The watch experts at Wempe celebrate the 40th anniversary of its Fifth Avenue showroom.
WEMPE’s original New York location at 695 Fifth Ave. in 1980
What began as a tiny business in 19th century Germany has expanded into an iconic Fifth Avenue institution with the world’s biggest names in watchmaking. Proudly located in the heart of Manhattan at 700 Fifth Ave., iconic horlogerie Wempe (wempe.com) is ringing in its 40th year stateside by releasing limited-edition timepiece collaborations and honoring its dedicated team.
Wempe’s New York journey began in 1980, when the grandson of the Wempe empire decided to expand the store beyond its German roots. Hellmut Wempe chose New York City as Wempe’s first international location, and decided only the best locale would do: Fifth Avenue. He persuaded another store owner at 695 Fifth Ave. to share half of its real estate. At first, Wempe’s New York showroom struggled for years, but instead of cutting his losses, Wempe was determined to succeed. In 1987, Hellmut Wempe hired Germanborn Rüdiger Albers, currently Wempe’s president, as a master watchmaker.
“I was very fortunate that a few years later, the then-manager fell in love with the son of Max Mara, moved into his castle in Italy, and I moved into her office. I became the manager at a very young age and started to work on this puzzle,” says Albers. He was given two years to make the store a success. “I loved it in New York right away, and I wanted to have a reason to stay, so I got to work, and we became the strongest-performing store in the Wempe universe.”
Now, the boutique has a sprawling 500 square meters of sales room at its 700 Fifth Ave. location, a second boutique in Fifth Avenue’s Rolex building and a total of 35 stores worldwide, including Paris, London and Madrid. Albers credits Wempe’s prosperity to the lengths its employees go to in order to provide their customers with a warm, comfortable environment.
“We have a long list of customers that have been with us from the very first moment [in New York] until today and then their kids,” Albers says. “Once you shop with Wempe, you just don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Albers also attributes Wempe’s success to the longevity of the team’s members, many of whom have been with the company for decades—Albers himself has been a part of Wempe’s team for 33 years. Wempe prides itself on celebrating its employees’ individuality, which is why uniforms aren’t required. The boutique includes a state-of-theart service department, which is one of four repair centers in the country authorized by Patek Philippe.
A vintage description of Albers’ quest to find a Fifth Avenue location. He approached the owner of a shoe store about subdividing the space.
Through the years, Wempe has evolved by becoming more Americanized without sacrificing its German heritage, keeping its emphasis on service quality while continuing to expand its store. One new development will be Wempe’s augmentation of its online presence this winter. “I think we’re still who we were 40 years ago, just getting a little better every day,” says Albers.
The Wempe Iron Walker Automatic Chronometer
Wempe marked the 40th anniversary of its Fifth Avenue flagship store with a special limited edition from its Iron Walker Diver line. Named after the legendary New York construction workers who balanced steel girders for skyscrapers at dizzying heights in the early 20th century, it features red, white and blue colors as homage to Wempe’s rich 40 year history in the US. The red 40-minute mark emphasizing the anniversary year as well the number of watches produced in this combination. The accuracy of the self winding movement is of course chronometer certified.
“We pride ourselves on giving customers a special experience,” says Albers. “That you walk out feeling like that was a whole different level of luxury that you will always cherish and have positive thoughts when you look at your watch.”