How often does one come across a retailer founded before the establishment of the United States? Founded in 1760 in the humble Donaueschingen Germany, The Beyer Dynasty bears the title of the longest running watch and clock retailer. Royal dynasties, niche merchants, and retailers of precious items are usually catered to by their region. However, had it not been for Stephan Beyer, the dynasty might have never relocated to the epicentre of watchmaking, Switzerland. The talented watchmaker first embarked on his journey in Basel followed by Schaffhausen, where he met his wife, Katharina Gärtner – who was equally important in the founding of the Swiss Beyer Dynasty. Disagreement in religious beliefs almost forced Stephen to leave Switzerland, had it not been for Rheinau, Katharina’s original citizenship, the Beyer Dynasty might have never been established.
In 1830, Stephan Beyer founded a watch and spice shop in Feuerthalen, a combination that would be hard to come by today. In hindsight, the colonisation and the spice route were aided in part by marine chronometers; the combination seems somewhat fitting. It is believed that at the time the spice business was far more lucrative than watchmaking, therefore leading Beyer to diversify his options. Fast-forward to 1860, Theodor Beyer, the eldest son of Stephan Beyer, opened a clock and watch shop on bustling, Niederdorfstrasse. However, the scenic location did not bode well for Theodor’s relationship with his younger brother Johann Gustav. In 1867 The brothers parted ways and Theodor renamed the store from ‘Gebrüder Beyer’ to ‘Th. Beyer’. The passing of Theodor Beyer in 1870, led to one of the most beautiful phases of the Beyer Dynasty. Theodor’s wife, Karoline Beyer-Danioth, now held the reins of the company, their son, Adelrich, was only 12 years old at the time. Under Karoline’s tenure, the store was relocated once more at the newly built Palais de Crédit Suisse on Bahnhofstrasse.
Thereafter, the women of the Beyer family played an empirical role in the formation of the Dynasty we know today. Marie Valentine Meylan, the daughter-in-law of Karoline, met her son, Adelrich, at Patek Philippe during an apprenticeship. Marie came from a family of well-known watchmakers and so the roots of the dynasty finally trickled into the valleys of watchmaking and Patek Philippe. The journey was not without upheavals, at a certain point the entire Beyer family was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, forcing them to convert to Protestantism. From 1922 onwards, Theodor Julius managed the business on his own and renamed it to the name we know today, Chronometrie Beyer, Zurich. In 1927, the store would relocate one last time to Bahnhofstrasse 31 where it stands tall today.
The hardships of 1936 almost waved goodbye to the Beyer’s. The world economic crisis and devaluation of goods placed Beyer in a precarious state. As the tides turned, helping hands from landlords, bankers, Rolex, and Patek Philippe, all ensured the company’s survival. Today, Chronometrie Beyer is run by the 7th generation, Rene Beyer. His father, Theodor ‘Teddy’ Beyer, is often described as a pioneer and is largely credited with the formation of the museum found in the basement 31 Bahnhofstrasse. Teddy’s intuition and business acumen allowed him to capture segments of the industry that were not necessarily created yet. For instance, Beyer’s vintage department opened in 1965, according to Juergen Delémont, a key figure at the Vintage Department for Beyer for over 10 years, Beyer’s advantage lay in providing unparalleled service:
We treat vintage watches like new watches. All are inspected and restored in-house and have a one-year technical warranty. Each watch comes with a detailed history and is accompanied by a signed certificate.
Upon Theodor’s passing in 2002, parts of his private collection were auctioned for the benefit of the community and to ensure the future of the museum. Osvaldo Patrizzi, chairman of Antiquorum, was responsible for the sale of 153 lots in 2003. Rène Beyer spoke of how his father collected in an interview with swissinfo.
“My father was just basically buying the best that was available. He never went for second best. He did not compromise on quality”
There is perhaps no relationship that is as important as that between Beyer and both Patek Philippe and Rolex. As a result of the long-lasting friendships and fruitful partnerships some of the most important watches such as the ref. 2499 sold by Phillips in November 2020 are signed Beyer.
The first known Patek Philippe dedicated solely to Chronometrie Beyer was the ref. 3940 launched in May 1985 to commemorate the retailer’s 225th Anniversary.
This marked the launch of the iconic reference, the few times each dial was numbered, a feature usually reserved for the Tourbillons. In light of Beyer’s international reach, watches number 1 to 15 were fitted with German calendar, whereas numbers 16 to 25 came with an English calendar.
Number 1 was gifted to Theodor Beyer by his friend Philippe Stern and Number 2 was sold prolific collector, Dr. Eugen Gschwind, this particular piece was bought back by Patek Philippe presumably on the 19th of November 2000 for CHF 106’900 via Antiquroum. This example is now displayed at their Museum. Number 6 was considered to be the personal watch of Theodor ‘Teddy’ Beyer, upon his death in 2002 it was sold via “The Private Collection of Theodor Beyer” and resurfaced at auction via Christie’s on 12th May 2008 selling for CHF 150’000.
In 2011 in light of the longstanding relationship between Patek Philippe and Chronometrie Beyer welcomed the first retailer-managed Patek Philippe Boutique in Switzerland. In keeping with the tradition, Patek Philippe commemorated the 250th Anniversary of Beyer with a special edition 5170 limited to 50 examples and once again for the boutique 5th year anniversary with a special ref. 5205G limited to 25 examples.