Except for my Seiko SPB317 and my Autodromo Intereuropa, all of my watches are Swiss made. Admittedly, this is not actually something I consider when I buy a watch. I guess it’s just a coincidence that the watches I like tend to be this way. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence at all. Thanks to their long history in watchmaking, the Swiss certainly know how to make a good-looking and high-quality timepiece. But when is a watch actually considered to be Swiss made?

That Autodromo Intereuropa, for example, has a (presumably) Swiss ETA 7001 movement inside but it doesn’t say “Swiss Made” anywhere on the case or dial. And that’s probably because there are some very strict requirements that a watch should meet in order to get this designation. I’ll go over those requirements below, and I will also explain why the Swiss still take this label so seriously.

The Rolex production facility in Bienne, Switzerland

When can a watch be called “Swiss Made”?

In general, Swiss products and services have a positive reputation worldwide for quality, authenticity, and precision. To protect this good reputation, the Swiss put specific legislation into place. The most recent version of that so-called “Swissness Act” came into effect in 2017. It not only covers watches but also concerns industrial goods, services, and foods — for example, Swiss chocolate and cheese. Today’s article will just cover the watch side of things, though.

The requirements a watch should meet in order to be labeled “Swiss” have been drafted by the Federation of the SwissWatch Industry (FH). And to help watch companies understand these requirements, the FH has published the “Guide to the use of the designation “Swiss” for watches. It’s a fairly extensive legal explanation of when a watch can and cannot be called “Swiss Made,” but it basically comes down to the following requirements:

A watch can be called “Swiss Made” when:

  • Its technical development is carried out in Switzerland;
  • Its movement is Swiss (see below);
  • Its movement is cased in Switzerland;
  • The final inspection has been done in Switzerland;
  • 60% of its production costs are generated in Switzerland.

A movement can be called “Swiss Made” when:

  • Its technical development is carried out in Switzerland;
  • It is assembled in Switzerland;
  • The final inspection has been done in Switzerland;
  • 60% of the production costs are generated in Switzerland;
  • 50% of the value of all its components is Swiss made, excluding the assembly.

Swiss Railway Station Clock Aarau

Check the “Swissness” of your own watches

According to these requirements, it could also very well be that a movement is Swiss made, but that the rest of the watch is not. In that case, the company may state “Swiss Movement” on the case, but not “Swiss Made.” My Autodromo Intereuropa doesn’t say “Swiss (anything)” on the case, dial, or anywhere else. That might mean, for example, that the movement didn’t go through a final inspection on Swiss soil. On the other hand, if it did, it could also mean that Autodromo simply chose not to mention it anywhere on the case. Knowing about these requirements, it’s a fun exercise to look at your own watches and determine their “Swissness” based on the labels used on their cases and dials.

Why so strict?

But why are the Swiss so strict when it comes to the use of the “Swiss Made” label? After all, making sure that a large part of the production is carried out in Switzerland also means that production costs will increase. Well, it’s because people are willing to pay quite a premium for that great Swiss reputation that I mentioned above. It might not surprise you that in 2020, Switzerland occupied more than 50% of the global watch market in value. But here it comes: in terms of production numbers, the Swiss only produced about 2% (about 15 million watches a year) of all watches worldwide. This means Swiss-made watches sell for a much higher price than watches produced elsewhere.

So the ability to state that your watch is Swiss made allows you to make a lot more money off of it. This results in the fact that in 2020, 95% of all watches worldwide with a value of CHF 1,000 or more were Swiss made. And in 2022, watches with a value of CHF 7,500 or more accounted for 75% of the entire export value. Those are impressive numbers, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.


The smartwatch and COVID crises

Since Apple introduced its smartwatch in 2015, Swiss watch exports took quite a hit overall, especially Swatch as a brand. By 2020, Swiss watch exports decreased by 40% to the level they were at in the 1940s. And by now, Apple sells more watches than the entire Swiss watch industry produces altogether. Of course, it wasn’t only Apple that caused that dip in exports. The global COVID-19 pandemic also played quite a big role as most watch retailers were closed, and many watch brands weren’t used to selling watches online yet.

Swiss made watch exports

Data from the Swiss Federal Office for Customs — Graph from Swissinfo.ch

Hitting record after record again

But we certainly don’t need to feel sorry for the Swiss watch industry. By now, it looks like it has already recovered quite well. For example, in November 2022, Swiss watch exports to the United States increased by 33% compared to the year before. And sales of watches priced CHF 3,000 or more went up by 16% that same year. The success of the MoonSwatch also helped Swatch to recover from its losses a little bit, so things aren’t looking that bad anymore for the Swiss watch industry.

All in all, I guess it still makes sense to protect the “Swissness” of watches. As we can see, many consumers are clearly willing to pay quite a lot more for a watch with a label that assures them it’s (partly) produced in Switzerland. How about you? Does the “Swiss Made” label influence your watch purchases, or do you take a more international approach? Let me know in the comments section.

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