For years, the mark of quality of a timepiece has been a Swiss heritage. But since the 1970s, Japanese manufacturers have been producing watch movements as accurate and well-made as the Swiss, and the Chinese are now producing the bulk of the world’s watches – from cut-price quartz all the way up to Tourbillons – is Swiss Made still a mark of quality?
The Case For Swiss Watches
The Swiss watch industry fiercely protects Swiss watches’ status and prosecutes brands that misuse it. To qualify as “made in Switzerland”, more than 60% of the watch – by value – must be “made” there. It must be assembled in Switzerland and prototypes must have been made in Switzerland for it to qualify. In theory, this means that your Swiss watch has been hand assembled by a skilled watchmaker – although that does not mean that Swiss brands are not, on the whole, assembled by machines….
Nevertheless, the big Swiss brands have a certain cachet, and – on the whole – Made in Switzerland does indeed stand for a certain level of quality. Like all products, Swiss watches come in a range of prices and, in general, the more you pay the better the product.
“Made in Switzerland” is understood by most to mean that the watch has been subjected to quality control by a trained watchmaker, and at least finished by hand if not fully assembled by a human. Sporting a Swiss watch is a symbol of someone’s status. That’s hard to put a price on.
The Case Against Swiss Watches
The trouble with any set of rules is that unscrupulous businesses will find a way to circumvent then – and the Swiss mark is no exception. Some ebauche manufacturers have taken cheaper, Chinese movements and “finished” them in Switzerland to get a Swiss mark on them. This can be a full assembly, engraving and finishing or something as simple as a highly-paid worker slapping on a new rotor somewhere in the Alps. Such practices diminish the status of “Made in Switzerland” and damage it as a brand.
The wealth of microbrands on the market have further damaged the meaning of “Swiss”. At one time, your Swiss watch would be made by one of a handful of brands that – mostly – would be recognised by the average person on the street, Yes, there are plenty of brands like Oris, Hamilton and Ebel that produce excellent watches but would not be recognised by many as being “expensive” but rock up at a social gathering wearing a TAG Heuer, Rolex or Omega and most people will know they are something better than a Seiko.
Of course, that is not necessarily true – Seiko is the exception that proves the rule. The high street brand that watch enthusiasts love, they produce watches at lower price points that beat Swiss watches ten time their price, and a Grand Seiko is genuinely as nice to handle and wear as anything that the big Swiss brands can come up with. Japanese movements are accurate, reliable workhorses that have just as many fans as those from ETA – and they are a damn sight cheaper too.
Then there are the Chinese, who have shrugged off their reputation of making cheap and nasty watches by producing cases and bracelets for major brands – even many of the Swiss brands – and whilst their original movements are not highly regarded, Chinese ETA clones are almost as good as the real thing these days.
Made in Switzerland – The WRUK Verdict
All in all, it’s not so much about saying “Swiss” on the dial as it is about the brand as a whole. The smaller brands – especially those owned by the big players like LVMH, Rolex or Swatch represent great value for money and you are guaranteed a certain level of craftsmanship. When it comes to lesser known players and microbrands – especially those sold direct to customers over Kickstarter… well, that’s another story. For every brilliant brand like Christopher Ward there are a dozen offering Chinese-built cheap watches with a quartz movement that are barely worth the price of postage, never mind £200+.
Our advice is: Do your research, join some watch forums and think carefully before risking several weeks’ wages on something that might not last the distance.