In 1980, when she was 18, Kim-Eva Wempe and her father, Hellmut, had a talk about the future of their family-owned watch and jewelry business. The first authorized retailer and service provider of brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, the company had built a legacy of excellence since its founding in 1878 in the town of Elsfleth in northern Germany, and had recently opened its first international location on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Kim-Eva and Hellmut agreed that when she turned 32—“When you really become an adult and you know what you stand for,” she says—she would decide whether to someday take the reins. “The only guideline was that the one who runs the company has to be the one who can do it best,” she says.
After studying business and holding internships at various watch and jewelry houses in Switzerland and Italy, Wempe joined the company in 1984; in 2003, she became CEO. By then, she had already made major changes, such as introducing and manufacturing Wempe’s own jewelry line, By Kim.
“I knew what product I wanted and I couldn’t find it. So I produced it,” she says. The same principle guided her decision in 2006 to create Wempe timepieces. Over the years that Wempe has expanded from a watch and jewelry retailer to a producer, revenue has increased 217 percent. Sales in 2015 from the company’s 32 worldwide boutiques totaled 530 million euros. North America, serviced by the Fifth Avenue store, represents more than 20 percent of the business, which has avoided the softening seen by many other luxury retailers.
“We are successful because, wherever we do business, we concentrate on the local customer,” Wempe says.