyard leads to adjacent JeanRichard watch workshops which, pretty much shows the builder of this villa was associated with the watch industry and didn't want a long commute to work. The owner also didn't have to go very far for a swim as the basement houses an indoor pool and sauna. While checking out the pool (not used in years but still looking good), Santschi shows me the nearby good-sized wine cellar. From the basement we hike-up flights of stairs to the huge unused attic which looks like it could easily be converted to offices if they needed more space in the future.

Nothing special about the first floor corner office of company president Gino Macaluso. The view out his window? The property grounds. He's the son of Luigi Macaluso, CEO of Sowind Group.

Though not finished, Santschi gives me a peek into a new company museum on the first floor which will house various types of machinery used by the watch industry in the early and not so early days.

Company's website: