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Four generations of Wempe

A family-owned company discovers the threefold path to success: reliability, exclusivity and continuity.

1878 - 1921 Gerhard Diedrich Wempe: The Pioneer

drawing Gerhard Diedrich Wempe
He was a simple watchmaker, and his start-up capital amounted to exactly 80 marks. But Gerhard Diedrich Wilhelm Wempe also had a number of good ideas when he opened his first modest shop on 5 May 1878 in the town of Elsfleth an der Weser. This was a small watch workshop that also sold watches, and it was located in the house owned by his Aunt Caroline. Nothing like this had ever been seen before in Elsfleth. That’s because Wempe was aligning his business with the special needs of his customers. At that time, the local economy was stagnating. The main industry in Elsfleth had been the construction of sailing ships, but now the era of steamships was beginning. As a result, Wempe initially focused his business on the trade in used watches. His approach was successful, and it wasn’t long before the locals were calling him “Gülden Gerd” (Golden Gerd). He invested his profits immediately — and this innovation was to become a hallmark of his family-owned company. Gerhard Diedrich Wempe also spent a great deal of time and money on the design of his shop windows. No other shop had such appealing displays, and no other shop attracted so many customers. Wempe was defining the formula that would carry the company through the severe crises of the following decades: his shops offered the best quality, the broadest range of products and the highest level of customer care.

1921 - 1963: Herbert Wempe: Age of Chronometerwerke

 Drawing Herbert Wempe
At the age of 31, Herbert Wempe now bore the sole responsibility for the family company. True to his father’s maxims, Herbert Wempe boldly invested in the company’s future. All of his branches received a uniform shop design both inside and out. Today this approach is known as “building a corporate identity”, but in the 1920s it was still not a common practice. In this way, Wempe ensured that his customers would always be able to recognize one of his shops and would always feel at home there. This has remained a hallmark of Wempe shops down to the present day. Another unique selling point introduced by Herbert Wempe was its expanded customer services. Wempe repaired all watches, including those from the famous Swiss brands. All of these measures proved to be successful. When the global economic crisis bore down on Germany, the company’s financial strength enabled it to survive the severe recession. The company’s next major investment was made in 1938. Wempe bought Hamburger Chronometerwerke GmbH from shipbuilders based in Hamburg and Bremen. Through this purchase, Wempe laid the foundations of the company’s own internationally competitive chronometer workshop, which also served as a training facility for talented watchmakers.

1963 - 2003: Hellmut Wempe: International Expansion

Drawing Helmut Wempe

The youngest son, Hellmut Wempe, took on his first set of responsibilities for the company as a 13-year-old and joined the company in 1950 at the age of 18. The new beginning was successful. The first branch that Hellmut Wempe managed independently was located in the Barmbek district of Hamburg. In the period until the early 1960s, the company established ten branches throughout Hamburg. The German “economic miracle” made it possible — and the Wempes took advantage of this opportunity. Herbert Wempe died in 1963 and Hellmut took over the management of the company. Altogether, Hellmut Wempe expanded the family empire to include 29 branches throughout the world.

Since 2003 - Kim-Eva Wempe: The road to the future 

Drawing Kim-Eva Wempe

Kim-Eva Wempe’s predecessors were watchmakers with an unerring business sense. Conversely, she studied business management — and as a businesswoman she has demonstrated, down to the present day, that she too has inherited the family’s love of fine timepieces and jewellery. In several steps, she has strategically guided the company’s development in new directions, thus laying the foundation for further Expansion. It all began at the turn of the millennium with a line of jewelry. Together with her colleagues, Kim-Eva Wempe developed her own signature in the field of jewelry design through the BY KIM brand. The pieces in these collections are voluminous, yet transparent. They are cosmopolitan — for women who follow fashion and are in tune with the spirit of the times. The rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and brooches BY KIM soon acquired an international following. BY KIM became a success, and today it is the company’s segment with the second-largest turnover. In just a few years, Kim-Eva Wempe has significantly expanded the family-owned company. Formerly a dealer of fine timepieces and jewelry, it is now also a brand of fine timepieces and jewelry — pieces created in innovative workshops that belong to the company. Under Kim-Eva’s aegis, Wempe’s turnover increased from 167 million euros in 2003 to 441 million euros in 2012 and the number of its employees augmented considerably. “Our employees are the capital with which my children will create value in their turn,” says Kim-Eva Wempe today. Her daughter Chiara is interested in jewelry design, and her son Scott already has some ideas of his own for the company. The Wempe tradition is continuing — in the next generation.

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