In Memoriam: Raymond Weil

Raymond Weil


by John Sealander  

Watchmaking Pioneer Raymond Weil Dies at 87

On January 26, 2014 one of the true pioneers of the Swiss watch industry passed away peacefully. Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1926, Raymond Weil was the first in the industry to make luxury watches accessible to people who weren’t born with a personal fortune. This self-made man had the vision and courage to start what has become a beloved and world-renowned brand at a time when the entire Swiss watch industry was in crisis. In 1976, when Raymond Weil’s self-named company was launched, it was a widely held view that inexpensive quartz watches would destroy the Swiss watchmaking industry.

Weil had a different vision, and watch enthusiasts, amateurs and connoisseurs alike immediately praised his beautiful and surprisingly affordable creations. This kind, affable, and generous man was influential in keeping the Swiss watch industry alive at a critical point in its history. As Raymond Weil traveled the world putting together the international network that eventually made his timepieces a familiar favorite around the world, he almost singlehandedly became an exceptional ambassador for the city of Geneva and for Switzerland as well.

Weil’s ongoing love for Switzerland and it’s watchmaking industry led him to serve as president of the Geneva Watchmaker Union, as vice president of the Watchmaking Industry Training Centre, and as a member of the Watchmaking Federation. He also served as president of the Baselworld Exhibitors Committee until 1995.

Raymond Weil’s love of classical music and contemporary art often influenced the watches that his company produced. Over the years, many popular Raymond Weil timepieces, including the well-known Amadeus, Fidelio, Toccata, Fantasia and Parsifal Collections were inspired by the music and composers that Raymond loved.

To this day, the self-named company that this watchmaking pioneer founded remains one of the last independent, family-owned watchmakers in Switzerland. The brand continues to remain in the family, with Weil’s son-in-law Olivier Bernheim holding the position of CEO, Olivier’s elder son Elie, serving as marketing director, and his younger son Pierre as sales director. It is with great sadness that the Weil family announced the passing of their patriarch and founder on Sunday, January 26. They, and the entire Swiss watch industry can take comfort that the brand Raymond Weil launched in 1976 will continue to keep his memory alive for many years to come.

About Gevril Group

Gevril GroupWatchmaker and wholesale watch distributor Gevril Group is the exclusive U.S. agent for exquisitely designed and crafted European luxury and fashion watch brands, distributing and servicing some of the best affordable luxury, Swiss and fashion watches. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair, staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882.

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In Memoriam: Paul Reichmann

Paul Reichmann Showing Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney a Model of Canary Wharf in London


by Adrian Herscovici  

Philanthropist and real-estate industrialist, Paul Reichmann passed away on October 25, 2013. He was 83 years old.

Reichmann will be remembered as one of the greatest land developers in history – a man who transformed the skylines of Toronto, New York and London in a series of legendary and well-documented ventures.

His preoccupation with commercial real estate was rivaled only by his spiritual convictions; in fact, it was his achievements in Talmudic studies and family life that he was most proud. As a young man teaching Talmud in North Africa, Reichmann steered his students towards intellectual rather than commercial pursuits. However, in his own life, an unquenchable calling in the world of commerce would come to dominate his adulthood.

Paul ReichmannReichmann was tall and soft-spoken. He dressed as modestly as he lived, in combinations of dark suits and ties with white shirts. Beneath his unpretentious exterior he was a master negotiator and financier, with exceptional business acumen and seemingly limitless gumption and tenacity.

Amassing immense wealth was never Reichmann’s end goal – it was a byproduct of his passion for his work. In fact, the Reichmann family actively shed wealth, year upon year, as large-scale donors, giving generously in the tens of millions to both non-denominational and Jewish medical facilities, as well as yeshivas and schools. Even though the family was, at its apex, one of the wealthiest in the world, Reichmann never moved from his upper-middle-class home in Toronto.

Reichmann’s business life was undeniably busy; even still, he prioritized time at home on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays, joining his wife Lea and their five children for temple services. This respect for religion extended to the family firm, Olympia & York Developments Ltd. (O&Y). The company closed its construction sites on the Jewish Sabbath, paid overtime for Sunday labor and for working on Jewish and Christian holidays.

Building an Empire

Reichmann was born in Vienna, Austria on September 27, 1930, the fifth of six children. His parents were orthodox Jews who, after uprooting twice – the first time to escape Nazi occupation and, the second time, to escape anti-Jewish persecution as a result of the Arab-Israeli War in 1956 – moved the family to their new home in North York, Toronto.

The Reichmann Brothers, Paul, Albert and Ralph

Paul, his father Samuel, and brothers Albert and Ralph started Olympia Tile in Toronto that same year, renaming it Olympia & York in 1958 when the company expanded into local real-estate development.

Olympia & York built nearly 100 buildings in Toronto over its first 15 years, the jewel of which was First Canadian Place. After winning the contract, it took O&Y three years of lobbying to iron out the deal. First Canadian Place was named after Canada’s first bank – the Bank of Montreal – and still houses the bank’s head office. Clad in white marble, First Canadian Place was the tallest bank tower in the world when it was completed in 1975.

Reichmann, who by this time was the business’s chief decision-maker, showed his audacious spirit on an epic scale when, in 1977, he won his firm the contract to develop a desolate site at New York’s Battery Park. The risk was enormous, but, in the end, the four mammoth towers that comprised the new World Financial Center effectively led to the relocation of the city’s financial district.

At their peak, the Reichmann family held about eight percent of New York’s commercial office space, more than twice as much as their closest rival, the Rockefellers. Their company, O&Y, was the world’s largest private real-estate company and they were the seventh wealthiest family in the world.

Canary Wharf

Then came the infamous Canary Wharf. In the 1980s, Reichmann won the rights to develop a dilapidated remote area in east London known as the Isle of Dogs, later renamed Canary Wharf. Like the Battery Park site in Manhattan, Canary Wharf was a huge gamble.

Two principal factors conspired against the Canary Wharf development project: the cyclical nature of real estate and a handshake deal with then British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had promised O&Y that the city’s subway would be extended to the remote area in time for its completion. When the Canary Wharf site was completed in the early 1990s, Britain was in a recession and the subway was nowhere near completed. The office space at Canary Wharf remained empty, and O&Y was forced into bankruptcy in 1992.

Reichmann’s timing may have been off, but proof that his instincts were correct actualized years later. The subway extension was completed in 2000 and Canary Wharf became so popular that several more buildings were later added around the 50-story centerpiece building known as One Canada Square; and, as Reichmann envisioned, London’s financial district eventually relocated.

As a result of the bankruptcy the Reichmann family lost most of its wealth. Reichmann was humble enough to recognize his over-confidence and went about rebuilding the family fortune. It was not long before the family’s new company – Olympia & York Properties Corporation – was valued in the multibillions, which included a large stake in Canary Wharf. Reichmann retired in 2005.

Paul Reichmann took huge risks in his professional life. He thrived on finding a way to succeed where others had failed, or were too timid to venture. As a result, he reaped enormous rewards and suffered great losses. When he was up, he sought to climb higher; when he was down, he got up and began again.

Samuel Friedmann, owner and president of Gevril Group, is the brother-in-law of the late David Reichmann, a nephew of Paul Reichmann.

“Paul Reichmann was an extraordinary man and an inspiration to me and many, many others. His foresight into how the world’s financial capitals would develop, both at home and abroad, was uncanny. He was generous and authentic, and we will not soon see his like again. He will be dearly missed.” – Samuel Friedmann

About Gevril Group

Gevril GroupGevril Group is the exclusive US representative for select European watch brands, distributing and servicing luxury, fashion and sports timepieces at a wide range of price points. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair department staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882.

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Please subscribe to the Gevril Group newsletter and blog digest.

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