Wempe’s flagship at 700 Fifth Avenue has reopened after a two-year, $8 million renovation and expansion that more than doubled the selling space to 5,500 square feet and raised the retailer’s profile on the street with eight windows stretching across half a block of the facade of the Peninsula building to 55th Street.
The focus of the project was to increase the space for customers and integrate open salons for Patek Philippe and Rolex into the floor plan. Ceilings throughout the store were raised and many of the display cases are now directly accessible to shoppers.
The entrance area of the store is devoted to Wempe’s jewelry collection. Underscoring the company’s commitment to timepieces is a replica of Sinclair Harding’s H1 Sea Clock. The original marine chronometer, which made calculating longitude at sea possible, is at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich near London.
Wempe is known for the depth of its product range. “We didn’t enlarge the number of brands, but went deeper into the assortment,” said Kim-Eva Wempe, the fourth-generation head of the family-owned business, noting that the store sells 20 brands and offers a range of prices in every segment, from $1,000 to six figures. “We show a brand and its full collection.”
“My staff worked for 10 months during the renovation and didn’t lose a sale,” Wempe said. “We dedicated the new space to service with five watchmakers who have rooms where they can do repairs.” Service is a big aspect of the store, extending to staff on the selling floor. “The staff knows everything from every line and every brand,” Wempe said.
Timepieces are serious business for Wempe.
“We don’t do fashion watches or jewelry watches,” Wempe said.
Wempe’s grandfather started the company in 1878 in Hamburg. “My grandfather started with Patek Philippe and my father started with Rolex,” Wempe said. “I started with jewelry.”
Wempe lamented the fact that American women don’t spend a lot of money on jewelry. “It’s a pity that a woman will buy an[expensive] handbag, but she doesn’t buy nice jewelry for herself. Our jewelry starts at $1,000 and goes up to six figures. The average price of a watch is $8,000. The average price for jewelry? Not even $2,000.”
The flagship’s clientele is evenly split between men and women. “I can’t see it by gender,” Wempe said. “A 28-millimeter dial is the traditional size of a women’s watch. Women wear up to 41 millimeters.”
To commemorate the flagship’s reopening, the company created the Fifth Avenue limited edition Wempe Zeitmeister, a limited-edition watch with a silver-plated or black dial and large-format date priced at $2,890. The timepiece’s second hand and the number five of the date display appear in red, an accentuated reference to the store’s location.
The neo-classical building was erected in 1905 as the Gotham Hotel. “With the St. Regis [across the street] it was one of the first steel skyscrapers,” Wempe said. “The way we did the store is wonderful for this 100-plus year-old landmark building. And you still have intimate places where you can have a talk with a salesperson.”