The Junod Museum – Depicting the nearly 140-year journey of a watch retailer

February 2006

Quite recently, in Lausanne on the shores of Lac Léman, the ‘first watchmaking museum’ in the city was opened. The primary interest of this modest museum (encompassing a little more than 100 square metres) is that, contrary to most of the other watch museums in the world, it is a living, and remarkably well presented, tribute to the long road travelled by a Swiss watch retailer. It begins in the latter half of the 19th century, and continues up to the present day.



This interesting and dynamic museum is due to the initiative of the descendents of the Junod family, Lionel and Nicolas Goei-Junod, the last “offspring” of a veritable local dynasty of watch retailers. The original business was created in 1867 by their ancestor Ami Junod, who was, himself, the son, grandson, and great grandson of watchmakers from the Jura region.
Established first in Sainte-Croix, in the foothills of the Jura mountain range, the Junod store moved to the centre of Lausanne in 1889. From then on, it continued the commerce of timekeeping without interruption, traversing all the vicissitudes of the Swiss industry, sharing its hours of glory as well as its moments of crisis, right up to the current store. Today, Junod is still in its original 1890s location, and it is here, on the first floor, where the museum has been established. Walking through it, we can relive, step by step, not only the history of the art of timekeeping, but also how it has spread and grown as a business. And, Heaven knows, there certainly have been major changes over time!



The Junod Museum

Retailers of timekeepers
In the beginning, and during a number of years - in fact, right up to the end of the 1950s - the Junod family, as was the case with many of their contemporaries, were as much watchmakers themselves, as they were manufacturers, inventors and merchants. Interestingly, in 1890, the founder, Ami Junod, crafted an imposing astronomical clock. This highly technical and complex device now passes its days in another museum, the International Centre of Mechanical Art in Sainte-Croix.
But, besides these exceptional realizations, the Junod family, for a very long period of time, sold watches that they made themselves. The store brought together countless suppliers who, during that era in the region, formed a solid artisanal and industrial fabric. Junod’s clientele included a very long list of highly prestigious customers, from the Emperor of Ethiopia to the King of Spain, with many notables from the world of politics, economics, and other assorted ‘stars’. The company also diversified its offer by becoming a specialist in the engraving of signet rings. (More than 3,000 imprints of various coats-of-arms are conserved in the family’s archives, with many also on display in the museum.)

The slow ascension of brands
When visiting the museum, we notice that the progression of brand dominance in the industry began only very slowly. “In the beginning, we sold almost no brands,” explains Nicolas Guei-Junod. “Then, for many long years, we collaborated with the very earliest brands, starting first with Longines, followed by Ulysse Nardin, and then a brand that has since disappeared, Gruen. This state of affairs lasted until the 1950s, even though during a brief period from 1914 to 1919, we were also the exclusive distributors of Omega for Switzerland.”
Omega is a brand that the Junod family would again develop a relationship with later, in 1960. At that time, Omega proposed a concept that was very innovative for the epoch: transform their business into an Omega pilot store. “To do this, we had to renounce all other brands,” explains Nicolas Goei-Junod, “but since Omega was the absolute Number One at the time, we accepted.”
The store thus hung up the Omega sign, and sold only this brand until the great quartz crisis shook the very foundations of the Swiss watchmaking industry in the middle of the 1970s. “The restriction against selling other brands was then removed, so we started adding to our inventory,” adds Goei-Junod. In 1979, the store began with Chopard, then took on Blancpain, whose re-launch occurred under the guidance of Jean-Claude Biver (who had earlier worked at… Omega), and then “all the others” followed.
Today, Junod represents Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Chopard, Ebel, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, TAG-Heuer, Tissot, Ulysse Nardin and Zenith. “It is now the era of the brands,” muses Nicolas Guei-Junod, with a note of nostalgia in his voice. “It is true, when I dig into the archives of our business, I sometimes say to myself that poetry hardly exists any more. There is no more room for improvisation; human relationships have become rare. Business reigns above all…”

Maintaining equilibrium
But, beyond this regret, we have to recognize that the watch “business” (in which today the brands, jealous of their privileges and their respective terrains, reign as absolute masters of the game) is doing quite well. We also observe that the Junod family has been able to maintain a perfect balance between the icy demands of modern luxury and the warmth of a friendly welcome and a very special ambiance.
A superb showcase of brands, presented in a consistent and tasteful manner in their “respective universes” (the Chopard corner is especially notable), the Junod store acquires a definite “additional soul” with its museum on the first floor. Besides the voyage through the history of the store, the visitor and client can rapidly admire the history of the principal stages of timekeeping, magnificently displayed thanks to a large series of remarkable pieces (more than 500 watches) including the first Reverso ever created, the first Zenith El Primero, rare examples of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Rolex, Patek Philippe, without forgetting, of course, the largest private collection of Omega watches.
This happily reminds us that beyond all the “marketing” clatter, there really is a true history of exploits and passion in the art of timekeeping, a history that we can all share. (www.junod-lausanne.ch)

DENIS ASCH adds Hautlence and Vulcain to its offer
Beyond the vast territories barricaded by increasingly restrictive and coercive policies of the large groups and brands, there are small enclaves of “liberty”, a few “niches” where small brands and independent creators can find space to showcase their wares, to explain what they are all about, and, of course, to sell their products.
One of these enclaves is particularly representative of a new generation of retailers, which is trying to move away from the straight-lined avenues of contemporary luxury. This retailer is called L'Heure Asch, located in Geneva for several years now, and run by Denis Asch. A watchmaker by training, Asch, under the slogan of “Exceptional Watches”, offers the visitor a delightful selection of high-quality and perfectly complementary brands. Among them are: the designers Vincent Calabrese and Vianney Halter, both from the AIHH; the quality brands of Chronoswiss, Eberhard and Jean-Mairet & Gillman, as well as NHC, which stands for Nouvelle Horlogerie Calabrese.
Recently, this wonderful showcase of timekeeping quality has added the two brands of Vulcain and Hautlence. “We will remain with these,” explains Denis Asch, “because I want to be able to serve each of my brands to perfection.”
Vulcain is a recently re-launched brand, well known primarily for its alarm watches, the famous “Cricket” timepieces equipped with an exclusive in-house movement (Europa Star 3/2005). Hautlence, on the other hand, is a totally new brand, created by two former TAG Heuer employees, who are proposing mechanical watches that are as sturdy, inventive, and as innovative as they are poetic (see Europa Star 2/2005).
For these two newest additions, the L'Heure Asch store is their first real sales point in Switzerland (although Vulcain is in 150 doors around the world). This is a demonstration of the often narrow and conservative attitude of the Swiss market, or even of the “locked” conditions that exist there. (www.heure-asch.com)

Source: December - January 2006 Issue

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