As a young girl in Hamburg, Kim-Eva Wempe often heard her father talking about an observatory far away in a place called Glashütte. On a grey autumn day in 2004 she decided to see this mysterious place with her own eyes. However, doing so turned out to be more difficult than expected. The road from the watchmaking town of Glashütte up to the observatory was so steep and in such poor condition that the car got stuck. And when the small group of travellers finally made it to the top of the »Ochsenkopf«, they were greatly disappointed. The site was so overgrown that it could hardly be seen any more. And the building itself was just a ruin, a mere shadow of what it had once been.
Despite all the obstacles, one thing immediately became clear to Kim-Eva Wempe and the others in the group: »It has to be here! Wempe watches will be made in this observatory, and they’ll be chronometers.
I didn’t want to make just any watch and then put the Wempe name on the deal.
says Kim-Eva Wempe. »Nobody at the company would have been proud of that. What our team expected was technical excellence, a watch with a background and a history.« For these reasons, Wempe expanded into the Erzgebirge mountains — and went back to the company’s roots as a clockmaker.
When a jeweller that is renowned for selling the best watches in the world decides to make its own timepieces, there is a lot at stake — above all, its reputation. Wempe certainly possessed expertise in clockmaking — though the company’s experience in manufacturing timepieces dated far back. Before the Second World War, Wempe enjoyed great success producing marine chronometers, a chapter in the company’s history in which the town of Glashütte played an important role — but more about that later.
Anyone visiting the »Urania« observatory today can hardly believe how dilapidated everything was here a couple of years ago. The shimmering white building, with its characteristic dome, shines out of the dark forests that surround it. It’s a landmark that can be seen from a long way off. But it took much hard work to restore it. »In order to inspect the building the first time we came here, I had to climb in through a broken window,« says Gunter Teuscher, the head of Wempe watch production. »One of the first sights that greeted me was rats scurrying through the rooms. The walls had huge cracks, and the wooden floorboards were completely warped.