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Behind the Phrase: What Does "Swiss Made" Actually Imply?

November 11, 2020

"Swiss Made" is a mark that's applied to some of the best, most complicated and most expensive wristwatches on sale today. However, what does the term mean, and is it still a reliable measure of quality today?

Read on to find out the significance of this phrase, why it still matters today and some signs you can look for to tell whether your watch or the watch you're about to purchase, is authentically Swiss Made.

The History

On December 23, 1971, the use of Swiss Made as a label for watches was covered by a Federal Council ordinance. However, on June 21, 2013, members of the Swiss parliament voted on a new "Swissness" of the law.

This is because globalisation and new manufacturing processes were blurring the boundaries between what components were actually Swiss Made and what wasn't.

Components were being sourced from China, Thailand, and other locations, then shipped to Switzerland for assembly.

In the low-to-mid price segment, many brands and OEM manufacturers are finding loopholes to trick the system and label their watches as Swiss Made. Unfortunately, a tiny fraction of their watches' value is actually generated in Switzerland.

The law set forth a minimum standard to combat this. However, some critics say that the law is still too lax. For instance, watches may sometimes have a "Swiss parts" or "Swiss Movt" label instead.

This means that the watch's movement was assembled in Asia using kits consisting partially of Swiss-made components.

Swiss Made

Now, a watch can legally be considered Swiss Made if all of the following are true:

  • The watch movement is Swiss.
  • Its movement is cased in Switzerland.
  • The manufacturer completes the watch's final inspection in Switzerland.

A watch movement is considered Swiss if:

  • The movement has been assembled in Switzerland.
  • A manufacturer in Switzerland has inspected the movement.
  • At least 60% of its value (not counting the cost for assembly) is realised in Switzerland.*

There are no stipulations around which country a watch has been designed in. For example, Panerai's design department is based in Florence (Firenze), Italy, where the brand was born, but its watches are made in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Similarly, Bremont designs its watches in the UK, but they are made in Switzerland. Doing things this way is usually to do with staff and support availability, as watchmaking is a significant industry in Switzerland. It's much easier to source materials and watchmakers to build your watches than in countries like the UK. 

Some quality brands that claim the Swiss Made label are:

  • Rolex
  • Patek Philippe
  • Omega
  • Audemars Piguet
  • Hublot
  • Panerai
  • IWC
  • Tag Heuer

*In January of 2017 the Swiss Government increased the required percentage value to 60% from 50%. Therefore, watches made before this date may only have 50% of their value coming from Switzerland, which was legal at the time.

Authentically Swiss Made

Despite these new restrictions, it's still possible to purchase a fake Swiss watch if you're not paying attention. Many companies take advantage of people who want that luxurious label. Thankfully, there are many signs that you can look for that can give you an indication of whether your watch is authentic or not.

Price

Swiss watches are famously expensive because watch manufacturers utilise fine quality materials. They hand-manufacture intricate watch mechanisms from precious materials such as platinum and gold and sometimes use gemstones and diamonds for decoration.

You should expect to pay at least £1500 for a steel watch. Gold/two-tone watches will usually start at £10,000 and go up from there. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is!

Sales Point

Only certain retailers can sell genuine Swiss watches from new. Swiss watch houses want to protect the reputation, quality, and desirability of their products, and the best way to do that is to keep careful control of how they're distributed.

Always check the brand's official website to see a list of authorised retail outlets for your city and country. 

Engraving

Any engravings on your watch should be crystal clear and perfectly cut under a magnifying glass - not sandy or misshapen. Also, check for correct centring of the logo by comparing it with other watches.

Some manufacturers such as Rolex and Omega engrave their logo on the crystal of their watches so that it is not generally viewable with the naked eye. Learn where the logo should be placed and how it should look. Some fakers duplicate these logos too but not typically with a genuine manufacturer's accuracy.

Errors

Ensure that everything on the watch is spelled correctly. It may seem crazy, but there have been instances of the word "Professional" on knock-off Omega watches missing a letter or two.

Efficiency

High-quality Swiss watches are engineered to both be long-lasting and quiet. If you're purchasing a watch in person, don't hesitate to have a listen. You shouldn't be able to hear any ticking unless the watch is close to your ear (this doesn't apply to some watches with special escapements such as tourbillons, you may be able to hear these more easily as more components are moving).

Certificate of Authenticity

In many cases, certificates of authenticity are unique and are stored as carefully as the watch itself. What you receive as a new buyer depends on what watch you're buying. Generally, brands like Rolex and Omega don't issue a 'certificate' as such any more. You'll find they come with an instruction manual and a piece of plastic that looks like a credit card. This plastic card is your guarantee that the watch is genuine; it also entitles you to warranty coverage wherever you are in the world.

Higher-end brands such as Patek Philippe will issue a physical certificate with signature alongside other documents with their watches. Some collectors value these additional documents, whereas others don't. If you're buying pre-owned, you may find that you're buying just the watch without papers and the original box. Whether you value those extras is purely a personal choice. 

Most manufacturers will not issue another certificate of authenticity (or any other documents supplied with the original watch) should the original documents not be included. This is mostly down to the fact that the documents and the watches can be copied or edited.

Fully Functional

Most luxury watches do more than tell the time. Ensure that all the functions of the watch are in working order. Check sub-dials, helium release valves, the chronograph, and time zone settings.

Weight

This is a straightforward way to judge the authenticity of a watch's material. For instance, Gold Rolex watches will be very heavy compared to fake watches. Stainless steel Rolex watches will generally be far heavier than any fakes. 

This point needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. More affordable Swiss-made watches may also be light, but they may still be genuine Swiss watches. 

Check the material the watch is made of. Titanium is a metal popular with sports watches but is also considerably lighter than stainless steel.

Older watches, such as the Submariner ref. 16610, are lighter than their modern counterparts thanks to the bracelet, which is made of folded metal that's hollow inside each link. Modern Submariners use bracelets milled from solid blocks of steel.

Purchasing Your Luxury Watch

Now that you know the parameters of Swiss Made watches, you're able to buy these luxury products with confidence and aptitude. 

With new rules in effect to combat globalisation and the latest manufacturing processes, you can feel confident that Swiss Made is actually what the high-end label suggests.