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A chronicler with an eye for details

Few people know more about the history of the family-owned company Wempe than Carsten Petersen. As the Brand Manager of Wempe Glashütte I/SA and the director of Wempe’s in-house museum, he is a passionate enthusiast of watches and mechanical engineering. He’s always got his eye on the time, so to speak. Only in his private life, when he’s taking care of his horses, he deliberately leaves his watch off.

He’s a man to be reckoned with. With his imposing height of over two meters, athletic build, and big, powerful hands, Carsten Petersen is an imposing figure. He was born on the North Sea island of Föhr as the son of a skilled farmer who also ran a coach rental business. He looks like a man who could successfully pursue both of these professions. But in fact, Petersen has devoted himself for decades to very small things: watches and the perfect interplay of hundreds of parts, most of them very tiny and delicate, in their mechanical movements. Petersen developed his passion for timepieces and the technology that drives them when he was a young boy growing up in the northern German city of Lübeck, where his grandfather had a watchmaking business. In the workshop next to the showroom, Petersen spent his happiest vacations as a child.

“At the age of six I was already determined to become a watchmaker,” he recalls.

brown watches

Corporate history as a jigsaw puzzle

Back then, the only training program for watchmakers was in Hamburg. Carsten Petersen therefore moved to the big city, and as a country boy he initially felt like a stranger in his new surroundings. Nonetheless, he stayed — and quickly became successful. As soon as he finished his training as a watchmaker he was hired by Wempe. There he completed a further training program as a retail salesman and soon switched to a job at the company’s headquarters on Steinstrasse.

His first task was to organize technical information about new watch models for the Wempe showrooms. But his superiors soon noticed that this young man’s interest in watches went far beyond this task, that he was an active member of the German Society for Chronometry, and that he collected historic reference works and was acquiring a detailed knowledge of watchmaking.

“Wempe is a family-owned company,” Petersen says. “It’s a place where everyone talks to everyone else. The company’s managers have a clear picture of the talents and interests an individual employee is bringing to the job.”

Carsten Petersen became one of the first Wempe “watch sommeliers.” The company grants this special title only to its most knowledgeable watch experts. The members of this select group of employees have certain advantages. For example, they are entitled to attend regular training courses at international suppliers and many Swiss watch manufactures. They can also make personal visits to the respective workshops in order to make quality assessments on site and acquire specialized professional know-how. Carsten Petersen says that the opportunity to look behind the scenes at the leading watchmakers’ premises is one of the thrilling privileges of a “sommelier.”

He has also become Wempe’s in-house chronicler. Using books, old records and business letters, he is reconstructing the company’s history, which goes back for more than 135 years. “Sometimes it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” he admits — but it’s obvious that he’s looking forward to finding the next tiny pieces. “I’ve just discovered a whole box of records down in the cellar,” he reports with glee.


photo album

A shopping trip with the senior director

After Wempe decided to open up its own small museum, appropriate exhibits had to be found. For this purpose, Petersen went on an international shopping trip with the senior director, Hellmut Wempe. In flea markets and watch exchanges and on the Internet, they found many watches that document the history of the company within the context of its time. Today, visitors to the two floors of exhibition rooms in the museum can see historic diamond scales, rare luxury watches, classic pilot’s watches, Wempe marine chronometers, and historic jewelry. The exhibits are supplemented with photographs and old newspaper advertisements of this family-owned company. Petersen has been the curator of the collection since the museum’s opening in 2011 — and he’s still buying items for the exhibition. “In the smaller auction houses you can find interesting items again and again,” he says. Petersen gets to hear the most interesting stories when he’s purchasing items from private individuals. For example, he was told that a group of young sailors had survived a shipwreck because they were able to navigate their lifeboat by means of a watch bought at Wempe.


Wempe Carsten Peteresen Table Clock

The days when Carsten Petersen felt like a stranger in the big city of Hamburg now lie far back in the past. He loves the Kontorhaus district, in which the listed headquarters building of Wempe is located. Very near to Petersen’s workplace is one of his favorite spots, which offers a sweeping view of the warehouse district, the imposing Expressionist brick buildings of the great Hamburg trading companies, the Elbphilharmonie — and the Elbe River, of course. “Another reason why I like this neighborhood is that it reflects the spirit of the city — its farsightedness and its openness to the world,” he says.


Portrait Carsten Petersen

Leisure activities without a watch

In his office, Petersen also performs his tasks as the Brand Manager of Wempe Glashütte I/SA and its two in-house watch lines. He is particularly well-suited to this challenging position, because the company’s long watchmaking tradition is closely connected with the chronometer-certified technology of all of the Wempe timepieces and in some cases also with the design.

Petersen is a very busy man, but when guests come to the headquarters, which are popularly known as “Gülden Gerd” (“Golden Gerd” was the nickname of the company founder, Gerhard D. Wempe), he’s happy to personally take them on a tour of the museum or the workshop. He especially enjoys the groups of very young guests. “We sometimes have groups of kindergartner children as visitors. I build sundials with them in the conference room and talk to them about time. When I do that, I still learn new things myself,” he explains enthusiastically.

Is there ever a moment when this timepiece expert can do without his watch? “Oh yes, I’ve created such opportunities for myself,” he says. “Otherwise even I would have lost my interest in watches at some point.” When his father gave up his coach rental business, Petersen brought the coach horses to his home in Hamburg. He doesn’t want to burden them with too many trips — “They’ve already got many kilometers of travel behind them,” he says — but he spends some time with them in the pasture almost every day. At such times he deliberately leaves his watch behind. It’s a real satisfaction, he says, “to simply shovel a couple of tons of manure and forget all about the passage of time.”


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