Travel Tips

Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Geneva: Shopping for Swiss Watches

Locations in this article:  London, England Madrid, Spain New York City, NY Paris, France Shanghai, China

Shopping for Swiss Watches in GenevaDear Peter,
I won’t bore you with the tale of how we got our ashes kicked by the big, bad volcano, as every traveler has a similar story. Instead, let me explain how it is that we got stranded in Geneva.

You know that I have sold my house in Provence, and I wanted my son, Aaron, and his wife, Jenny, to have a final week with me in the house before the closing.

I also needed to buy them tickets with frequent-flier miles.

There were none to be had into Paris for the days required, so I went to Trick Number Two Up the Sleeve: use the Geneva airport as a gateway to France. Geneva is far closer to Provence than Paris and most people don’t know it.

Voila! No problem.


Lobby at the Intercontinental Hotel, GenevaHere’s how a traveler would work this out: United Airlines flies from Dulles to Geneva. Then you take the train from Geneva to Lyon (France), which on a fast train is about an hour and twenty minutes. Lyon is the gateway to Provence, and from there you can rent a car or catch a train to anywhere.

I decided to pick up my kids in Lyon since I had a car for the whole month and then drive them back to Geneva, allowing for a lovely weekend at the very posh InterContinental Geneva, recently re-done by designer Tony Chi and high on my list of must-see hotels. I knew going into this that Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but again, this was well-planned as a weekend treat and did not allow for nuclear holocaust or clouds of volcanic dust busting.

Alpine vacation? Don’t miss our Switzerland & Austria travel section.


Intercontinental Hotel Geneva, SwitzerlandI knew that the InterContinental Geneva was not in the shopping district but rather between the airport and the UN, an easy bus ride to town. I could not know how many runs to the airport we would have to make to re-jigger the tickets or that the bus rides would be made even more easy because this hotel gives all guests a free transit pass good for the duration of their stay.

Since we drove from France, I used the car to go to the grocery store and get snacks, so we didn’t have to continue to pay $25 for a plate of spaghetti at a joint down the road or be forced to order the otherwise very tempting $65 piece of fish from room service.

Truth be told, this hotel has a fabulous restaurant where we always planned to dine on our first night. I had foie gras-filled ravioli for $46. At least that was money well spent at an eatery (Woods) well enjoyed. We topped off the meal with Champagne and chocolate praline cake in the room because the front desk receptionist had noted from my passport that my birthday was a few days ago. Now that’s good service!

Suzy Gershman is a frequent contributor to our Luxury Travel section.


Although the U.S. dollar and Swiss franc are on parity these days, things are shockingly expensive here: $5 for a slice of pizza from a snack counter downtown; $10 for a panini from a food truck and $5.40 for a paper notebook (nothing fancy) for more “Born to Shop” notations.

The woman at the spaghetti place we left in despair refused to serve tap water, which would have added another $10-20 to our dinner bill .. and yes, the pizzas were $22-25 each and pasta was $25 per plate. Her hostility made our hotel all the more comforting and relaxing.

Find a lot more from Suzy in our Shopping & Travel section.

Shopping for Swiss Watches in GenevaDREAM WATCH

The other part of the Geneva Plan was to spend some time with my son to properly celebrate his recent 30th birthday and buy him a grown-up watch. My father worked in Geneva one week of every month for most of my teen years, so we have some locally based traditions in my family and our own regular shops. The last watch I bought for Aaron was in China and cost $50. I was planning on tacking on another zero or two this time.

Aaron and I decided to spend our first day cross-checking our taste and my budget.

White Gloves While Watch ShoppingI was relieved to discover that Aaron’s taste is more conservative than I expected and he was not inclined toward any of the many gadget or gimmick watches that seem to be the rage. One watch group looked like hand grenades, another like a cigarette lighter and a third, like an old fashioned twist dial combination lock. Some of these novelty items cost $250,000 per watch.

We quickly learned that the words “limited edition” and “collector’s item” are pushed on you as selling points and that the dealers wear one glove with which to handle the watch. There was also plenty of positive feedback:

“Yes, I like that one best for you too, it’s so young and hip.”

Aaron Chooses a Watch - Geneva, Switzerland“No, that one is too small for your wrist. You are the kind of person who needs bigger and bolder.”

It didn’t take the whole day to agree on a watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre, a classical style, with their Reverso DuoDate flip face, giving you two different time zones–so very practical for those who travel a lot.

Costing under $10,000, the watch would qualify for a tax rebate at the airport in Switzerland, making it a bargain.

“But we have to pay duty on it when we enter the U.S.” I said, explaining that the watch would indeed cost more than $10,000.

“Ah,” sighed our saleswoman, “that is sometimes the case, I guess.”

I think we’re going to look at Swatch next.

DuoDate Kisses,

By Suzy Gershman for Visit Suzy on the Web at, and

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