Kim-Eva Wempe’s first diamond was shaped like a heart. “It was a tiny little ring,” she remembers. “A gift from my father. Around .45 carats.” Mostly, she kept it as a pendant, this dear charm dangling around her neck, with her at all times.
Back then, her father, Hellmut Wempe, was busy expanding the family watch business. The Wempe brand dates back to 1878, when a watchmaker named Gerhard Diedrich Wempe, Kim-Eva’s great grandfather, opened a shop in the small northern German town of Elsfleth. At his workshop, he repaired and sold watches. But unlike other stores of the time, Gerhard Wempe took particular pride in his displays. The tactic helped usher in customers off the street, and business was good. As time passed, the company remained in the family, growing with each generation, and today Wempe operates 32 stores in seven countries.
When Kim-Eva joined the company after studying business management, Wempe—now synonymous with fine timepieces—embraced jewelry, separating it from other watch boutiques. It was a hit pretty much right out of the box. According to Kim-Eva, who launched Wempe’s BY KIM line in 2000, there wasn’t much jewelry on the market that gelled with the watches Wempe was selling. It was either too trendy or too old-fashioned. “If there would have been brands to buy,” she says, “I would have done it.”
Her way worked fine. Kim-Eva put a design team together, providing them with their own workshop. “I’m not the designer,” she admits. “I’m the entrepreneur. But I was too into the jewelry: as a woman, I know what I want to wear.” She gave input to the design team, suggesting price points and ideas, and in just a few years, the jewelry had an international following.
One of the things you notice upon first encountering Kim-Eva Wempe is the way she wears her own jewelry. Whatever she’s wearing radiates off her like a bloom of gilded flowers. It’s some kind of chemistry thing that’s compounded by her enthusiasm, energy, and big, frequent smiles. She’s here today at Wempe’s U.S. flagship store, helmed by Rüdiger Albers, which was recently expanded. Perhaps that’s putting it mildly. Wempe New York, which has called Fifth Avenue home since the 1980s, is now about three times the size it once was, giving the Peninsula Hotel’s retail space on Fifth Avenue an impressive, homogenous look. Its carefully curated selection of watches and jewelry is flawlessly executed, offering a fully renewed, rich ambience. Wempe has even made a special watch to celebrate the new store.
But unlike before, it’s the BY KIM jewelry you see in the windows just before you reach the large glass door, not the watches (they are displayed along Fifth Avenue). In this cozy alcove, there are engagement rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings. “We have a goldsmith atelier here in New York,” she points out, and explains that Wempe is also able to create one-of-a-kind pieces. “One customer had a pair of sapphires, and our jewelry manager, Michaela Kesselman, had them transformed into a stunning pair of earrings.”
Her delight in all this seems total. Toward the end of our conversation, Kim-Eva tells me that her jewelry is designed to outlast short-lived trends. She also mentions that she still wears a necklace with a heart pendant, although this one has a four carat cinnamon diamond. Then she is off to celebrate the grand opening of the new Wempe store, to greet guests, leaving her jewelry to shine in the window display and for anyone walking by to hope that it one day holds the same significance of her first heart-shaped diamond ring.