Walk into a jeweler and ask to see an 18kt gold, automatic watch with more than a century of heritage behind it. You will undoubtedly be shown an assortment of name-brand Swiss watches, and the jeweler will certainly stress their venerable origins. The word “Swiss” packs a powerful punch in the world of luxury and prestige watches, and the term goes a long way to offer discerning watch buyers peace of mind.
But what’s behind this reputation? Is the term “Swiss-made” an endorsement in the most absolute sense, or rather a subjective combination of perception and reality?
Naturally the Swiss aren’t the only ones who create accurate timepieces, and there are plenty of timepieces from the world over that will get you to work on time. But if you’re the type of person who understands the value of fine wines, fine cars and fine craftsmanship in every sector of your life, than the term Swiss-made deserves attention in your watch vocabulary as well.
What criteria must a watch meet to be considered Swiss-made? And how does such a qualification add to the status? According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (known as the FH after its French name), a watch may be labeled Swiss or Swiss-made only if it complies with the following: “The assembly work on the movement and the watch itself (fitting the movement with the dial, hands and case parts) should be carried out in Switzerland, along with the final testing of the movement. It also requires that at least 50 percent of the components of the movement should be manufactured in Switzerland.” Therefore, a watch is considered Swiss if its movement is Swiss, its movement is cased in Switzerland, and the manufacturer carries out the final inspection in Switzerland.
The FH takes country-of-origin labeling very seriously. The organization actively pursues watches that are falsely marked Swiss or Swiss-Made, often Geneve (a label for watches made specifically in and around Geneva).
Sometimes a watch may contain a Swiss movement but be assembled outside of Switzerland. Such watches will say “Swiss Movement” or “Mouvement Suisse” on the dial.
The movement country-of-origin markings hold significant meaning as well. When it comes to mechanical watches, the Swiss have more experience than any other country. The Swiss have a centuries-rich heritage of matchmaking, mainly centered in and around the Jura region, and they are known for such watch innovations as the self-winding watch, as well as complicated watches like the perpetual calendar, fly-back hand and chronograph.
If you’re looking for the highest Swiss certification of quality, look for the word “chronometer.” These watches, which are most likely mechanical, are rigorously tested by an independent Swiss testing bureau. The Swiss Official Chronometer
Control, or COSC, puts each watch through a standard 16-day test, checking the movement’s accuracy in various positions and temperatures.
Chronometers will come with a certificate indicating the Swiss chronometer certification number. According to the FH, the COSC certifies more than a on chronometers a year, with Rolex being in the lead with the most. The first chronometer racing certificate was awarded to Rolex in 1910.
Although the Swiss made the first prototype, the Japanese were the first to bring the quartz analog watch to market in the late 1960s. Since then, the Japanese have been known for high-quality quartz watches (both analog and digital), much as they excel in various types of electronics products. Japanese watch manufacturers – namely Seiko, Citizen and Casio – took the lead in worldwide watch production in the late ’70s, even coming up with innovate items such as Seiko’s TV watch or Citizen’s radio-controlled watch.
Whether you put more value on craftsmanship history or electronic technology is obviously a personal preference. But for the most part, the advent of quartz technology has leveled the playing field somewhat, allowing countries with less watchmaking heritage to join the industry, especially at the mid-to-low end.