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The renowned “Hellmut Kienzle Uhrenmuseum” only existed for just over 14 years (from 1961 to 1975) as an independent institution, but it is still a legendary name among watch connoisseurs. The collection of high-class clocks from the 16th to 19th centuries, gathered from all major German watchmaking centers, was created by Hellmut Kienzle, eminent clockmaker from Schwenningen.  

Exhibiting more than 1500 items – absolutely unique of their kind – Hellmut Kienzle Uhrenmuseum was based mainly on the two well-known collections of Richard Meyer von Riegel am Kaiserstuhl and Dr.Bodong, Frankfurt. The latter one is famous for its marvelous Renaissance watches and clocks.

In desperate need of money

In 1960s the Kienzle watch factory switched from producing mechanical watches to electromechanical, electronic and quartz watches. After modernizations, retooling and introduction of technological innovations the company managed to push the wage cost share from allegedly 60 percent to 30 to 40 percent, but 2,000 jobs were still at risk. To maintain 2,000 jobs and employ the latest technologies, Kienzle desperately needed to receive a substantial financial aid.

In 1974 Peter Ineichen was informed that the Kienzle Museum was about to sell its unique collection, which for years was open to the public in a museum. Peter Ineichen visited the museum and then met the owner of the Kienzle watch company  –  Alfred Kreidler  – to discuss options of how to sell the items. Hellmut Kienzle Uhrenmuseum was certainly one of the most important collections ever offered for sale in the history of art-dealing, so all meetings and discussions were kept in a strictest confidence.

The collection included many watches of great cultural and historical value, featuring rare movements, calendar and astronomical indications, automaton figures, as well as dated and signed pieces of well-known and sought-after masters, which were considered as milestones of watchmaking history. 

Ineichen determines the value of the museum

The Kienzle Museum didn’t want its collection to be sold piece-meal, but rather to sell it “en bloc” to a wealthy client, which is why the museum contacted Peter Ineichen. As an established Zurich auctioneer, Peter Ineichen was commissioned to create a catalogue of the most important items from the Kienzle’s  collection. When the catalogue was printed, 300 copies were sent to potential clients and institutions, which could be assumed to dispose of the necessary capital. The catalogue showed a large number of high-class objects of the 16th to 20th century; descriptions and photos were published in leading horological reference books.

According to Peter Ineichen’s estimation, through selling the items to individual customers at the auction, it would be possible to realize between 10 and 15 million DM [1]. Sales negotiations were conducted with the Shah of Persia, some oil sheiks from Saudi Arabia, and with American corporations.

Is Kienzle playing poker?

In case the “en bloc” sale could not be performed by March 1975, Peter Ineichen and Alfred Kreidler decided to auction the collection in Zurich. The auction was supposed to take place on September 25-26 in a form of an auction-exhibition, illustrating to the visitors the development of time-measuring instruments through the centuries and show some fine examples of masterly craftsmanship.

The State of Baden-Württemberg was also interested in buying Kienzle’s collection, but Kienzle demanded 12 million DM, while the State offered only 9.5 million. The negotiations with the government stalled. Kreidler refused the “senior appraisers appointed by the state government access to the museum rooms” [2].

Meanwhile, Auction House Ineichen continued preparations for the autumn auction, and excitement culminated as the auction date grew closer and closer… Although all the proceedings were conducted under the strictest secrecy, the news gradually got out, and the papers were full of headlines revealing details of this big story to the public. The sensational news of the sale of the Kienzle’s collection instantly became a political issue with nationwide media coverage. The Stuttgarter Zeitung wrote on July 24, 1975:

The management and particularly the owner, the Stuttgart manufacturer Alfred Kreidler, are in the interests of the firm in duty bound to dispose of the collection at the highest price possible. Kienzle appears to play on two pianos at the moment: on the one hand they let the auctioneer prepare the sale which probably assures a more or less market-true evaluation, while on the other hand finally turning down the potentially best interested party, the State of Baden-Württemberg [3].

Kienzle’s hour tolls

During summer 1975 a mounting wave of partly contradictory daily press and radio announcements appeared. On August 20 the headlines announced “Kienzle’s hour tolls”, followed by detailed information on the catalogue editions, auction date and location in Zurich.

At the same time, it was revealed that Alfred Kreidler sent a telegram to the Stuttgart Minister of Public Worship and Instruction, expressing his readiness not to let the collection come under the hammer piece-meal through the Auction House Ineichen, but rather to sell it “en bloc” to State of Baden-Württemberg. Kreidler reasoned that in this way the historically significant collection would remain open to the public in its entirety, and he even agreed to the reduced price of 8 million DM.

The auction catalogues were ready, but the State of Baden-Württemberg had a right of pre-emption till August 20 – a right which was actually exercised at the very last possible moment.

On August 21 the headlines read: "Money-injection for Kienzle. State buys watch museum after all. Price 8 million." [4] The 8 million DM proceeds were, in fact, a kind of state aid for the struggling watch manufacturer.  According to a press release from the Ministry of Finance, the state's purchase decision was "an important initiative to secure jobs" [5].

Finally, after all the speculative and partly provocative reports in the media, the collection was preserved for the public. The major part was located at Furtwangen Uhrenmuseum, and the rest – at the Heimatmuseum at Villingen-Schwenningen.




[1] Quoted in: Conradt-Mach, A. (2015). Verkauf der Hellmut-Kienzle-Uhrensammlung. Available at: http://www.sozialgeschichte-uhrenindustrie.de/2015/06/19/verkauf-der-hellmut-kienzle-uhrensammlung/#footnote_9_606

[2] Quoted in: Conradt-Mach, A. (2015). Verkauf der Hellmut-Kienzle-Uhrensammlung. Available at: http://www.sozialgeschichte-uhrenindustrie.de/2015/06/19/verkauf-der-hellmut-kienzle-uhrensammlung/#footnote_9_606

[3]Ineichen, P. (1984). Hellmut Kienzle Uhrenmuseum oder die Sammlung, die nicht zur Versteigerung kam. Verlag Ineichen Zürich.

[4] Ineichen, P. (1984). Hellmut Kienzle Uhrenmuseum oder die Sammlung, die nicht zur Versteigerung kam. Verlag Ineichen Zürich

[5] Quoted in: Conradt-Mach, A. (2015). Verkauf der Hellmut-Kienzle-Uhrensammlung. Available at: http://www.sozialgeschichte-uhrenindustrie.de/2015/06/19/verkauf-der-hellmut-kienzle-uhrensammlung/#footnote_9_606