The Swiss watch industry has annual revenue of about 20 billion USD thanks to the export of nearly 30 million watches, which means the average value of a watch is nearly 700 USD, reaching the highest rate in the world.
To rank a watch brand, people rely on many factors: long history, low supply but high demand, prestige and reputation, pioneering and creative ideas, independence in production, vision. influencing the history of the watch industry as well as world culture, the exquisite complexity of the internal system, materials and manufacturing methods, price levels, resale prices and market share…
However, for each person, a feature or a historical value can make a watch brand number 1 in their eyes, and more than that, the stories of the Swiss watch industry have transformed the words “Swiss Made” became a brand for the entire industry.
Firsts and bests
If anyone is interested in top brands, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet can be considered the “Holy Trinity” in the Swiss watch industry.
Patek Philippe, founded in 1839 in Geneva by a Polish (Antoni Patek) and a Frenchman (Adrien Philippe), is always considered the most prestigious watch company in the world.
From 1900 to 1951, Patek Philippe won more than 300 first prizes in chronograph competitions at the Astronomical Observatory in Geneva. The watches are all handcrafted by skilled craftsmen and take 9 months to complete.
Patek Philippes in the watch world are like Rolls Royce cars in the automobile world. Patek Philippe holds the record for highest price for a non-diamond-encrusted wristwatch with its Perpetual Calendar Ref. 1957 produced in 1943 priced at $5.71 million and the Henry Graves Jr. pocket watch. Supercomplication cost 23.98 million USD at auction in 2014.
Patek Philippe Ref.1527 Perpetual Calendar, 18k Rose gold.
Vacheron Constantin, founded in 1755, is proud to be a long-standing watch manufacturing enterprise that invented machines that support the production of extremely high-precision watch parts and drawing machines for miniaturization. Patterns painted on the watch face.
Since the 19th century, the company has used the micrometer coefficient (1/1 million m) as the standard unit of measurement for the company. The sophistication in design makes each watch considered an artistic masterpiece.
A special model Vacheron Constantin made specifically for a customer.
Audemars Piguet, founded in 1875, is highly regarded as a pioneer in the watch industry in a number of features with historical milestones such as: 1892 – the first Minute Repeater watch, 1921- watch with the first Jumping Hour function (displays the hour by number in a small box like today’s watches often use to display the date), 1946 – the world’s thinnest wristwatch, 2000 – a watch with the function “Equation of Time” represents the difference between the natural solar time system and the average time system humans are using. 2008 – the first watch to use carbon materials for the outer case and movement system…
Audemars Piguet today is known for its Royal Oak Collection watches and are worn by celebrities such as Michael Schumacher and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
An Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Squelette
The “Big Three” group above includes the following brands:
– Breguet created the world’s first wristwatch.
– Jaeger LeCoultre is a symbol of quality, once providing movements for Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet.
– Rolex created the first automatic and waterproof watch.
– Blancpain is known for its famous Fifty Fathoms line of diving watches for marines.
– Omega is the deepest diving or highest flying watch in the world.
– Zenith is famous for its precision with more than 300 patents and 2,000 time measurement awards, the first watch to measure 1/10 of a second.
– Breitling is the number one choice for pilots because of its design style and precision with 100% watches licensed by Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC)…
From the 18th century, Breguet, a Swiss born in Neuchatel, went to France to study. While his colleagues were making chronographs for mariners, he discovered a completely new market: aristocratic and royal customers.
The stylish appearance and new functions have led someone to say: “Carrying a Breguet watch makes you feel like you have a genius in your pocket.”
Even when the French bourgeois revolution made everything related to the nobility dangerous to his life, Breguet still did not stop his business philosophy: he brought Queen Marie Antoinette a watch. The clock let her check the time in the dungeon, before going to the guillotine.
The first wristwatch was also designed by Breguet for the Queen of Naples – Caroline Murat in 1810. Famous people who used this watch brand also included Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Josephine, Emperor of Turkey – Selim III, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
One inventor who contributed greatly to the measurement revolution was LeCoultre. He is the inventor of the micrometer measuring device. LeCoultre is also the owner of many patents.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is famous for inventions such as Atmos, a perpetual mechanical watch that harvests energy from environmental temperature changes and never needs to be wound, or the Reverso wristwatch that can be turned over when it is worn. Someone complained about the watch glass breaking while playing Polo.
Each Jaeger-LeCoultre must undergo 1,000 hours of testing before being brought to market. Jaeger-LeCoultre does not even send its watches for confirmation from the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) because its inspection system is simply better than COSC’s.
In the past, even leading Swiss watch companies such as Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Phillipe had to buy Jaeger-LeCoultre movements.
A Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso that can be flipped to view three watch faces.
Rolex, a brand always in the top 5 among high-end watch brands, was founded by Wilsdorf & Davis, a watch business in the UK.
When he saw that the vest had become obsolete, he realized that the phase of pocket watches would end and focused on developing wrist watches even though it was a very difficult decision when the At that time, wristwatches tested at Breguet had an average error of 2 hours/day!
In 1910, Wilsdorf confidently took the watch for inspection at the Watch Appraisal Bureau to the surprise of experts who specialized in appraising pocket and marine watches, and the Rolex watch was issued. Quality certificate for chronograph after 2 weeks of inspection.
After World War I, Wilsdorf moved the company to Geneva, which he believed was ideal for developing sophisticated, optimal bronzes.
If today we see widespread Rolex advertisements with images of picky sports such as golf, tennis, and sailing, few people may know that in 1927, a Rolex watch was used by a typist. named Mercedes Gleize when she was the first woman to swim across a canal in England.
After more than 10 hours of swimming, the Rolex Oyster watch still shows the correct time. It’s a perfect victory for Rolex’s “Oyster”-shaped scratch- and water-resistant case design, copyrighted in 1926.
Mercedes Gleize while swimming across the canal in England with a Rolex around her neck.
Although technological inventions to ensure accuracy and add features to mechanical watches are a never-ending race, the breakthrough in the wristwatch market is due to the influence of two wars. world War.
Wristwatches can save the lives of many people. It is an indispensable item for nurses to use to check the patient’s pulse, and for soldiers and pilots to start accurately.
Watching the needle move from the moment the shell glows to the moment it explodes helps soldiers estimate the enemy’s distance.
Therefore, after the war ended, the wristwatch remained a symbol of strength and bravery of men, causing the Swiss watch industry to continue to develop.
If many people see Omega as the watch favored by agent 007 on screen since the 90s, not many people notice that in 1969, Omega made its mark in the hundreds of years of watch industry history when two Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin took “long steps for mankind” on the moon with Omega Speedmaster watches in their hands, whose production secrets have been kept intact to this day.
Omega’s Speedmaster Professional is also the only line certified for extra-space activities by NASA.
Buzz Aldrin carried an Omega Speedmaster on the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
By the 1970s, Switzerland dominated the global market for wristwatches and accounted for half of all watch sales worldwide.
The quartz crisis and revival
The uniqueness of Swiss watch brands is not only their historical values, pioneering inventions, and records, but also their ability to overcome crises affected by political events (how bourgeois revolution, world war), economic (Wall Street collapse in the 20s and 30s) and technological changes in the world.
Since the 60s of last century, discovering the ability of quartz crystals to oscillate electromagnetically at a certain frequency when an electric current passes through them, Swiss watch companies have immediately participated in research and development of this technology. Turmeric quartz for wristwatches.
After 5 years, despite initial successes, the Japanese and Americans also had similar successes. And the crisis called “quartz” for the Swiss watch industry took place in the 70s.
Although leading in technology, Swiss manufacturers cannot calculate the cost factor. User belief: “the accuracy of a watch is equivalent to its price” is completely changed.
Japanese companies have produced electronic watches with perfect accuracy and extremely low prices, soon turning the heyday of the Swiss mechanical watch market into the past.
In just 10 years from 1973 to 1983, more than 65% of the 90,000 workers in the Swiss watch industry lost their jobs, and more than 1,000 manufacturers were closed. In 1980, Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSHI) could no longer pay its employees and had to apply for loans from banks.
What’s interesting is that an industry that was once struggling but now has an average watch export value of nearly $700 USD is being revived by a foreigner and by a mid-priced watch brand. Average price under 100 USD/piece: Swatch.
Nicolas Hayek is a Lebanese businessman, at that time the owner of Hayek Engineering company, later became the CEO of SSHI, the predecessor of Swatch Group, who came up with many ideas and put his capital on the table to negotiate. convinced a series of banks and investors to save the dying Swiss watch industry: “If the industry, which brings together the characteristics of the Swiss country and people – precision, trust and value – if we cannot withstand the wave of competition from Japan, we should stop investing in the motor manufacturing industries and medical products.”
Swatch has appeared and demonstrated that competitive value:
– Targeting the thickness factor, the old invention was reused so that the operating part is attached directly to the watch case, eliminating unnecessary protective layers, so that watches with a thickness of less than 2mm appeared. on the market. Swatch also claims that its extraordinary element is its special, expensive plastic technology that no one, not even Japanese watches, can copy.
– When accuracy is no longer an issue that users care about in watches, Swatch redefines watches as a “time trend” or “lifestyle”. The person behind the design trend and repositioning of a series of Swatch watch segments is Jean Robert, who has transformed Fogal from a company that produces ordinary women’s underwear into products that are sophisticated and sexy when found that women are always willing to pay high prices for stylish outfits worn on mannequins.
– Many watches are covered to prevent water, scratches and hide the ugliness of electronic devices. Swatch has come up with a design with a transparent back that allows users to clearly see how the wheels operate. teeth, an idea that later high-end watch companies also followed.
With more than 350 designs, the watch display case at the store changes every 6 months, helping Swatch sell 200 million watches by 1996. Brands such as Breguet, Blancpain, Calvin Klein, Omega. Longines, Rado and Tissot were respectively acquired and developed by the Swatch Group. Omega became the most valuable asset, bringing 34% of revenue and 46% of the group’s total profit. Swatch Group is valued at CHF 328 million since Nicolas Hayek led it, in 2015 it had revenue of more than 9.5 billion USD and the company was valued at 23.9 billion USD.
A new trend appears when veteran giants in the luxury and fashion manufacturing world also participate in the watch industry, using the power of marketing to give wings to large and long-standing watch brands. of Switzerland. LVMH Group acquired TAG Heure, Ebel, Chaumet, Hublo. Richemont Group acquired IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre. Combined with the rise of the Eastern consumer market and new markets, the Swiss watch industry has escaped spectacularly and developed to this day.
Exist with time
Many people are saying that there will be a next crisis for the empire of Swiss watch brands due to: (a) user trends (b) technology trends, and (c) historical trends. Smartphones have swept the small digital camera market and are sweeping the wristwatch market when most young people only need a mobile phone to tell the time. Major mobile device manufacturers have all jumped into the smartwatch field. And the Swiss watch industry is returning to history when the number of watches they produce is less and the average value is increasing: talent and invention only serve the wealthy classes in the world. , the seeds that led to revolutions and crises in the past…
However, let’s accept that on the clock face after the number 12 is always the number 1, instead of “let time tell”, with persistence, precision, sophistication and creativity, the Swiss watch industry can proudly say: Let us operate time…