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The domination of Swiss watch brands

If Switzerland is known around the world for its high quality of life, its reputation is also high when it comes to Swiss watch brands.

marque montre suisse

But where does this worldwide reputation come from? And why do Swiss watch brands dominate the watch world?

The measurement of time and the various innovations related to it are sources of fascination. They are undoubtedly among the most intriguing inventions in our history.

The great names in watchmaking have achieved real technical prowess. But that’s not all, they were also exceptionally creative. Indeed, they designed and developed many of the pieces and complications centuries ago.

The different ways of dividing time has greatly evolved. They have moved from the study of periodic astronomical phenomena to the definition and use of ever finer and more precise units of measurement. It is the latter that has enabled the art of watchmaking to evolve from a craft sector to an industrial sector.

In December 2020, UNESCO will accept the entry of watchmaking know-how into the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This has allowed an industry and an art form to survive.

Let’s find out how we came to dominate Swiss watch brands over the centuries.

The origins of Swiss watchmaking

The Swiss watchmaking industry was born in Geneva in the second half of the 16th century. At the same time, the Protestants expelled from France (the Huguenots) found a home in the Jura region, mainly in Geneva.

In a strict Calvinist city of Geneva, it became forbidden to display ostentatious signs of wealth.

As watches were not considered as jewellery, the Geneva jewellers joined forces with the Huguenot refugees in Geneva. The latter were highly skilled in the field of jewellery. Thus, they put their know-how to good use in the development of luxury watches.

So much so that jewellers managed to adorn their watch creations with precious metals and stones, thus circumventing the Calvinist reform. This is how luxury watchmaking was born in Geneva.

Following the Second World War, Swiss watch companies faced competition from American watch manufacturers, soon followed by the Japanese. In order to compete with the Swiss Confederation, the latter took the initiative to engage in mass production at relatively low prices.

It was during the 1920s and 1930s that the watch cartel was regulated. This is known as the “statute horologer”. It will aim to prevent Swiss watchmakers from relocating low value-added activities abroad. These include the final assembly of the watches or the manufacture of the parts for the casing. This strategy has been practised in the United States since the second half of the 20th century.

The creation of the Swiss made label

In order to counter American Competition, the large Swiss manufacturers see the internalisation of their production as a way of strengthening their competitiveness. It was in 1961, after pressure and negotiations, that the Confederation set up the Contrôle Technique des Montres (CTM).

From now on, Swiss watches are subject to a set of technical and minimum standards that allow them to be placed on the market. Due to several procedures and changes related to possible imports of foreign parts, the “Swiss made” appellation was registered and legalised in 1968 by the federal authorities as such: “A time-measuring instrument whose movement is assembled, started, regulated and controlled in Switzerland and of which at least 50% of the value of all the parts originate from a Swiss manufacture may claim the designation of Swiss watch.

Since 1 January 2017, a “Swiss made” watch must meet these three criteria:

  1. 1. Having a movement assembled and cased in Switzerland;
  2. 2. Perform a final inspection in Switzerland by the manufacturer;
  3. 3. Have a minimum of 60% of the neck̂of the cost of the watch generated in Switzerland.

This authentication process has two objectives. Firstly, consumer satisfaction through product quality. Secondly, the preservation of the reputation of the Swiss watchmaking tradition.

Decouverte horlogerie

Establishing the worldwide reputation of Swiss watch brands

Inventions and countless watchmaking developments have greatly contributed to this reputation and world supremacy.

The first self-winding watch (1770), with the creation of the shaking watch by Abraham-Louis Perrelet.

The revolutionary type of regulator known as a tourbillon (1801), developed by Abraham-Louis Breguet, which made it possible to cancel out the effects of gravity on a mechanical watch. A few years later (1810), he invented the first wristwatch for the Queen of Naples.

The watch with a pendant winding mechanism, a part that allows the crown of a mechanical watch to turn (1842), created by Adrien Philippe – founder of the prestigious Patek Philippe factory.

The Swiss lever escapement, reducing the amplitude of the pendulum swing (1757), invented by Thomas Mudge.

After centuries of tradition, impressive innovations and new technologies are regularly introduced. This is how the Swiss watch industry has established its leadership in the world watch market.

Swiss watch production today

The watch industry is now the third-largest Swiss export industry. It is just behind chemicals and machinery.

Present on five continents, Swiss watchmaking export 95% of its production and has a unique position in the luxury segment.

Despite its high export rate, Swiss made watches nevertheless represent a symbolic share of the Confederation’s GDP (represented by a rate of 1.5% in 2019).

In 2021, Swiss watch exports reached a record level. According to the press release of the Swiss Watch Federation issued on 27 January 2022, shipments rose to 22.3 billion francs, 31.2% higher than in 2020. Moreover, “compared to 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic, they grew by 2.7% and by 0.2% compared to 2014, the best year on record.” (FHS, 2022).

Swiss made” therefore refers to much more than its country of origin. It has an unrivalled global reputation and is valued by both businesses and consumers. This label remains a guarantee of quality, prestige and reliability. Synonymous with tradition, quality and innovation, the world-renowned Swiss Made label is a guarantee of the quality and precision of our watchmaking, a true showcase for the manufacture of our country.

Discovering Swiss watchmaking at Initium

Whether you are a watch enthusiast or a novice, you can enjoy an exceptional experience in the exciting world of Swiss mechanical watches thanks to the Initium workshops.

Held in Geneva and Le Noirmont (Jura), our workshops are an open door to watchmaking knowledge. They take the participants on an unusual discovery of the ancestral art of watchmaking. In addition, it is possible to create their own Swiss made watch!

Combining discovery, experimentation and conviviality, Initium guarantees a memorable moment in the colours of Swiss watchmaking.