The Legacy of Carl F. BuchererBy Revolution
Passion & Confidence
We begin our story at a door. Behind it stands a man and his adoring wife, who are about to open it to the world and write a legacy that is today a hundred and thirty-three years in the making. And one, which is still being written. We, of course, speak of the visionary Carl Friedrich Bucherer and his wife, Luise Bucherer, who in 1888 opened a watch and jewellery boutique at Schwanenplatz in Lucerne, Switzerland, and penned the first few lines to a legacy that has brought an institution to life.
It is important to paint a picture of Lucerne in order to understand why tourism took on an upward trajectory in this picturesque Swiss city. In the second half of the 19th century, Lucerne had become the darling of artists and royalty looking to find refuge. A city set in the middle of Switzerland, cradled within the Swiss alps and located on the shores of Lake Lucerne, here is where a dejected and mourning Richard Wagner found strength and inspiration to complete his opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Mark Twain wrote about the city a number of times and popularised it having visited it twice. There was also the Swiss poet, Carl Spitteler, who chose to call Lucerne his home for the last three decades of his life and wrote the allegoric-epic poem, Olympischer Frühling, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1919.
You see, this picture of the city that Lucerne was in 1888 reveals the importance and value it had. This period also gave rise to a number of its landmark architectural developments, some of them hotels, which stand firm to this day. In fact, it was in this season, in this city, that a certain César Ritz established the Grand Hôtel National in Lucerne as the most elegant hotel in Europe.
We understand, therefore, that Lucerne’s residents and those who chose to visit the city, must’ve been people who loved life and knew how to enjoy the finer things it offered. And when they opened the doors to their boutique on the first day, Carl Friedrich and Luise Bucherer were more than cognizant of the world they were about to welcome in. They knew that their customers would be of a certain means and education, which meant that they had to offer objects of luxury and the extraordinary. But most importantly, they had to cater to this crowd in a way that would inspire trust and, therefore, ensure patronage.
Clearly the Bucherers had this formula dialled in and, of course, they had earned the trust of their customers. Because the story goes that just a few years on, the boutique had become so successful that there was enough confidence for the couple to open further locations. The business at this point continued to offer watches and fine jewellery, but Carl Friedrich himself saw that there was immense potential in the realm of wristwatches and greatly shifted his focus towards retailing some of Swiss watchmaking’s crowning brands to great effect.
Perhaps, and ultimately, what garnered Carl Friedrich’s success was not so much a case of his astute business acumen — which he certainly possessed — but of his passion for what he did. It is possibly the only way to explain the trust he won from his customers in such a short time. But the greatest evidence of his passion is how his work inspired his sons, Ernst and Carl Eduard Bucherer, to become a watchmaker and a goldsmith respectively.
The entire Bucherer family was now engaged in the business and in 1913, after a tour of various cities, it was the brothers who first managed to establish the family name outside of Switzerland at 47 Unter den Linden, Berlin. Alas, their presence in Berlin was short-lived when, in 1918, they had to leave the premises with the rise of the revolution. But we go back to that quality of their father’s passion. It’s evident that this quality had rubbed off on the brothers not just because of the professions they pursued, but also in Berlin, when in a brief five years, they had managed to garner a superb base of customers, who were known then to travel to Lucerne to make their purchases from the Bucherer family.
Passion for and confidence in their work is what formed the potent cocktail for the family’s next great venture: their first wristwatch, which was produced in 1919. This joint effort by the brothers bore the name of the collection, La Grande Dame. This was an intricate, highly faceted, rectangular timepiece, which was set on a bracelet and targeted towards women. It is difficult to explain completely how courageous this endeavour was because, let’s not forget, the family had chosen to invest in making their own wristwatches at a time when pocket watches were the de facto choice for timepieces.
The Bucherers’ foresight was clearly spot on, because it was in the following decade that the Swiss watch industry saw a huge surge in demand, exporting some 6 million timepieces in the swinging 1920s, a large portion of which was attributed to the rise in the desire for wristwatches. Now compelled by the confidence that the family’s foresight had brought, Ernst, Carl Eduard and his wife Wilhelmina Bucherer-Heeb ventured far across the Atlantic to progress the business in Santiago, Chile in South America.
Wilhelmina was a gifted businesswoman herself. A story told about her recounts that while in South America, she proved to be such a source of charm and confidence that she inspired a brand-new breed of Chilean watch lovers. It is with deep sadness that we learn, therefore, that in 1927 the talented Wilhelmina met her end when she was on the steamship Principessa Mafalda, bound for Buenos Aires, which sank and took her life and the lives of 314 others.
In sadness, the Bucherer brothers returned to Lucerne to be with the family. But there would come another blow in 1934, when Carl Friedrich Bucherer breathed his last breath. Ernst and Carl Eduard were, of course, devastated but they recognised fully well that the responsibility was on them now to build their father’s legacy into an institution. With their combined technical knowhow, the brothers set the Bucherer’s watchmaking abilities on an ambitious trajectory.
By the 1940s, Bucherer was producing ever more complicated timepieces. All of them, in catering to the calibre of clientele they had amassed, were encased in solid or plated yellow gold. With the Second World War, there was a further realignment of what the wristwatch represented to human beings. This led to the creation of the BiCompax chronograph with central sweep seconds in the late 1940s, which became highly sought after by their customers, in line with an increased interest among the elite for motor cars and gentlemanly motor racing. The watch had a salmon-coloured dial which was set in a gold case.
The Bucherer family would lose Carl Eduard in 1951. But there was little time to mourn because as the decade marched on, thanks in part to the world becoming a smaller place with travel becoming more accessible, Bucherer was visited by customers who flew in from far and wide to Lucerne, making the brand a truly cosmopolitan one. And in order to cater to the tastes of these jetsetters, the company produced its first world timer in gold, with two crowns with the alternate one at 9 o’clock that allowed for adjustment of the internal city ring. A heightened standard of chronometry was also introduced to Bucherer watches: they had antimagnetic protection and shock resistance, perfectly suited to withstand the perils of frequent travel.
Present day Carl F. Bucherer also records that in the 1950s, while automatic mechanical watches were becoming the choice of all watch lovers, the brand seized the opportunity to pursue a greater level of creativity with Bucherer’s artisans showing off their flair for aesthetics with unusual watches mounted on brooches, necklaces and rings.
In the 1960s, it was thanks to the standard for greater chronometry set in the 1950s that allowed Bucherer to specialize in chronometers and watches that could be marked on their dials with this point of differentiation. The company was also poised to acquire Credos SA, which allowed for an expansion of watchmaking capabilities that saw Bucherer become one of the top three chronometer manufacturers in Switzerland at the time.
A New Generation
In the same way that Carl Friedrich Bucherer had the foresight in the beginning to build his endeavour based on his own passion and the confidence of his customers, the company at the time knew that by embracing new technology and keeping true to the spirit of their watchmaking was the only way to navigate this season of uncertainty.
Challenging times often also require fresh eyes to bring new ideas and fresh insight into unprecedented situations. Accordingly, it was decided in 1977 that Jörg G. Bucherer, son of Carl Eduard, would start his tenure as the leader at the helm of the family company. He decreed that the best way to keep true to the company’s values while embracing this new era was to independently manufacture both mechanical and quartz watches to equally exacting standards.
It was under Jörg G.’s leadership that the Bucherer Archimedes Perpetual Calendar was presented, a watch that required that the date be set once every 400 years. But there weren’t just complications; there was also a gold rectangular Bucherer Archimedes wristwatch with finely worked and extended sides, which was produced with style and elegance in mind. This particular timepiece had a seconds subdial towards the lower half of the rectangle, the minute dial towards the top, and at 12 o’clock, a jumping digital hour window.
At the turn of the 21st century, 2001 to be precise, Jörg G. Bucherer, in recognition of how deeply rooted the company remained in his grandfather’s passion and spirit, decided that the brand should now bear its founder’s name. And here’s proof positive of this fact: in 2008, with an understanding of the reality that people no longer wore their wristwatches for utility but rather out of a pure emotional desire, Carl F. Bucherer, the company, developed and manufactured the CFB A1000 movement, featuring the world’s first serially-produced peripheral rotor whose oscillating weight orbits the movement. This patented peripheral rotor, of course, enabled the convenience of an automatic movement and left an unencumbered view of the movement through a transparent sapphire caseback for the watch lover’s enjoyment.
The idea behind the CFB A1000 was fine-tuned with the launch of the COSC-certified CFB A2000. This rapid progress with the peripheral rotor mechanism gave the Manufacture Carl F. Bucherer the confidence to demonstrate its now-established expertise. This it did by unveiling the Heritage Tourbillon Double Peripheral – Limited Edition in 2018, powered by the in-house developed and manufactured CFB T3000 calibre, which boasts a floating tourbillon and an automatic winding system that are both mounted peripherally. The innovative timepiece and movement’s pièce de resistance is that here is a watch which keeps its juice using Carl F. Bucherer’s peripheral rotor knowhow and is regulated by a tourbillon with a carriage driven at its periphery, making it look like a floating, beating heart. On top of all this, the watch is a COSC-certified chronometer and features a stop seconds mechanism.
Innovation, while great, cannot be done at the expense of the past. And in this matter, while the Heritage Tourbillon Double Peripheral Limited Edition is an absolutely contemporary creation, its 18-karat white gold bridge, visible through the sapphire crystal back, is decorated with an elaborate engraving of a city view of Lucerne, an ode to Carl F. Bucherer’s hometown. On the depiction of Lake Lucerne, the artisans at Carl F. Bucherer have included a swan, whose position differs on each of the 88-piece limited edition timepieces, a fine nuance that further underscores the unique character of each of these watches.
A quick side note on the Heritage collection of watches at this point. You see, the Carl F. Bucherer Heritage collection resides under the universe of “Maison & Heritage”, which as the brand has chosen to reflect the company’s dedication to contemporary craftsmanship and the art of traditional watchmaking that has defined Carl F. Bucherer since its early days. The word Maison indicates that the timepiece is one which is equipped with one of the brand’s in-house movements with the peripheral technology, unique to the company. Thereafter, the word Heritage distinguishes the watches that are created to tangibly reflect and honour the history of Carl F. Bucherer and its over 130 years of watchmaking. In summary, the Maison & Heritage timepieces embody the brand’s “Made of Lucerne” mantra, meaning that each of these is an expression of the brand’s values and a loving tribute to its hometown.
Coming back to the Heritage Tourbillon Double Peripheral Limited Edition, such progressive watchmaking aside, the company is also mindful to take inspiration directly from its past to apply to its watchmaking as a way to keep its heritage front and centre. One such creation of present-day Carl F. Bucherer is the Heritage BiCompax Annual, which is directly inspired by its previously-mentioned namesake produced under the leadership of Ernst and Carl Eduard Bucherer.
Launched at Baselworld 2019, the Heritage BiCompax Annual was initially produced in steel and bi-colour (stainless steel and 18-karat rose gold)) versions measuring in at a diameter of 41mm. And while the all-steel version was given a silver-coloured dial with black subdials, the bi-colour variation features a rose-and-champagne-coloured dial, reminiscent of the mid-century timepiece that inspired the watch. Most recently at Watches & Wonders 2021, Carl F. Bucherer introduced a new contrasting version of its popular Heritage BiCompax Annual, this time in steel with a black dial and silver-coloured subdials.
Reminiscing on its heritage, though, did not keep Carl F. Bucherer from applying the full weight of its present-day watchmaking knowhow to the Heritage BiCompax Annual. Because of the watch’s movement, the CFB 1972 calibre, they’ve gone all out to produce a robust contemporary automatic mechanism with the added advantage of an annual calendar. The annual calendar is expressed on the dial of the watch with a big date window at 12 o’clock and the month indication between the hour markers at 4 and 5 o’clock. All these versions of the Heritage BiCompax Annual were issued in 888-piece limited editions.
Alongside the new version of the Heritage BiCompax Annual, the company also launched the Manero Minute Repeater Symphony at Watches & Wonders 2021, which is possibly the ultimate expression of the brand’s watchmaking. Because the timepiece boasts not only Carl F. Bucherer’s Peripheral Winding System and floating Peripheral Tourbillon but also incorporates a third peripheral mechanism, the watch’s COSC certified Calibre CFB MR3000 is “Triple Peripheral”. The third peripheral element has to do with the timepiece’s chiming minute repeater mechanism whose regulator is mounted peripherally – a first in the world of watchmaking, for which Carl F. Bucherer has applied for a patent.
At the end of this chapter, it’s not difficult to see how from the day that Carl Friedrich and Luise Bucherer opened the door to their boutique in 1888, the passion expressed, the trust and confidence earned, and the constant application of daring foresight are the very same values and qualities that the contemporary Carl F. Bucherer has upheld to secure its successes from decade to decade and through challenging times. And as long as the company holds true to these strengths, we can only say that there remain many more doors of possibilities yet to be opened, for many more generations to come.
Today, Carl F. Bucherer has become an internationally renowned global brand with a presence throughout the world in over 400 points of sale, characterized by its founder’s pioneering spirit and the cosmopolitan spirit of its home city of Lucerne. The company is the only family-owned Swiss watch manufacturer that is still entirely run by the founding family. The Bucherers traveled the world from the beginning of the twentieth century, and the brand expanded internationally. In spite of the cosmopolitan spirit that continues to shape their image, the family always remained loyal to its homeland in the heart of Switzerland. Along with its sense of perfection, the Lucerne-based manufacturer is still guided by its irrepressible commitment to innovation, which includes a passion for a blend of tradition, innovation, excellence, and sustainability in everything they do. These extraordinary values are reflected in the history, in the partnerships and, of course, in the timepieces of Carl F. Bucherer.