The history of this family-owned company from 1878 until today
1878 The company is founded by the master watchmaker Gerhard Dietrich Wilhelm Wempe (1857–1921) in Elsfleth on the Weser River near Bremen
In 1878, 21-year-old Gerhard D. Wempe (1857–1921) laid the foundation stone of the Wempe company in the small town of Elsfleth on the Weser River. He wrote, “I shall endeavor to offer the best goods, the broadest selection, and the most accommodating service to my honored customers.” This resolution, which he fulfilled in many different ways, is still valid for Wempe today.
Gerhard D. Wempe, who earned the nickname “Gülden Gerd” (Golden Gerd) for himself in Elsfleth, was successful thanks to his good ideas. He opened his first proper shop in Oldenburg in 1894 and another shop in Hamburg in 1907. Thanks to all that he achieved through his love of the watchmaker’s art and his knack for business, he became a pioneer of the watch and jewelry trade. He proceeded to build up a small network of shops in Hamburg.
1921 After the death of his father, Herbert Wempe (1890–1963) takes over the helm of the company
In 1921 Gerhard D. Wempe’s only son Herbert (1890–1963) took over responsibility for the business. Six years later he received the first exclusive concession from the Geneva-based watchmaking company Patek Philippe. All of the Wempe shops were provided with a uniform interior design and the typical Wempe logo, which is still used today. The aim was to enable customers to recognize a Wempe shop immediately and to feel welcome. Back then as well as today, Wempe bore responsibility for its products long after they were sold to customers. All of the watches sold by the company, including the renowned Swiss brands, can be serviced and repaired at Wempe — and that is an extremely impressive promise. Herbert Wempe invested in a training program for aspiring young watchmakers and also bought the Chronometerwerke Hamburg company, which produced highly accurate timepieces for calculating ships’ locations in marine navigation. Because manufacturing chronometers is an excellent way for apprentices to acquire watchmaking skills, Herbert Wempe could also use this production facility as an institute of research and advanced training.
1923 Purchase of the company’s present-day headquarters in Steinstrasse, Hamburg; the building is called “Gülden Gerd” (Golden Gerd) after the founder’s nickname
During the reign of National Socialism, the Wempe company and the A. Lange & Söhne company in Glashütte lost their independence and were compelled to produce war materials. On orders of the wartime navy, the two companies worked largely in tandem to produce the unified chronometer that had been developed and patented by Wempe. In 1943 five of the Wempe shops in Hamburg were destroyed in aerial attacks and the two remaining shops were closed down by the authorities.
After the war, Herbert Wempe and his son Hellmut (born in 1932) rebuilt the company. In 1950 the Chronometerwerke company moved into new premises on the Reeperbahn, and by 1953 there were once again five Wempe showrooms in Hamburg.
1953 Wempe becomes the first German sales partner of the Rolex watch brand
1963 Hellmut Wempe (born in 1932) takes over the responsibility for business operations after the death of his father Herbert Wempe
After his older brother was killed in the war, Hellmut Wempe had to bear a great deal of responsibility within the company at an early age. He supported his father, who gradually withdrew from the daily business operations. In 1953 Hellmut Wempe brought back the first Rolex watches to Hamburg from a trip to Switzerland. Until then, this Swiss watchmaker had not been well known in Germany. Through this innovation, Hellmut Wempe established his family’s significant partnership with this renowned watchmaker. In 1963 he took over the helm of the company. He focused on expansion from the very start, beginning by opening new showrooms, first in Lübeck and then in Bremen. Hellmut Wempe concentrated his range of goods on top-quality watches and jewelry. Year after year, he opened additional showrooms in Germany’s most important cities, such as Berlin, Hanover, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich, and Düsseldorf. In Hamburg as well, he soon opened a new Wempe showroom on the exclusive Jungfernstieg. The top-class locations of the Wempe showrooms became a hallmark of the brand.
In 1980 Hellmut Wempe took the bold step of opening his first showroom abroad, on Fifth Avenue in New York. In the USA, Wempe was an absolute newcomer, but thanks to the team’s enthusiasm and persistence the company succeeded in making a name for itself in this completely new market as well. Wempe’s in-depth advice to customers and expert craftsmanship were new to Americans, and they earned the company a great deal of recognition and a growing number of loyal customers. After its success in Manhattan, Wempe continued to expand throughout Europe, with showrooms in Paris, Vienna, London, and Madrid. Under the leadership of Hellmut Wempe, this family owned company from northern Germany became an internationally operating brand with showrooms all over the world.
2000 Launch of the by Kim jewelry brand
2003 On the company’s 125th anniversary, Hellmut Wempe hands over business operations to his daughter Kim-Eva
On the company’s 125th anniversary in 2003, Kim-Eva Wempe (born in 1962) took over the company’s business operations from her father, Hellmut Wempe. She had already been working for the company since 1984 and gradually growing into a managerial role. Under her leadership, Wempe evolved from being exclusively a merchandiser of exquisite watches and jewelry to being a manufacturer as well.
Part of the company’s mission is to offer the very best goods to its customers in every segment and in every price class. That’s why KimEva Wempe decided to fill the gaps in the company’s range of goods with watches and jewelry produced by Wempe itself. In 1992 she began to work on her first collection of jewelry. In 2000 she developed the successful by Kim brand, a creative and contemporary supplement to the company’s traditional product range.
In 2005 Kim-Eva Wempe bought the former Urania observatory, which perches high above the town of Glashütte in Saxony. This is where her grandfather Herbert Wempe had planned, together with Otto Lange, to open a center of research and advanced training for young watchmakers. The former observatory was extensively renovated, and in 2006 it became the production site of the Wempe Glashütte i/SA watch brand with the two lines Chronometerwerke and Zeitmeister. These high-quality timepieces soon became extremely popular and further enhanced Wempe’s prominence in its sector.
Jewelry by Kim has been manufactured since 2000 at the L. C. Köhler jewelry company in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a time-honored German center of the goldsmith’s art. In 2007 Wempe acquired 50 percent of the shares in L. C. Köhler. Since then, the company has been known as the Wempe Atelier L. C. Köhler.
Thanks to her bold and innovative style, Kim-Eva Wempe was honored as Hamburg’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2007. Since she took over responsibility for the company’s business operations, the number of employees at Wempe has grown from 174 to more than 700 and the company’s revenue has more than doubled. The next Wempe generation — Kim-Eva’s daughter Chiara and her son Scott — is gradually preparing for its future responsibilities. That’s because tradition is an especially important value for the Wempe company.
2009 Opening of the first Rolex Boutique in Germany, in Berlin
2010 Wempe employs more than 500 men and women for the first time; its revenue amounts to €300 million
2012 Opening of the brand boutique “Rolex Boutique presented by Wempe” on Fifth Avenue in New York City
2013 Opening of the first Wempe showroom in Asia, in Beijing
2015 Opening of the Patek Philippe Boutique, in Hamburg
2016 Sales floor extension in New York City with a Rolex and a Patek Philippe Boutique
2017 Opening of Germany’s largest watch and jewelry store in the Maximilianarkaden, in Munich, opening of two mono-label stores: Rolex Boutique Wempe, in Stuttgart and Hamburg