If you want to buy a watch, then Zurich’s city centre is the right place to visit. But if you don't want to buy just any watch – if you're looking for exactly the right one – then you should leave the chic boutiques on Bahnhofstrasse behind you. In Niederdorf, connoisseurs have a guaranteed tip that goes beyond the usual luxury brands.
Theodor Wachtel knows what salesmanship is about. He is a man who knows the importance of making sure that a watch really suits its wearer. ‘I sometimes end up discouraging someone from buying an expensive branded piece,’ says Wachtel. In an industry that seems to run on the credo ‘the more expensive the better’, this is a refreshingly authentic approach.
Wachtel knows the value of watches as status symbols – and fights gently but definitively against it. As we talk, a middle-aged gentleman enters the shop and asks for advice about buying a watch as gift for his son’s 18th birthday. He’s looking for the ‘right’ thing; he has a Rolex or an Omega in mind.
‘For an 18-year-old boy, I would recommend beginning with something smaller.’
Wachtel, a handsome man with his top button left undone, grins as if he recognises just this type of buyer. ‘It’s my job to give advice. A watch has to suit its wearer. And for an 18-year-old boy, I would recommend beginning with something smaller.’ Wachtel takes the time to show the Rolexes and Omegas to the birthday boy's father, and in between, he points deftly to other models; ones that are not so prestigious at first glance.
Organised chaos is the order of the day in Uhren Atelier, which was opened 23 years ago by Wachtel and a friend. Alongside a pocket-sized classic Mondaine station clock glistens a golden Audemars Piguet. One of the corners is full of cuckoo clocks. ‘I wouldn’t buy them here, though; there are other shops that are more specialised.’ Wachtel’s honesty and his tremendous expertise continue to impress me. His shop has very little in common with the chic boutiques on Bahnhofstrasse, just a few minutes’ walk from Uhren Atelier. Wachtel has no concierge to welcome you into the shop and take your wet umbrella.
In Uhren Atelier, Wachtel asks for patience. ‘Buying a watch is like buying a new car – you take a good look and consider it carefully.’ And then maybe you come back and look at the options again later. ‘And with the necessary patience, you will find the right one.’ However, there is one big difference compared to buying a car: ‘A car needs new shock absorbers at some point, it loses value – but when you treat a watch properly, it lasts forever.’
Things are more leisurely than on the busy Bahnhofstrasse, which seems to me to be turning ever more into a place to churn out luxury goods.
Patience is a word that keeps on coming up this evening. Wachtel has plenty of it: the auctioneer from Mannheim had to wait a long time before, in 1994, he found a shop where he and his colleague Anton Beal, who is still involved in the business today, could turn their hobby into a profession. The character of Zurich’s Niederdorf district suits Uhren Atelier, and particularly suits Wachtel. The clocks seem to run more slowly here. Things are more leisurely than on the busy Bahnhofstrasse, which seems to me to be turning ever more into a place to churn out luxury goods.
You can even find true love at Rindermarkt – and Wachtel is the perfect example. He wears his on his wrist. It’s called Aquanaut and comes from Patek Philippe. Yes, it’s prestigious, but Wachtel wasn’t hasty in choosing his beloved – and perhaps there’s another flirtation or two on the side. And me? When I leave the shop, I stop to look at the window full of attractive watches. ‘But get to know them properly first,’ Wachtel would probably say.