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Original posted at Value Your Watch March 22nd, 2022
According to Swiss law, it’s quite exact and straightforward. The law states for a watch to be Swiss its movement must be Swiss made, that the movement must be assembled in the Swiss region, its final inspection occurred in Switzerland, and that at least 60% of manufacturing costs are domestically produced.
But of course, there is much more that defines a Swiss watch and makes it such a satisfyingly unique and collectable item with a spirit all its own. To date, no other country has managed to emulate quite the same level of prestige, workmanship and lasting value as that attached to Swiss watches.
The Swiss watch industry has French protestants, known as Huguenots to thank for the catalyst of their watch industry. The Huguenots fled France for Geneva during the French Wars of Religion in the early 16th century, bringing with them their clock and watchmaking skills and helping to transform Geneva into a thriving centre for watchmaking excellence.
At around the same time, John Calvin was making hugely unpopular waves in Geneva with his Reformation, which forbade, among other things, the wearing of jewellery. A bit like a 16th century quartz crisis, this destroyed the businesses of all of the goldsmiths and enamellers in Geneva, who had no choice but to turn to watchmaking. The combined talents of skilled watchmakers and expert goldsmiths and jewellers created a perfect storm for exquisite and creative pocket watch and clock making.
By the 17th century, Geneva was firmly on the map as a leading centre of watchmaking, and while it had not yet stolen the mantle of British clock and watchmakers, it was definitely nipping at the heels.
Abraham-Louis Perrelet introduced the perpetual watch in 1770, which became a forerunner to the modern day automatic watch. Ingenious divisions of labour known as établissage, devised by Daniel JeanRichard, also saw farmers in the Jura mountains farm in the summer and make watch components in the long snowbound winter months. The emphasis was on large tasks being broken down into small tasks and being repeated over and over again. By the 18th century further mass-production technology was introduced, and hard working Swiss watchmakers, scattered across the whole of Switzerland and often working independently, were able to produce watches at much higher volumes than their rivals.
During World War 1 the trend towards wrist worn watches was firmly established when soldiers found pocket watches too cumbersome to work with in the trenches. In quick order this introduced a huge new market for Swiss watchmakers to exploit.
Then during World War II, came another Godsend for the Swiss watch industry. They managed to firmly establish themselves as world leaders in watchmaking. While the British watchmaking industry had failed to employ mass production techniques effectively, the USA’s watch making industrial might was converted entirely to a war footing. This left the door wide open for the neutral Swiss to offer a huge consignments of specially commissioned watches to both the German and Allied forces.
Post war in the 1950s, they had Hans Wilsdorf, who had long moved from London to Switzerland, to thank for introducing the concept of the leisure watch in the form of the Rolex Submariner. A whole new global industry was born.
A great start, but an even better finish
With a reputation for a wide variety of reliable movements from the likes of ETA, Selitta, Soprod, STP, Ronda as well as several in-house manufactures, Swiss watchmaking covers the entire gamut of movement making from a basic ETA 2824-2 self winding three hander mechanical to a one of a kind multi-functional masterpiece from the likes of Patek Philippe. The dependability, the precision, the quality and durability of Swiss movements are what makes a Swiss watch a wise choice every time.
Over the years the Swiss watchmaking industry has introduced several techniques that add value and uniqueness to their movements. Here are some of the finishes that make a Swiss watch so special:
Bevelling is applied to bridges and plates and is considered one of the most delicate finishing techniques in horology. Achieved by both machine and hand.
From the French term for pearling, this is a decorative motif which involves circular graining of the metal surface. It’s done by machine and sometimes by hand and applied to plates, bridges and other larger moving parts.
It’s all about the finish, so this special technique is used primarily on steel parts such as steel screws, levers and bridges to achieve a smooth and reflective finish. Mainly done by hand, it involves gently rubbing the parts with abrasive diamond pastes until the gleaming shine is obtained even for parts that may never be seen.
Through a delicate precision heat process a brilliant blue tone is applied to parts such as screw heads and hands. Always make sure your blued screws were achieved by traditional thermal bluing.
Applied to wheels and dials, this finish is accomplished by applying an abrasive brush to a piece whilst it is being rotated. The end result is a pleasing polished sunray effect on the metalwork.
Côtes de Genève
Also known as Geneva stripes, this process is often found on the plates, bridges and rotors of a quality movement and occasionally on the dial as well. While decorative, Côtes de Genève also helps trap dust and keep it away from the moving parts of the movement. Machine brushing of the striped pattern can be straight or circular but always perfectly aligned to ensure a symmetrical motif is kept.
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