An interview with the founder of Swiss Watch Tours – Roy Slater-Hill
Roy – what does Swiss Watch Tours do?
We take watch enthusiasts and collectors to see “where & how” fine mechanical watches are made in the region where I live.
Where did the idea come from?
I had always been a watch fan and when we moved to Switzerland from the UK with my wife’s work I could not believe my luck when I found we were living right in the heart of the watch making region.
I wanted to see watch manufacturing at its finest but a Swiss friend said“You have no chance of that”.
Despite what she told you, did the watch manufacturers welcome you with open arms?
Far from it! It was very much closed to visitors. Think of secret Swiss banking and you will get the right idea with the factories.
What happened that you went ahead with the idea of taking visitors to the watch factories?
I was teaching English as a second language and was meeting people from the factories, spring manufacture, bracelets, hands etc. Then one day, when I asked a production manager from a factory if I could bring visitors to see what they do he said “Yes”. So with that opening I took the plunge and we filmed the video for the web site, built that and then launched in December 2010. I contacted the same production manager to ask about taking visitors and had no reply. I immediately thought I was in trouble having spent thousands of francs on the web site.
So what happened next?
Luckily for me I was contacted by a lady journalist at the local newspaper and she published an article about me and importantly, Swiss Watch Tours. I was then contacted by three of the watch manufacturers and after careful negotiation I had agreement to take visitors to see the “where and how”.
What do you offer to interested visitors?
We have the day tour (our most popular tour); the seasonal tours which are fully inclusive of nights at a local five-star hotel, a talk about the history of Swiss watch making and a talk and demonstration about gemmology.
The tours are intimate experiences and ideal for those looking for a new and rare opportunity to learn how their watches are made. – Roy Slater-Hill
Excuse my ignorance but what is gemmology?
It is the science of dealing with natural and artificial gemstone materials. So, for watch companies it is the selection of diamonds for use in decorating watches for several aspects. And the ladies particularly like this part of a watch tour.
For 2016 we will have the two-day tour & watch-making course where visitors get to make a watch during an afternoon.
So who books the watch tours – men?
No it’s mostly the wife or partner but increasingly the daughter or son of the watch enthusiast. And because the tours are such intimate experiences they are ideal for those who are looking for a new and rare opportunity to learn how their watches are made and meet the skilled craftsmen and women behind each piece.
With different types of tours available do they have to book a particular date?
We have gift certificates for the “Birthday boy” or man and which are available for almost any amount of money – in francs. The reaction, so the ladies tell us, is wonderful as most men do not know they can come to see watch factories in Switzerland. It’s a real surprise.
When did you first like Swiss watches?
My parents took my brother and me to Switzerland when we were school age. We stayed in a watch maker’s wooden chalet high up on Mont Pelerin, above Vevey where he had his shop – since that time I have always been fascinated.
What brought you to the country?
A school friend of my Mother was living in Geneva with her husband who was a physicist at CERN. We even visited it when it was in its infancy.
Did you ever think or dream you would end up back in the country you obviously fell for all those years ago?
Certainly not but thanks to my wife bringing us here I saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity and grasped it.
So thinking of your wife and thinking of watches who. . or perhaps what do you love most?
[Glancing nervously at his expensive watch Roy excuses himself and heads for the door.]
by Leigh Gapp
Swiss Watch Tours – Where and how
Route de la Falaise 4