Wempe Watch Blog

Wempe Watch Blog
2014-09-29
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The word “used” naturally turns people off, but in the world of watches, collectors clamor for used — or vintage — timepieces. If you are interested in starting a watch collection, adding to a watch collection or owning a piece of history, you may want to go online tomorrow (September 30) and do a little vintage watch buying at the Antiquorum Auctioneers’ “Important Modern and Vintage Timepieces” auction, which will take place in New York City.

Among the top lots going up for sale is one of the earliest known Rolex Sea-Dwellers that belonged to filmmaker and oceanographer Philippe Cousteau (son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau). It is anticipated that the watch — an extremely rare find — will fetch between $100,000 and $150,000.

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The Rolex Sea-Dweller is one of the more important diving watches designed in the second half of the 20th century. The collaboration with diving professionals and government agencies guided Rolex to introduce the first-ever use of the helium gas escape valve in a wristwatch so it could sustain intense underwater pressure. The rare Sea-Dweller up for sale (Ref. 1665) went through several revisions in order to perfect the design, allowing many of the deepest diving missions. This watch bears one of the earliest serial numbers (1'602'920), placing it in the era of Single Red Sea-Dwellers, of which only six are known to exist. The watch is a center seconds, stainless steel chronometer with Double-Red Sea-Dweller logo, helium escape valve and Oyster FlipLock bracelet.

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Philippe Cousteau, who learned to dive at the age of five, drew attention to the amazing world of underwater life in the movie “The Silent World,” which won him the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. He became the lead photographer on many of his father’s expeditions on the oceanographic research vessel the Calypso and produced numerous important documentaries about underwater life. After having worn the watch for 10 years, Philippe gifted it to Thomas Horton, who was a close friend of the Cousteau family. The watch is sold with a letter from Thomas Horton’s son, who recounts his early childhood memories about his father and the Cousteau family. It is also accompanied by several 8 X 10 photos showing Philippe Cousteau wearing the watch, a book “Diving Companions” by Jacques Cousteau and Philippe Diole, and other items.

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If you are more of a land lover than a sea lover, you may want to take a look at the Rolex Paul Newman Oyster Cosmograph Daytona watch (Ref. 6239), which features a black dial and steel case. Circa 1964, the watch is a chronograph with tachymeter bezel and Oyster bracelet. It is expected to sell for between $75,000 and $100,000. Other great finds include a set of four Vacheron Constantin Metiers D’Art Les Masques 2008 self-winding watches. The four include cases crafted in platinum, 18-karat rose, 18-karat yellow gold and 18-karat white gold — each with a distinctive Mask dial. Estimated sale price is $500,000 to 700,000.

In that same half-million-dollar-and-up range is another attention grabber: the astronomical self-winding minute repeater, Ref. 5213, from Patek Philippe. The 18-karat white gold watch with retrograde perpetual calendar and moon phases is further accompanied by a fitted box, Certificate of Origin and a leather folder with instructions. If this timepiece catches your attention, you will have to dig deep into your pockets. Antiquorum experts expect it to fetch between $550,000 and $750,000.

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Of course, there are dozens upon dozens of other timepiece brands up for bid. The important thing about buying at auction is you need to know what you want before you go into it. But that’s a story for another day.

2014-09-25
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Just like a good car, fine watches need maintenance. The extent of this service depends on the timepiece, its movement and its age. For instance, quartz watches generally don’t need a lot of maintenance. They typically need a battery replacement every two to three years, though some watch brands now offer quartz watches with a battery life of up to five years. The thing to remember about having your watch battery changed is to go to an authorized jeweler so you can be sure the store has the right battery and – better yet for water-resistant watches – the right gaskets for putting the watch back together after the battery change. Bad seals or gaskets can render your watch NON water-resistant.

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Mechanical watches, much like automobiles, need regular servicing. The inner movements of the mechanical watch are lightly lubricated to reduce friction of the parts and ensure accuracy and reliability. Deterioration of the lubricants occurs over time and results in higher friction, increasing wear and tear and decreasing precision. A mechanical watch should be serviced every three to five years by a retailer authorized by a particular brand to work on that brand’s timepieces. (Certain extremely high-end, complicated luxury watches that utilize silicium or other high-tech materials in their movements to reduce friction need servicing less frequently.)

Servicing of a mechanical watch — especially a vintage or a complicated watch — is not just a simple oil change as it would be with a car. It is a thorough inspection wherein the watchmaker takes the case backs off of the watch, inspects the oils and lubricants and re-oils, if necessary. He or she also checks the gears, the teeth, the wheels and the crown. The crystal is inspected for scratches, and the case, as well. It is a complex process that takes time, precision and a meticulous eye.

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Often, the retailer’s on-premise watchmakers have trained with the individual brands the store sells so that they are well versed on the brand’s movements. Sometimes these training sessions take place at U.S.-based service centers, and other times watchmakers travel to Switzerland for training. Utilizing an authorized retailer ensures not only proper parts and servicing, but also expert care. Additionally, sometimes the retailer will send the watch back to the brand if servicing is more complex. This requires time and owner patience.

Remember, letting a watch go too long without service can result in more expensive repair issues down the road.

2014-09-23
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This past weekend was a great one for racecar lovers. While it was a rainy Saturday in Austin, Texas, the wet weather didn’t’ stop anyone from getting out to The Circuit of the America’s — one of the best auto racing venues in North America — for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship.

And, at the first-ever night race at COTA – the Lone Star Lemans — Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing entry took the third win of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship season for the team. (The race is the only U.S. appearance of the FIA World Endurance Championship.)

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TUDOR is actively involved in auto racing and this year marks the first official year of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship. This series combines two previously separate races — the American Le Mans Series and Grand Am Road Racing — under one umbrella managed by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). The combined schedule now boasts 12 stops. For Tudor, the move into auto racing in America was a natural fit. The brand’s older sibling, Rolex, has been involved in the sport for more than half a century – and is especially known for its involvement in Daytona.

We carry a host of Tudor watches, but the one that most reflects the world of auto sports is the TUDOR Grantour Chrono Fly-Back. The entire Grantour line is devoted to motor sports, but this watch is the flagship in that arena. It allows consecutive time intervals to be measured rapidly thanks to its on-the-fly chronograph reset and instant restart functions. The 42mm case features a small seconds hand counter at 9:00 that is set in a background motif reminiscent of automobile transmission belts. If you love auto racing, you’ll love TUDOR. Stop in and see the line.

2014-09-18

The word “complications” in watchmaking is a fairly common one. Watch brands often refer to timepieces as having simple or complex complications. Generally every function of a watch that is in addition to its timekeeping role is an added complexity. Essentially a complex watch offers added information and data. The more extra functions, information and data packed into a timepiece, the more complicated it is. Here's our list of the Top 5 watchmaking complications...

Drawing of a Patek PHilippe Minute Repeater Perpetual calendar Perpetual Calendar watches have many disks and layers. (Photo from Patek Philippe.)

1 – Perpetual Calendar. A watch in which the calendar indications, such as the date, weekday and month, are indicated and have been built in such a way as to account for short months and leap years and automatically adjusts the date accordingly.

tourbillon-movement-breguet Tourbillon escapements constantly rotate, offering alluring appeal.

2- Tourbillon. While some do not consider the tourbillon escapement a true watchmaking complication, it is, indeed, a horological accomplishment. First invented in the early 1800s by Abraham-Louis Bregeut, a tourbillon escapement eliminates the errors in timekeeping rates that usually occur due to the effects of gravity on the watch when it is on the wrist. Today’s tourbillon makers turn to multiple tourbillon escapements, smaller tourbillon escapements and larger ones, as well, as they via to break records in this arena.

Piaget-Emperador-Coussin-Ultra-Thin-Minute-Repeater-Watch-movement An inner ring is inserted for a Minute Repeater, as the gong strikes this, it resounds. (Photo from Piaget.)

3- Minute Repeater. A watch that chimes the time by striking the hours, quarter hours and minutes and is activated by a slide or pushpiece. Hammers strike one or several gongs. The sister complexities of this watch are sonnerie and other striking or musical watches.

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4- Split-Second Chronograph or Rattrapante. A split seconds chronograph, rattrapante, or double chrono offers the capacity to record and display two separate events and allows the two time intervals to be compared. Essentially, the watch has two seconds hands. With the first push of a button, both hands start together; the push on the split-second pusher stops one hand in place, while the other separates from it and continues to time the other event and one can read the intermediate time while the other chronograph continues to progress. A second press will make the stopped hand catch up with the moving hand.

JLC Master_Ultra_Thin_pg From side view, ultra-thin watches can look as slim as a half dollar. (Photo from Jaeger-LeCoultre.)

5- Ultra-Thins. The ultra-slim or flat timepiece is a true work of art. Making a large movement is easy, but when one has to build hundreds of mechanical parts and get them to work inside spaces that are so thin that, when cased, the profile of the watch is less than 6mm mere in height, it is an amazing work of art and craftsmanship. Hence, it falls into the watchmaking world’s complicated feat category, and the race is on the mechanical watchmaking world to continue to break records for ultra-thin watches.

Then there are a series of other complications that also can come into play, such as chronographs (watches that measure time intervals with a start and stop button and don’t interfere with time indication), power reserve indicators (that provide the wearer with information as the remaining energy in the mainspring), moonphase indicators (that show the phases of the moon), world timers (that tell time in multiple zones), and more.

2014-09-16
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Last week, Apple officially unveiled its new Apple Watch – though it won’t be available for sale until next year. The watch caused quite a stir, so we feel it is important to discuss this newest “smart watch.” We also feel it is important to put the category of smart watches into proper horological context. After all, it may not be a battle of Swiss fine timepieces vs. Smart Watches; it may be a blend.

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Granted, Smart Watches are not a new concept – they’ve been around and some have even sold. The Apple Watch, though, is supposed to be more revolutionary in the “smart” sense. Expected to retail at the approximate $349 range (though there will be an 18-karat gold version), the watch offers a significant amount of function. Unfortunately, while it may offer wearable technology, it does not offer a great deal in the way of elegance. It is, however – depending on your taste level – high-tech looking in a fashionable sort of way that may have a Wall Street type wearing the watch as his weekend gadget. (Rumor has it a watch design expert was called in on the streamlining of the design.)

The screen (on most watches, the dial) is curved so it flows nicely into the bezel and cushion-cornered rectangular case. The Apple Watch will be available in two sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm. Additionally, it will have a vast array of colorful and neutral straps to choose from, as well as a great Milanese mesh bracelet and a link bracelet. It will also come with a variety of “screen” images.

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The Apple Watch is designed to work in tandem with a newer iPhone, and may need to be charged daily. Among the myriad of features the watch offers – in addition to time telling, of course – are things such as a health app, the ability to tweet, post to Facebook, get directions, check you stocks and check emails.

The up side to this: people are free of their phones and need only glance at the wrist to see that an email has come in. The downside: are you really going to be able to answer that email on your wrist? Additionally, the small screen is not optimum for the host of apps you need to install, use or read. Another up side: kids in the 16-to-20-something age group may be attracted to the product — getting them into the mode of wearing a watch at a younger age. This could translate down the road to more people wearing watches and learning to admire the classic timepiece.

Will the new era of Smart Watches ruin the world of horology? Doubtful. While the watch may offer high-tech functions and features (and elegance in its gold versions), it simply does not have the tradition of a hand-made timepiece with hundreds of tiny hand-finished components serving as the heart – and soul – of a watch. Yes, Apple will sell tens of thousands of the watch when it comes out – that’s what Apple does best. It markets, it sells and it delivers a good product. But it can’t strip away centuries of tradition, and it won’t usurp the watch lovers and collectors who still want to see/hear/feel the tick of time.

2014-09-15
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We have something very new and exciting coming into the store this week – the long-awaited Promesse collection of women’s watches from Baume & Mercier. After five years of research and development, Baume & Mercier unveils its first new collection for women since the Linea. The line consists of automatic and quartz watches with straps and bracelets – some with diamond accents and even decorative bezel inlays.

The concept of love is behind the new ultra-feminine collection of timepieces, whose new case shape (combining round and oval) is inspired by the brand’s rich history. In typical Baume & Mercier style, the brand researched its roots before delving into the project. However, instead of creating a direct re-interpretation of an archival piece, Baume & Mercier incorporates the architectural lines of several 1970s pieces into this modern rendition.

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Promesse features an oval bezel that surrounds the inner round dial and is surrounded by an outer round case for geometric beauty. Accents on the watches include diamonds and mother of pearl, with several models even sporting a chic mother-of-pearl bezel ring that really catches the eye. The look is superb, the aesthetics are classic yet visionary and, best of all, the price is affordable, starting at just about $1,900 and going up to about $7,000.

The goal in creating this new collection was to offer women something elegant, comfortable, and wearable and that makes a special statement. “We wanted to bring the design together with the concept of celebration, of making a promise come true and to create something truly unique and different,” says Alain Zimmermann, CEO of Baume & Mercier, commenting that the word “promise” is a universal word with the same meaning globally.

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The line consists of both 30mm and 34mm Swiss-made quartz and mechanical watches. The automatic versions feature a transparent caseback for viewing the movement. A host of different variations, with diamonds and without, offer today’s woman a great selection. The line ranges from stunning all stainless steel and two-tones bracelet styles, to strap versions and models with varying amounts of diamonds on them – further accentuating the "round-oval-round" design of the watch – making it both timeless and visionary. Stop by and see the all-new Promesse collection.

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2014-09-11
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Earlier this week we discussed the value and importance of gold in the watchmaking world, and gave an overview of the different karats of gold. Today, we bring you a look at how different colors of gold are achieved and used in watchmaking.

Indeed, contrary to what one may think, all gold is not created equal. Depending on the material or alloy added to gold, the color can be changed and the durability can be enhanced. In today’s watchmaking world, white gold and rose gold are the most coveted choices for cases. However, yellow gold is still a staple and some brands are even developing their own proprietary colors of gold.

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Essentially, to form the hues of gold, a variety of materials are added in the melting process to the original yellow gold ingot. This is where metallurgy comes together with horology, as the mixing process is key. Most watch brands do not melt their own gold and, instead, buy the gold in its final finished colors.

Some brands do melt their own gold, and others even create special hues all their own. Some signature gold colors from a variety of brands include warm honey and brown gold, to orange, gray and even purple gold. However, it is the most traditional white, rose and yellow gold that are the mainstay of luxury watchmaking.

White gold is created by mixing in white metals, such as palladium, silver or nickel to the gold. Because gold is already soft and so is silver, the preferred metal to achieve whiteness is the more durable nickel.

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Including copper in the mix creates pink and rose gold hues. The more copper added, the richer, deeper the pink hue will become. Typically the value of 3N and 4N is given to pink gold, while 5N is a rich rosier hue. Some brands refer to their 5N gold as “red” gold.

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Today’s top brands use all three of these most popular hues to varying degrees in their collections. Like all timepieces of distinction, an 18-karat gold watch is a coveted item no matter what the hue, especially as it becomes an heirloom legacy for women to pass on to their children for generations to come.

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Often considered the ultimate measure of wealth, gold is a shimmering metal mined from the Earth for thousands of years. In fact, ancient Egyptians as far back as 3600 BC portrayed gold in their hieroglyphics as the brilliance of the sun, thanks to its color, beauty and sheen. The Mesopotamians were among the first to craft the earliest known gold jewelry, predominantly as pendants and headdresses.

Over the ensuing centuries, gold would become currency, a significant factor in religious art and a universal sign of love – with wedding bands made of gold becoming the standard. While gold has industrial uses (in microchips, stents, etc.), it shines brightest in jewelry and timepieces. In fact, it is estimated that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the world’s gold is used to create jewelry and fine watch cases.

The metal is quite malleable, making it perfect for shaping. Unfortunately, while its malleability makes gold a wonderful creative medium, in its pure form it is simply too soft and delicate for final use. Thus, it is often combined with other metals for added strength.

The karatage of gold refers to the proportion of pure gold in a piece of jewelry or a watch. Essentially, 24-karat gold jewelry is nearly pure, with approximately 99.5 percent of the piece being gold. Still, this is relatively soft gold, and so it is typically used only as accent jewelry pieces, such as earrings. The USA generally favors gold jewelry in the 14-karat variety, and 9-karat gold is common in the United Kingdom as a carryover from wartime restrictions. Jewelry is also available in 22-karat, 21-karat and 19-karat gold, but the most standard international karatage is 18-karat gold, containing 75 percent pure gold. This is predominantly used in fine jewelry and luxury watchmaking.

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Because of its medium hardness, 18-karat gold is a very workable material for wristwatches, especially because of the ability to engrave gold. In the engraving process, one master artisan slowly and carefully works away at the metal on the case in a decorative manner—pushing the chiseled metal out of the way, while hand designing anything from vines and flowers, to scenes, geometric designs and more. While gold stamping has been perfected (predominantly for mass market items), hand workmanship is still the order of the day from the finest watch brands in the world. Today, the finest watch brands utilize gold in a host of hues to create their watches. We will bring you more about how the top colors of gold are achieved later this week. Meanwhile, stop in for a hands-on look at our gold watches.

Photo at top: Wikimedia Commons

2014-09-04
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With the environment around us regularly endangered by pollution, over-fishing, dumping, deforestation and more, many top-notch watch brands are going out in full support of protecting and preserving wildlife, forests and nature. Sometimes they even create watches wherein a portion of the proceeds go to support these organizations. For those who are environmentally conscious, these brands or watches may be of particular interest.

Rolex, for example, has established the Rolex Awards for Enterprise to celebrate entrepreneurial individuals who take on major challenges to improve life or protect the planet. Each year, Rolex Laureates are awarded support to help bring their projects to fruition. Among the current projects: Electronic Eyes in the Wild, wherein new tracking technologies developed by Rolex Laureates are proving helpful in the race to save endangered species.

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Additionally, the brand has been behind some of the greatest ocean explorations of our time. In fact, it is a key supporter of the Deep-Sea Challenge wherein filmmaker-turned-explorer James Cameron ventured to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in a submersible. Cameron built his own futuristic vertical submersible vehicle and the 3-D cameras that enabled him to explore life at depths of more than 30,000 feet. He spent seven years on research and design to build equipment that could sustain the unbearable pressure at 36,000 feet under the ocean. He coordinated a top-notch team of experts who were just as enthralled about, and challenged by, the dive concept as he was. He sought out advice from U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh, the operator of the bathyscaphe Trieste that made the first (and only previous) venture to the Mariana Trench more than 50 years ago in 1960 (Rolex was on that journey, too, strapped to the hull of the Bathyscaphe). The team built in arms for taking samples of sand and rock. They rigged bait to catch different species of life for future examination. In 2012, Cameron embarked on his exploration, and brought back a host of important samples for research. Strapped to the outside camera arm, was the new experimental Rolex DeepSea Challenge watch, modeled after the new Deepsea Challenge D-Blue watch.

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IWC supports a host of ocean and bio-diversity involvements that range from partnering with the Cousteau Society to partnering with the Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos. It was in 2009 that IWC first announced its support of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its efforts to preserve the environmentally rich and vital Galapagos Islands. Due to invasive pests, animals and other non-indigenous species, the Galapagos and its unique wildlife are threatened. In addition to its vast funding, the brand has also built a special Galapagos Islands timepiece in its Aquatimer family, from which a portion of the proceeds of sales benefit the cause.

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Similarly, through its relationship with UNESCO, Jaeger-LeCoultre supports the protection of 46 marine sites that enjoy conservation status thanks to their place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Jaeger-LeCoultre has been involved in this project for more than half a dozen years and provides immediate financial backing for UNESCO to support the daily activities conducted among these 46 crown jewels of the oceans.

2014-09-02
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With Labor Day behind us, many of our readers are returning to a more business state of mind. Some, however, may still be in travel mode. Let’s face it, going to Europe is so much nicer in the fall when the tourist crowds have thinned out and the heat has let up. So, for those watch lovers considering a trip this September or October, may we recommend the following dream vacation?

Traveling to Switzerland is like a journey to the heart of time. Geneva and its outlying cantons — especially those northern towns, such as Neuchatel, Le Locle, Villeret and other great cities — offer not only breathtaking views of the country’s forests, the Jura Mountains and the Alps, but also of the finest watches in the world (not to mention chocolates and cheese!).

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Additionally, with a visit to La Chaux–de-Fonds and Le Locle, one can check off another box in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Five years ago, in 2009, both of these “manufacture towns” joined the select UNESCO list. The towns were built by and for the watchmaking world back in the end of the 17th century, when farmers turned to watchmaking to idle away the tough, long winter hours and to earn an income to supplement their non-existent crops in winter. The art caught on and the region produced clocks and travel watches for clients around the world — making it a unique place of interest. Among the brands located in this region are Corum, Montblanc, Hermes, Girard-Perregaux, Omega, TAG Heuer, Greubel-Forsey, Longines and others.

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Since the cities came under the UNESCO list, Neuchatel tourism has increased significantly, and the tourist department has even developed an exclusive program that allows watch-loving tourists to discover the region’s rich history. They have worked with certain watch brands and museums to encourage them to open their doors for tours. Today, some brands offer tours on specific days via reservation.

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No visit to the region — watch lover or not — is complete without a trip to each of the top two world-class watch museums. The International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds (Musee international d’Horlogerie) and the Le Locle Watch Museum (Musee d’Horlogerie, Chateau des Monts) are both universally acclaimed for the quality, breadth and scope of their collections and for their tireless efforts to offer a high-caliber cultural experience with each visit. Both museums have exhibits that include early automatons, watchmaking benches, tools and more. The timepieces include early clocks, travel clocks, pocket watches and astronomical timepieces that span decades and demonstrate the evolution of time. Additionally, certain brands located in the region have their own museums that visitors can tour.

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Among the many other watch-related sites worth seeing as one tours these cities are statues dedicated to watchmaking forefathers, flower clocks and the nearly 1,000-year old clock tower in Neuchatel. Once there, don’t miss the amazing opportunity to stay at the incredible Hotel Palafitte – with its individual rooms built as bungalows on docks over Lake Neuchatel. This hotel was originally built for the Swiss National Exhibition more than a decade ago and has become a landmark stop, not to mention a truly unforgettable hotel experience.

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Of course, there are a host of other important watchmaking cities and regions in Switzerland, and we will bring you a little tour of those in coming months. Meanwhile, if you want to whet your appetite for fine Swiss timing, stop in and see our vast selection of Swiss-made watches.