Let’s face it, seeing the words “Swiss Made” inscribed on either side of the 6 o’clock marker on the dial of a watch carries weight—a lot of it—still nowadays as much as it did 50 years ago. While I won’t bore you with the details of why Switzerland became the cradle of fine watchmaking a century ago—or maybe that could be reserved for a future article?—the words “Swiss” and “Made” stringed together still mean something significant in 2022. In a nutshell: a watch made in Switzerland comes with an inherent quality and a profound sense of heritage given the fact that Switzerland is home to most major watch brands in the world.
So let’s find out what “Swiss Made” means in 2022 and whether or not it still matters.
The Current Definition of “Swiss Made”
First and foremost, we need to discuss what “Swiss Made” means and what kind of criteria brands must meet in order to be allowed to print these words on a dial. The definition has been refined over the past few decades and I would hereby discuss what it presently means. In a nutshell, "Swiss Made" means that at least 60% of the manufacturing costs of a watch—the case, the movement, the hands, the bracelet—must be created in Switzerland. This means that 40% of the watch could be made elsewhere. Furthermore, 60% of the manufacturing costs of the movement must be created in Switzerland and the movement must be encased in the country.
Many would argue that this definition is loose and that the requirements are not specific enough. The definition of “Swiss Made” can be put against the definition of “French Made” or “German Made,” two countries that have other sets of requirements, sometimes stricter ones. Even more strict are the requirements for the “Made in USA” label which requires that 100% of the parts of a product be manufactured in the United States. This explains why, currently, no watch brand bears the “Made in USA” label. Instead, brands affix the “Assembled in America” label because most brands only assemble the watches there.
To be honest, the fact that 60% of the cost of manufacturing must be produced in Switzerland is enough of an indicator that the watch will be of higher quality than if it didn’t have it. Although the definition of the label means that brands can get between 60% to 100% of the production costs created in Switzerland, the label does carry a lot of meaning and this for a good reason, as we will see below.
The Benefits of the “Swiss Made” Label in 2022
Keeping in mind the above definition, I would argue that if most of the cost of producing the movement comes from Switzerland—and again, this is not to say that all brands follow this practice as I imagine most do produce most parts in the country—it would mean that the core architecture of the movement heralds from a corner of the world that is filled with experts in manufacturing movements. In the worst case scenario, some parts of a movement could be made elsewhere, but they are made-to-spec for Swiss watchmakers and assembled by experienced watchmakers.
Looking at the question of the label more broadly, I would also argue that getting a movement encased in Switzerland guarantees a certain level of accuracy and robustness that other movement manufacturers cannot easily claim to match. I bought a couple of watches bearing the “Swiss Made” label on the dial that had to be sent back to Switzerland to be serviced. That happens for a reason since they know how to care for them well. Furthermore, I’ve come across watches that were assembled in other countries and that had problems with crown stems coming off or having mis-aligned hands, something I’ve not seen from a “Swiss Made” watch.
I’m of course speaking from personal experience here and I’m not trying to generalize.
But perhaps, and more importantly, is that “Swiss Made” watches—and again regardless of how much of the total value of the watch is made in the country—are for the most part better finished, better built, and more robust than many non-Swiss made watches. Although I can’t explain this without writing a 300-page manifesto on the topic, it is the fact that Switzerland has been the center of watchmaking for so long that explains why “Swiss Made”watches are, for the most part, better made. As a journalist, I’ve come across watches made in many places and the ones that come from Switzerland are, more often than not, the better finished and more robust ones of the bunch.
This can be explained, once again, by the fact that Swiss watchmakers have some of the greatest experience in the world. Most watchmakers I know of and that work for a variety of independent brands in various countries in the world do get trained in Switzerland. Additionally, and going back to the definition, 60% of the value of a watch mostly comes from the case and dial, two crucial elements that make up a watch. So having a Swiss made movement in a poorly made case does not make for a good watch, nor does putting a utilitarian movement inside a case made of precious metals. In other words, a “Swiss Made” watch typically comes with higher-quality parts all around.
To be realistic, if the label “Swiss Made” did not mean much in 2022 then many independent and microbrands wouldn’t go through the trouble of getting it printed on their dials. And I think it would be dishonest to say that brands go through this trouble to lure people into believing that their watches are better made because they bear the “Swiss Made” label. Most brand owners I know take pride in making good quality watches and that’s why they strive to get the “ Made” label on the dial.
What I hope transpired through this article is the fact that Switzerland has a long-standing tradition of exquisite watchmaking brands all around the world benefit from. I for one buy watches from many brands at various price points, most of which don’t have the “Swiss Made” label printed on the dial; however, I do feel a heightened sense of enjoyment wearing a watch that does have it.
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