What’s the big deal about Swiss-Made? Before stepping into the watch world, I did not quite grasp the importance of Swiss-Made. This phrase is dropped all over the watch industry, but what does it really mean to the end product?
Boiled down, the “Swiss-Made” label is that the parts of the end product are created with specialized expertise and equipment to produce. “Swiss-Made” promises a level of quality unachieved by other international manufacturers. Switzerland’s government has a hand in enforcing how the label can be used and its prestige protected. Documentation is dedicated to note every qualification and define every term to clarify the matter beyond any doubt. Production can be expensive which is why products labeled the “Swiss-Made” label are notably more substantial.
The “Swiss-Made” label is most usually identified in the watch market because Switzerland dominates this market. But, it has been a long road to get here. The Germans are generally regarded as the first people to make clocks small enough to be portable. Peter Heinlein - from Nuremberg - is noted as making the first watch in the early 16th century. He then took his craft a step further to make miniature clocks. The Germans and dutch led the way in horological advances in the 17th century.
England was recognized in the 18th century with individuals who laid the groundwork for today’s mechanical movements. Though when fashion required thinner watches, it was the French to step up in 1770 with the invention of a simplified flat caliber with bridges (which ended the English’s ascent to victory).
As more countries fought for the honor of being the horological champions, a French watchmaker adapted a system of factory-wide mass production with a calibre. This methodology, or the établissage system, was embraced in Switzerland. Farmers and peasants used their winter months to make watch components - which aided in the country’s ability to outproduce other countries. It was not just watch factory workers working on timepieces, but the country as a whole. Quantity, however, did not mean quality.
America joined the competition in the late 19th century with its industrialized American system. The Swiss tried to compete with their poor quality watches in the American market but were unsuccessful. So, the Swiss refined their strategy in the 20th century. They started to produce a higher quality watch with a higher price. Swiss firms such as Longines, Patek Philppe and Vacheron Constantin began to aggressively attack American consumers. Rolex added fuel to the fire when Hans Wilsdorf launched a personal campaign to create a wristwatch for men - which exploded in World War I as soldiers didn’t have the time to take out a pocket watch in battle. After World War II, American factories were commandeered by the war effort, and the American watchmaking industry died after they couldn’t keep up with the production demands.
In the 1970s, Japan joined the game with their quartz technology which allowed them to dominate the market in inexpensive timepieces. But, in 1980, Swatch beat out the Japanese with a Swiss-quartz watch. Over the years since, the Swiss strove to produce higher and higher quality timepieces and have emerged as masters of luxury, fashion and art in the watch making industry. Thus, Switzerland emerged as victor. Switzerland wears the medal proudly in being the only one capable of producing fine timepieces. But, will they continue? Yes - they will because the existing Swiss competitors are so big, entry into the watchmaking world is an enormous task.
So what does the label “Swiss-Made” mean in the watch world? It means Switzerland has fought for centuries against huge competitors to wear the crown. It means the product has been developed over centuries of passionate experts to be able to compete as luxury. It means Switzerland has faced the problems and challenges of not being “good enough,” and now, they are only striving to produce a better and better product year over year. It means the product you own that is “Swiss-Made” is the best in the watch industry - and its only getting better.