10/13/2022
 6 minutes

What exactly is a “Swiss made” watch?

By Barbara Korp
Swiss-Made-2-1

Where does the watch you’ve got on your wrist come from? There’s a good chance that you’ll answer “from Switzerland.” After all, Switzerland enjoys the reputation of being the watch nation. Rightfully so, too: around 30 million watches are manufactured every year in Switzerland – which has a population of less than nine million. Rolex, Audemars Piguet, or Patek Philippe – many of the big luxury watch names are from Switzerland. And the terms “Swiss watch” or “Swiss made” do more than just indicate where a timepiece comes from; they’re also a seal of very high quality. A mechanical Swiss watch represents the very best in watchmaking, technical innovation, and precision. “Swiss made” also stands for reliability with quartz watches as well. We’re happy to pay more for a Swiss Swatch than for any other plastic watch, and expect it to run well for many years after purchasing it.   

Have you ever wondered how much Switzerland you’re getting when buying a Swiss watch, or how much “Swiss made” really comes from Switzerland? How many big watch brands not only come from there, but also make their timepieces there as well? Today we’re taking a deeper look into these questions.  

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon – the very best in Swiss watchmaking
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon – the very best in Swiss watchmaking

Why are there rules for using the term “Swiss made” with watches?  

Are you allowed to call any watch that’s assembled in Switzerland “Swiss made?” No, that would be too simple. It would also attract second-rate copycats, who would be more than too happy to have the “Swiss made” pedigree on their watches. This of course would not only harm the flawless reputation of Switzerland as a country that makes excellent watches, but would have economic consequences as well. Right behind chocolate, watches are Switzerland’s second-largest export product, and the industry is a major job motor. This needs to be protected. That’s why the Swiss Federal Council regulates whether a watch can be labeled a “Swiss watch” or be marketed as “Swiss made.” This aims to guarantee high quality and continue the international demand for these timepieces. 

What are the regulations?  

  • Swiss Components 

Swiss-manufactured components make up at least 50 percent of the value of the watch’s movement. For the entire watch itself, and for the movement, 60 percent of the manufacturing costs are incurred in Switzerland. This prevents a foreign-made movement from being installed in a Swiss watch.  

  • Swiss Attributes 

Everything that gives the watch its key characteristics occurs within Switzerland. This specifically means that every watch is assembled there. Only very few pre-assembled components are permitted. These exceptions are made due to some components not being individually available. In addition, the final inspection of the watch must be done in Switzerland.   

  • Swiss Roots 

Watches are more than just their actual components. Technical development also plays a key role. After all, people buy a watch for its complications and the outstanding watchmaking skill involved in achieving them. This means that the entire development of every watch, including its construction and prototypes, occur in Switzerland. Swiss ingenuity? These regulations guarantee it’s found in every watch.  

  • Swiss Pride 

No, Swiss law does not regulate pride. You will however find it in your Swiss watch. These strict regulations mean that watchmakers continually have to ensure that they are meeting the current requirements that permit them to say their watches are made “in Switzerland.” These of course lead in some cases to additional costs, which manufacturers are willing to incur. This is after all in their best interest, especially since it lets them maintain the flawless reputation of Swiss watches, and deliver timepieces that you’ll enjoy for many years to come. 

Patek Philippe Ladies Nautilus – a Swiss lady through and through
Patek Philippe Ladies Nautilus – a Swiss lady through and through

Which Swiss watchmakers lead the market? 

Rolex 

In Switzerland, “The Crown” isn’t just a company logo – Rolex is the country’s largest watchmaker. This probably comes as no surprise, because after all, Rolex has epitomized luxury watches for years. Whether it’s Oscar night or Wimbledon, Rolex sponsors all kinds of spotlight events. Can you think of a watch brand that’s donned the wrists of so many famous people, and continues to do so? John F. Kennedy wore a Rolex Day-Date, and Barack Obama a Rolex Cellini. Paul Newman made the Rolex Daytona world famous, while Steve McQueen loved his Rolex Submariner. Sports legends love their Rolex timepieces as well – like Roger Federer, who has been spotted with a Rolex Datejust on his wrist, or Tiger Woods with his Rolex Sea-Dweller.   

Something that might however surprise you is how far ahead Rolex is as the number one on this list. Rolex unfortunately no longer releases its exact sales numbers, and even though we have to resort to estimates, they still paint an impressive picture. Around one million watches leave the manufacturing centers in Biel and Geneva every year, and their sales value is estimated at a whopping eight billion Swiss francs (around $8.2 billion) – corresponding to a market share of nearly 28 percent. 

Rolex Submariner Date – one of the most sought-after sports watches, year in and year out
Rolex Submariner Date – one of the most sought-after sports watches, year in and year out

Cartier  

It’s not entirely clear if Cartier really has taken over second place on this list, because like Rolex, Cartier also do not release their exact sales figures. What is certain is that they are now making more watches – boosting demand for them in the process. This success can be attributed to Cartier CEO Cyrille Vigneron, who has shifted the company’s focus away from haute horlogerie toward a stronger concentration on the standard models and classics like the Tank, Santos, and Ballon Bleu, which have once again become commercial successes.  

The days when Cartier were most known for their jewelry are over. Cartier’s reputation as a watchmaker continues to grow, with the 600,000 timepieces they annually produce finding an ever-growing base of admirers. This was on clear display at the 2022 Oscar gala, where a noticeable amount of Cartier Tanks could be spotted. One rose gold Tank was worn by FINNEAS, who together with his sister Billie Eilish won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Jake Gyllenhaal also donned a Tank for the event: the yellow gold Tank Chinoise. Rami Malek, 2019’s Best Actor, was seen with a Tank Must XL on his wrist. The Cartier Santos is also on the up, finding its way into the hearts of more and more men with its in-house caliber and updated, modern look. Some even see this as the best alternative to a Rolex, or at least as a great watch with an exciting heritage. It’s definitely a timepiece you’ll want to have tried on at least once. 

In demand like never before: the Cartier Tank Chinoise
In demand like never before: the Cartier Tank Chinoise

Omega 

The goal of catching up with Rolex has yet to be achieved by any brand. For watch enthusiasts, however, that’s not all bad, because Omega make high-quality watches that you can buy right now, no waiting list required. Their catalog contains classics like the Speedmaster Professional that became famous as the “Moonwatch,” along with exciting new models like the current James Bond watch. These timepieces impress with their technical specifications, and not just the fact that an Omega once flew to the Moon. The anti-magnetic properties of some models are second to none in the entire watch industry.

And it was Omega who were part of the year’s greatest stroke of marketing genius with the MoonSwatch. While some enthusiasts feared this might cause the value of their Speedmaster Moonwatch to drop, what actually happened was that the MoonSwatch placed Omega in the media spotlight, boosting interest in the Moonwatch as a result. Omega proved that they’re more than in step with the times – meaning we won’t need to worry a bit about the future of this brand. 

Omega Seamaster Diver James Bond 007 No Time To Die – The official Bond watch
Omega Seamaster Diver James Bond 007 No Time To Die – The official Bond watch

Summing Up 

So whether one of the top 3 Swiss brands gets your heart racing, or if you’re maybe looking to give one of the Swiss underdogs like Fortis, Tissot, or Oris a chance, you can be sure that you’ll have a watch on your wrist that has it all: Swiss body, Swiss heart, Swiss made.  


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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