Montblanc Montre SA

I already know where to find the watchmaking subsidiary of Montblanc thanks to cycling right past it last year (2003) on the way to visit its next door neighbor Tissot. Montblanc Montre wasn't on my list to visit in 2003 because it didn't (and still doesn't) have a separate website for its watches. Go to Montblanc's website and you see watches mixed in with leather goods, writing pens, jewellery and fragrance for men. So, why am I visiting? It's located in a drop-dead gorgeous art nouveau villa.

From Tissot's multi-building headquarters/factory complex on a steep hillside overlooking downtown Le Locle, one could toss a tennis ball onto Montblanc's property. Built in 1908, the four-story villa is a real beaut. When I passed the building in 2003 the finishing touches were being done on something you can't see in the photo that accompanies this story; a whole new level was built UNDER the villa. In the photo (click on to enlarge) take notice of the cars parked on the gravel that surrounds the building. The area of gravel denotes the size of the newly-built level under the villa. From the rear backside, the new level contains floor to ceiling glass and affords the 40 or employees with views of the well-kept grounds.

After locking the bike I walk to the front entrance steps and note the pile of 30 or so cigarette butts strewn about the gravel. Hmm, this must be where employees smoke. There's nothing tackier then visiting a company and having employees puffing away outside a building's entrance. First, I hate having to pass through the gauntlet of smokers and inhale the stench and second, the employees look sleazy smoking. Hasn't management seen the pile of disgusting-looking butts?

You can't walk into the building but have to buzz a buzzer. While buzzing the buzzer I admire the beautiful stained glass window. The door opens and a not-very-friendly woman asks what I want. I ask if there's a receptionist or reception desk and after being told "no", I explain to her who I am, what I do and how I sent a letter of introduction a month earlier to company director Hamdi Chatti. Without bothering to check with anyone, this woman says everyone is busy. It's now late in the afternoon so I leave background material and I tell the woman I'll return tomorrow.

I return the next morning and buzz the buzzer. This time the door doesn't open but a woman's voice comes over the speaker box. I recognize the unfriendly voice as the woman I encountered the day before. The woman says, "no one has time for you". Explaining this is my last day in Le Locle means nothing to this indifferent woman. I ask, "Would someone have 10 minutes sometime during the day to meet with me?" Her answer is a quick "no". I then ask if company director Chatti had received my letter of introduction. "Yes he has", the woman replies. I ask, "Do you have any kind of booklet or brochure on this building I could have?" In a minute the door opens and I'm allowed to step a few feet inside while she goes to her corner office she shares with a colleague and retrieves a booklet. After being handed the booklet I'm ushered out the door.

Wow, judging from the photos in the booklet the building's interior looks fantastic with art nouveau ornamental railings on the staircases, hardwood floors and stained glass windows mixed-in with modernistic furnishings. Heck, the villa even contains "five stylishly furnished suites with an entirely private atmosphere and a park with historic pavilions equipped with desks for reading and writing". Looking at photos of the suites in the booklet, these would easily rival lodgings in a five-star hotel. I wonder what criteria is used for extending invitations to spend the night?

Why was I treated so poorly? I haven't a clue. It's even more puzzling when you throw in the fact that Montblanc Montre is part of Richemont Group, the classy luxury goods concern.