It was in 1961 that my father, Jacques Wolfgang – who grew up in Geneva and later became a dealer in precious stones – bought Golay Fils & Stahl from Morris Steele. Established on the Quai des Bergues in 1837, the company was well known for their exclusive watches and jewellery, catering to a notable international clientele.
When my father purchased the company, it had already ceased to manufacture watches and concentrated on retail activity – including the best names in watches – as well as the trade of precious stones.
When I started working for the company in 1968, the retail trade was flourishing in Switzerland, as a result, the firm opened branches in Lausanne, Lugano and Paris. When my father died in 1976 and I took the helm, it coincided with the first oil crisis resulting in a major decline in the valuation of the US dollar, the benchmark currency for world trade. It was the beginning of a crisis that was to be felt greatly throughout Switzerland and in Europe. I subsequently decided to close the branches which had become unprofitable and to refocus the effort on the retail trade in Geneva, the birthplace of the firm, but also to develop the wholesale trade in diamonds, precious stones and jewellery, a family tradition for five generations.
When my daughter Melissa joined Golay Fils & Stahl in 2001, she too was enamored with the pieces representing the rich heritage of the firm. She also comes across pieces on her travels and continues the tradition of adding to our collection, which now has over 150 pieces in it.
My frequent travels around the world over the last 40 years allowed me to build business relationships and friendships with my peers and fellow merchants. In time, people knew of the collection, reaching out to me when they saw anything with our signature. Each phone call helped me to build a beautiful collection, without them it would never have been possible.
In 1978, during one of my many trips to New York, I was strolling down 47th street – the acclaimed home to diamond and jewellery dealers – and spied an antique Golay-Leresche watch in a chaotic shop window. After the usual back-and-forth negotiations, I bought the pocket watch with the idea of enriching a small collection of old stock belonging to the company at the time of its acquisition by my father. This first purchase was undoubtedly my “aha!” moment: I understood the true heritage of Golay Fils & Stahl and that it had to be given a chance to flourish.
Aside from the emotion I feel each time I look at these marvels that I have had the chance to acquire, I can’t help but also think that the return of the company’s heritage to its birthplace on the Place des Bergues in Geneva, the privileged place of its creation, was not only a privilege, but my duty.
Below you will find a selection of pieces from our private collection.
Jesse P. Wolfgang