Jan 29 2018 3:00pm

The Perfect Time: How the World of Swiss Watchmaking Made for the Perfect Setting for a Murder Mystery

Read this exclusive guest post from Tracee de Hahn, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of her latest Agnes Luthi Mystery, A Well-Timed Murder!

Yes, Virginia, there is crime in Switzerland.

Take a tour of the country and certain words come to mind: idyllic, peaceful, charming. In short, perfect. Add humans and crime arrives in the land of spectacular lakes and mountains.

But what kind of crime? Switzerland is like a small southern town in America—something I’m also very familiar with. There are big crimes and tiny, festering ones. In the American South, communities share memories of their part in the Trail of Tears or role in the Underground Railroad. There are family feuds so old that no one remembers why Great-Great Uncle Joe was shot on his front porch by his cousin.

The Second World War left a similar mark on the Swiss, and new debates continue to emerge. These are stories of spies and hoarded gold, borders closed and opened and closed again. Post-war Switzerland is a world of high-tech advances, secure investment, and luxury goods.

Watches have long been associated with the Swiss. Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France brought family groups to an industrious agricultural country. This was a natural springboard for watch manufacturing on a small scale. Spring forward 300 hundred years, and family lines remain unbroken. Various Swiss inventors increased the precision and beauty in tandem with manufacturing developments. By the end of the Second World War, Switzerland controlled the luxury watch market. For a writer, this is a springboard for “what if?”

What if watches were at the heart of murder? With this in mind, I revisited the watchmaking region of Switzerland, visiting friends in their workshops and ending at Baselworld, the world’s premier watch and jewelry show held annually in Basel. Five buildings spread across a large convention center filled with loose, high-quality, precious stones, magnificent jewelry, and watches made for a few snatch-and-grab jokes. Of course, this is Switzerland, where every tenth person is a policeman. Probably not a snatch-and-grab job. But what about industrial espionage? Clearly a possibility.

Industrial espionage is such a serious threat that a conversation about watchmaking that began in an atelier in the watchmaking town of Biel never carries over to lunch in a restaurant. Particularly when most of the tables are occupied by the legions of Omega employees.

Similarly, small luxury watchmakers who share an entry foyer will barely say a polite good morning upon seeing one another. (These are the same people who greet one another effusively upon entering and leaving a café. Hello, welcome, have a nice weekend, thank you, goodbye—repeated until the customer isn’t sure they will ever be allowed to leave.)

Today, manufacturers such as The Swatch Group—which is the parent company of nearly 20 watch and jewelry brands, including Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, and Omega—have worldwide instant name recognition. However, there is another realm of luxury watchmakers who don’t compete in terms of quantity but certainly do in terms of quality.

An example of this continuing tradition is Philippe Dufour. Approaching 70, he is a legend often referred to as “the pope of watchmaking” or “the greatest living watchmaker.” The waiting list for one of his watches hovers near 200 names. Since the watches often take months to create, many on the list are nervous about their chances of acquiring one (he has been known to spend over two years on a single piece).

Each timepiece that leaves his atelier is a masterpiece inside and out, on every level of creation and design. That made it all the worse when, several years ago, his workshop was burglarized. Items were stolen, including one of his famous Simplicity watches. Sometime later, a collector noted its sale on eBay out of Romania. In this storybook ending, the collector bought the watch and returned it to Dufour as a gift.

In writing A Well-Timed Murder, I wanted to play on crime at both levels in Switzerland. The small manufacturer and what is at stake for these families with the advent of globalization and modern manufacturing techniques countered with the global nature of cyber theft. For me, these are Swiss crimes. Global and very human at the same time. A world that operates like a village.

Read an excerpt from A Well-Timed Murder!

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A Well-Timed Murder Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 29, 2018. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET February 13, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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Tracee de Hahn completed degrees in architecture and European history at the University of Kentucky and then lived in Europe, including several years in Switzerland. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, a Swiss architect, and their Jack Russell Terriers. This is her second novel, following Swiss Vendetta.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Gordon Bingham
1. gordonbingham
As my sister has lived in Switzerland for over 30 years, I always jump at titles set there. Looks to be a good mystery...
Jennifer Hodges
2. ViolinGeek
Seriously intriguing premise, and just in time! (Ha!)
John Smith
3. jsmith2jsmith
Fascinating! I would love to own great watches--but it seems like the ultimate luxury--very expensive, and not really necessary. And then if I wore it, what if I got mugged? I guess I'd have to stick to living under high security in Monaco, me and my watch collection!
Christine Smiga
4. ceecee76
This sounds like a good book. Thank you for the giveaway!
Thomas Walker
5. twalker
Sounds like fun. Would love to win the book
Thomas Walker
5. twalker
Sounds like fun. Would love to win the book
Barbara Bibel
10. bbibel
It's time to read this. My Swiss cousins would approve.
Michael Carter
11. rubydog
I'd love to win.
Yes, please enter me.
Beth Mills
12. bethmills
Very much enjoyed the first title--glad to see Agnes Luthi back in a second mystery.
Kate Baxter
15. engel301
Mon Dieu - I think you're on to something! I would love to read, "A Well-Timed Murder" and receiving a free copy could only add a jewel to my watch's crown. Merci pour les Chance!
Kate Baxter
16. engel301
Mon Dieu - I think you're on to something! I would love to read, "A Well-Timed Murder" and receiving a free copy could only add a jewel to my watch's crown. Merci pour les Chance!
Darlene Slocum
19. darandsam
I like the time-line in this book. Would love to read it.
Joyce Lokitus
20. Joyce710113
I have never read a murder mystery that takes place in Switzerland and so I am looking forward to enjoying this tale.
Clydia DeFreese
22. clydia
I'm excited about a book about watchmaking...Thanks/
Rita Spratlen
26. rj77777
Sounds like a great read with alot of history to it! Love to win it!! A real book would be nice!
Lori Provenzano
27. Mountainesque
I did a touristy tour of watchmakers in Switzerland long ago, and the importance of timing in good mystery and suspense novels is not lost on me. I'll have to watch out for this book so I can tick it off my list.
32. Doris C Losey
Enjoyed the first in this series--can't wait to read this title.
Jill White
35. JACW
This book sounds not only like one that I would love to read, but one that I could get my science fiction-addicted husband to read! keeping my fingers crossed!
Jennifer Sakurai
36. jenniferedit
Love the title as it relates to watch making....
Pauline Barlow
37. Pauline
This is a great location and subject for an intriguing mystery. This book is on my list of books to read.
Jennifer Lehman
38. jentam
I'd love to read this book...looks so good.
Laurent Latulippe
39. krag48
Looks good, I'm looking forward to it.
susan beamon
40. susanbeamon
Haven't thought much about watchmaking, but I do think a Swiss murder would have to be a step by step thing. Precision killing, as it were.
Jackie Wisherd
41. JackieW
It’s time I read a good book. Maybe this one.
jackie morris
45. pricillaelvis123
would love to win!! i pass along books to my friends!!
jackie morris
45. pricillaelvis123
would love to win!! i pass along books to my friends!!
Jim Belcher
47. librarypops
Been to Switzerland an grew up in the south. Not a lot in common.
Veronica Sandberg
48. redron
sounds like a book I would like to read
Veronica Sandberg
48. redron
sounds like a book I would like to read
Linda Leonard
49. linsleo1
Love the setting for this book. Would like to read. Thanks for the post.
Christine Royer
52. chrissyR24
I haven't been to Switzerland for a LONG TIME--since 1964. Would love a chance to read this mystery!
Shaunterria Owens
54. shaunterria
Such an interesting idea for a mystery, color me intrigued.
Kimbrell Scheunert
55. kscheunert
It sounds intriguing! I can't wait to read it!
Barbara Bates
56. BadBarbie
Sounds very interesting! Would be nice to win! Thanks!
Barbara Fish
59. Barb Fish
I always like to learn something new when I read a mystery and this book would surely fill that bill.
Pat Murphy
60. murphyp2011
Having been to Switzerland, this book sounds like just the perfect reading for cold winter day.
Jane Schwarz
63. Janeschwarz
I enjoy a good international mystery and yours looks like it would be a good one. Thanks for the opportunity to win "A Well-Timed Murder".
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