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
Built in 1908, this four-story villa is listedmeaning 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: www.jeanrichard.com