Four heads. One dream. One vision. One success story. From a small watch business in a provincial town in northern Germany to a globally operating company. The milestones of the Wempe family’s corporate history, which goes back more than 130 years.
— Gerhard D. Wempe —
I shall endeavour to offer my honoured customers the best goods, the most extensive selection and the most generous service.
In 1878, the watchmaker Gerhard D. Wempe set up a small watch shop in the town of Elsfleth in northern Germany on the banks of the Weser River. He was 21 years old, and he had only 80 deutsche marks of startup capital.
The young entrepreneur was not daunted by his provincial working conditions and began to build up his business with extreme care. These modest beginnings became the foundation of the internationally operating family-owned Wempe company.
Picture: Gerhard D. Wempe (1857 to 1921) laid the foundations of the family-owned company and established the brand’s image.
Next to his workshop, Wempe created an artistically designed sales showcase in his Aunt Caroline’s parlour window. That’s because he had a dream: he wanted to create a business in which the purchase of a watch or a piece of jewellery becomes a special experience for the customer. Young Wempe turned out to be a talented marketer who knew how to present a valuable product attractively. His idea was successful. Thanks to his excellent business sense, the young watchmaker was soon able to open his first retail branch in Oldenburg and became locally known as »Gülden Gerd«. By the beginning of the First World War in 1914, he had opened five more branches in Hamburg.
– Herbert Wempe –
A company’s young employees have to be deliberately nurtured. That’s why I cooperated with Otto Lange, the grandson of the founder of Saxony’s watch industry, to set up the ›Glashütte Observatory‹ cooperative, with the aim of establishing an institute of research and advanced training for young watchmakers.
In 1938 Herbert Wempe bought Chronometerwerke Hamburg, a firm founded in 1905, to serve as a workshop and an institute of research and advanced training. There Wempe developed his patent for the unified chronometer, which is still being produced successfully. Today Wempe Chronometerwerke Maritim is the market leader for the highly specialized electronic and digital main and auxiliary clock systems that are standard equipment on research ships and luxury liners.
Picture: Herbert Wempe (1890-1963) established the company’s headquarters in Hamburg.
Gateway to the world
In the 1920s Herbert Wempe, who had joined the firm at the age of 15, moved the Wempe headquarters to Hamburg, where he subsequently established additional branches. By the time he handed over the firm to his son Hellmut, Wempe had opened eight shops in this Hanseatic city. Herbert Wempe believed that his position as an entrepreneur brought with it a measure of social responsibility. Within his firm he had already abolished the distinction between craftspeople and commercial employees as early as the mid-1930s.
— Hellmut Wempe —
We are the only European jeweller that has been able to establish itself successfully in New York.«
From Hamburg to the world:
New York, Paris, London, Wien, Madrid
Hellmut Wempe, who started working at the company in 1951, is a visionary with vast reserves of boldness and patience. In the 1960s and 1970s he expanded the company into all of Germany’s major cities and pursued a further ambitious goal: making Wempe an international brand — a brand thathas its roots in Hamburg and is at home all over the world. Hellmut Wempe also shifted the focus at Wempe to its exclusive collections of jewellery and watches as well as the company’s own creations.
The only way is up: Hellmut Wempe set a benchmark when he opened the company’s first branch outside Germany on Fifth Avenue in New York. It was followed by shops in Paris, London, Vienna and Madrid — always in the most exclusive locations.
Like his father and his grandfather, Hellmut Wempe considered it essential for the company to have its own maintenance and repair service. Convinced that the mechanical watch would experience a renaissance, he systematically expanded his service operations. In addition to the service watchmakers at every branch, Wempe has Europe’s largest independent watch workshops in Hamburg and Glashütte — a service Wempe customers can rely on, all over the world.
The founder of the Rolex company, Hans Wilsdorf, and his son Dieter Kübel-Wilsdorf aroused in Hellmut Wempe a special enthusiasm for the sporty watches manufactured by their Swiss company. At that time this watch brand was still unknown in Germany. In 1953 Wempe brought a Rolex back to Germany from one of his trips to Switzerland. In retrospect, it’s clear that this was the first step toward a significant partnership between these two traditional companies. In recent years Wempe has opened exclusive Rolex boutiques in Berlin and New York.
2003: Company anniversary
A unique piece of jewellery symbolizesWempe’s 125th anniversary. A masterpiece of the jewellerymaker’s art and the highlight of the company’s anniversary collection, it exemplifies the fine craftsmanship, ambition, passion and sense of responsibility behind Wempe’s success story. The supreme skills that created this necklace involved seeking, finding and spectacularly cutting the rare diamond in the Wempe colour "Purplish Red". This pinnacle of the Wempe jewellery studio’s creative mastery required 2,016 hours of goldsmithing, 18 C of white gold and 95 diamonds with a total weight of 59.16 ct.
At a glance: The limited-edition anniversary watches made exclusively for Wempe by Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Söhne, Breitling, Cartier, Chopard, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Nomos.
Birthday letters from special people: Among the numerouscelebrities who congratulated Wempe on its125th anniversary were the retired German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and the Mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Left: Michael R. Bloomberg, Right: Helmut Schmidt
Tradition is not only the preservation of the cultural treasures we have inherited but also the foundation on which culture is developed further. For me, this means creating jewellery and watches that outlive generations.
The first woman to head the company is Kim-Eva Wempe, who started working at Wempe in 1987 and took over the daily business operations from her father on the company’s 125th anniversary in 2003. Kim-Eva Wempe is a passionately committed entrepreneur. With sensitivity and strategic skill, she has directed the Wempe tradition toward the future and set the course for further expansion. She has set benchmarks by reviving the legendary observatory in Glashütte and creating the jewellery brand BY KIM, which is produced in Schwäbisch Gmünd. Her bold innovative spirit has paid off: since celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2003, Wempe has doubled its turnover and increased its workforce by 174 employees to 700. In 2007 Kim-Eva Wempe was honoured as "Hamburg’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year".
"How does one say ›Wempe‹ in the language of jewels?" This question was a preoccupation of Kim-Eva Wempe long before she became the company’s CEO. Finding an answer to this question was a matter very close to this entrepreneur’s heart, and she pursued her search with great precision. She developed a line of jewellery that revived a branch of fine German craftsmanship with a rich tradition — a jewellery collection with an unmistakable identity and a unique soul: BY KIM. The Wempe jewellery studio is located in Schwäbisch Gmünd, where the tradition of fine goldsmithing dates back to the 17th century. Here the company’s own creations BY KIM have been designed and produced since 2002. In less than ten years, Kim-Eva Wempe has created a globally successful jewellery brand of the highest quality.
The more colourless a diamond is, the greateis its value. By contrast, for coloured gemstones the intensity of the colour is crucial. Whereas diamonds are always an appropriate choice, a coloured gemstone expresses the wearer’s individuality, for no two gemstones are alike. Kim- Eva Wempe’s passion for special gemstones is reflected in her BY KIM jewellery collections. A long search led to the discovery of her personal "dream stone" in Brazil: a petrol-coloured tourmaline, which is one of the rarest and most coveted coloured gemstones of all. The specialists at the Wempe jewellery studio created the Colonna ring, whose design perfectly highlights the rare beauty of this stone.
Wempe has located its watch production facility in a town where watchmaking has a long tradition. Hellmut and Kim-Eva Wempe bought the historic Urania observatory in Glashütte for this purpose, and here they are continuing the illustrious history of the watchmaker’s craft. The watch lines Wempe Zeitmeister and Wempe Chronometerwerke have been produced in Glashütte since 2006. The state-of-the-art mechanical masterpieces in timeless designs that are created here are part of the honoured tradition of fine watchmaking
Wempe, which started out as a modest watch and jewellery shop in Elsfleth, has become a company that is firmly anchored in Hamburg and is a familiar sight in the world’s most exclusive shopping venues. The company’s expansion is ongoing. Since the change of generations in 2003, Wempe has opened three new shops: two Rolex boutiques in Berlin and New York and a branch in the new terminal at Frankfurt Airport. In 2013 Wempe will open shops on the MS Europa 2 and in Beijing. The home of the company’s first branch in Asia will be in Parkview Green, a futuristic architectural and ecological jewel in the heart of the metropolis.