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How did Switzerland Come to Dominate Watchmaking?

Posted on August 27 2019

Many watch enthusiasts agree that nothing runs quite like a Swiss-made watch. You can’t really talk about the history of watches without touching upon Swiss watches. How did this small country become such a dominating force in the global watch industry?

Switzerland facts

  • The art of watchmaking is not even present in Switzerland until the 14th century. It was when the Huguenot refugees had set up shop in Geneva that started the whole thing. Records show that by the year 1554, there were watchmakers working in Geneva.
  • In 1601, the very first watchmaking guild was established in Geneva. At this point, Geneva watchmakers have established a reputation for making high-quality timepieces.
  • During the 19th century, the Swiss watchmaking industry grew considerably. By the year 1850, the Swiss were making over two million watches per year. England, the country’s main competitor, can only manage 200,000 watches annually.
  • Although American watches posed a threat to the Swiss, the country turned it around with the release of the Rolex Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch. On top of the trademark Swiss innovation, the country managed to tip on the winning side.
  • During the 1970s, the Swiss watchmaking industry faced another threat in the form of the Japanese quartz watches. The quartz-powered watches were more accurate and not to mention, cheaper. The Swiss watchmaking industry crumbled under this pressure. However, over time, Nicolas Hayek founded Swatch and released their own quartz models.
  • Today, the Swiss watchmaking industry is once again feeling the pressure against tech giants like Apple. Apple managed to outsell Swiss watches with their own Apple Watch.
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