Ah the Swiss made watch. Pinnacle of craftsmanship, quality and prestige. If you are like many, you know the term Swiss made watch, and associated it with quality, but never really learned why.
This article is designed to give you the low-down on Swiss made watches. I am not going to compare individual watches, but instead am aiming to give an overview so you can understand the what and the why of the Swiss made watch.
Hublot watches. Cartier watches. Whether made by these well known names, or lesser known brands, Swiss made watches, both men’s and women’s, are prestigious, coming from a grand tradition of elegant, high quality and reliable products. Most of these watches are manufactured in and around Geneva. One of the signature characteristics, is that these watches, particularly the high-end ones, are assembled painstakingly, and in rare cases, completely by hand. So how do you know you have the real deal?
One thing to look for that appears on almost all watches of exceptional luxury and quality, are the words ‘Swiss Made’, usually found just beneath the 6 on the watch face. Unfortunately, there are many counterfeits on the market. Often, they will look very similar to true Swiss made watch, and may even have Swiss made written on the face. Some of these forgeries look very good, and can only be spotted by a trained eye. To avoid falling for this trick, make sure to buy your watch from a trusted seller.
When dealing with the real deal though, you are getting a watch that has been subject to rigorous standards and testing. In fact, the Swiss are so serious about maintaining their standards, that these regulations are written into Swiss law. For a watch to legally be labelled ‘Swiss Made’ they must pass the following standards:
‘Swiss Movt’ is a label that appears on many watches around the world and is mistakenly thought of as a sign of quality. What is Swiss Movt? It is not the same as ‘Swiss made’. It simply means that the watch movement was made in Switzerland, but technically speaking, no other part of the watch needs to be involved with the Swiss process.
This is certainly misleading, and many cheaper watch producers take advantage of this label to sell an inferior quality product. While Swiss Movements can still be very good, the labelling Swiss Movt is no guarantee of the overall watch quality. The Swiss government does not impose such strict regulations for the labelling of Swiss Movt.
Simply put, it’s the heritage of exceptional products. The Swiss have made a commitment to quality and craftsmanship, in an effort to be the leaders in luxury watches. The effort has paid off and the price tag you can find on some of these watches is the result of centuries of watchmaking. The Swiss are experts at both men’s and women’s watches. When buying one, you know you are getting the best.
To briefly sum up the history of watchmaking in Switzerland, we start in the 17th Century, when the technology of timepieces advanced far enough for pocket sized clocks to be constructed in greater and greater quantities.
The Swiss competed for 300 years with the rest of the neighboring European, France, Germany and England primarily, to create better and better pocket watches. The Swiss became known for quality and innovation in this competition and did this through many small manufacturers that did most of their work in house.
By the mid 1800’s the Swiss were producing huge quantities of watches, in all ranges of quality and price. Their market dominance continued to grow through the years, and was greatly boosted as American Railways began needing large quantities of accurate timepieces.
In the 1970s, the Japanese developed the quartz movement technology. The Quartz technology was kept time very accurately, and was extremely cheap to produce, creating a flood of inexpensive, reliable watches to the market. The Swiss market struggled to compete in the inexpensive market. However, the introduction of the Swatch in 1983, changed the market, and marked the shift when the Swiss began their focus on high end watches and a desire to create products of the highest quality. The result is what we see today, an industry rooted in old traditions of hand crafted goods, combined with a focus and desire to create watches of impeccable quality and luxury.
Throughout all this, the reputation of the Swiss made watch grew, as each new milestone was hit. Omega was the first watch worn on the moon, Rolex was worn as the first man climbed Mt. Everest and so on. Throughout history, the Swiss made watch companies have always been setting records and pushing boundaries, earning them their reputation for being the most desirable watches in the world.
This long history of fine craftsmanship has also yielded a market of exceptional Swiss vintages watches as well.
Like most luxury goods, many Swiss watches are made in limited numbers. Of course, having a limited-edition watch can only increase the excitement of owning it. To that end, many small production watches are hard to find. Most producers based in Switzerland point to their rarity and limited production as a hallmark of quality and reliability.
The heart of a watch, is its movement. This is literally the thing that makes the watch tick, moves the hands and keep the time accurate.
What generally sets Swiss watches above the rest these days is because they have maintained the tradition of high quality mechanical movements. Mechanical movements are almost exclusively found in luxury brands, and for good reason, because of the painstaking and intricate craftsmanship that goes into each watch. The mechanism is a precisely crafted series of gears that are powered by a hand would spring, rather than a battery. The result is a minute hand that gives a steady sweeping motion, rather than the jerky ticking of a quartz movement. The Mechanical movement is not as durable as others, and does need to be wound regularly and maintained every few years by a quality jeweler.
These watch movements are built with the same standards and precision of the mechanical, but instead of needing to be wound by hand, wind themselves automatically. Some can by rested in a device that winds the watch for you when not being worn. Both the Mechanical and Auto are slightly less accurate than a Quartz movement. The best ones are 99.9% equal to the Quartz movement.
If you would prefer to a battery powered movement, Swiss watchmakers do build excellent Quartz movements. The battery sends a small electrical charge through a Quartz crystal, which vibrates and causes the hands to move around the dial. Quartz Movements are extremely accurate and durable, which makes them a favorite for sports watches.
If you are excited by the new trend in smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, keep your eyes peeled because the few Swiss manufacturers, TagHeur, Brietling and Patek Phillipe among others, have all announced their intention to bring modern digital trends into their product lines.
Comparing brands is often a matter of taste and style. Some will love the feeling of having a genuine Rolex watch of their wrist. Patek Phillipe watches are often elegant and refined. Omega has a history, not only of being the watch worm by James Bond, but also the first watch on the moon.
When it comes to watches, some of the Swiss made timepieces are just plain beautiful.
No Swiss maker does exclusively one style. Most brands make a wide range of styles, from sporty, dive watches, to sophisticated and classy evening watches. Factors such as the strap, face, case size, features and finish will all play a part in your decision. However, if your watch is a genuine Swiss Made, you can be sure of its quality and craftsmanship.
These things together, the history, the stringent regulation and focus on quality, as well as the beautiful aesthetics of the Swiss watch is what makes them the most renowned, and generally the best watches in the world.