The watch and clock industry, Switzerland's third largest exporter
after the machine and chemical industries, has only one market :
The World. Swiss made timepieces are to be found in all the countries
of the globe. And, what is no less surprising, to suit all pockets,
or almost so : from quartz fashion watches for a modest price to
mechanical masterpieces, made of gold and decorated with precious
stones, costing several million francs. It is this wide variety
and its worldwide vocation which together have ensured the survival
of the industry over the course of centuries.
Historically, the Swiss watch and clock industry has always had
a specialized horizontal structure in which suppliers, craftsmen
and sub-contractors supply movements and external parts to assemblers
called "établisseurs", who put the final product
together. However, to a lesser extent, the industry has also developed
a vertically integrated structure in which watches and clocks are
sometimes made entirely by the same company, in this case called
During the 1970s and early 1980s, technological upheavals (appearance
of the quartz technology) and the difficult economic situation resulted
in a reduction in the size of the industry : the number of employees
fell from some 90,000 in 1970 to a little over 30,000 in 1984, a
figure which has remained stable over the last thirteen years (40,000
employees in 2004) while the number of companies decreased from
about 1,600 in 1970 to about 600 now.
The average number of employees per company has remained constant,
at just under 70 people per company in 2004, as in 1970. The great
majority of watch companies are small sized companies (employing
less than 100 people) while a very little number (less than 10)
are each employing over 500 people.
One of the great strengths of the Swiss watch and clock industry,
by comparison with its foreign competitors, is its ability to offer
the consumer a genuinely comprehensive choice of products.
Would you like a mechanical watch (handwound or automatic) or a
quartz watch (with analog or digital display) ?
Do you prefer a diamond-set watch of precious metal or one made
of stainless steel, wood, plastic or even high tech ceramic ?
Are your more attracted by a sober classic appearance, a sporty
look or a fashionable and trendy design ?
Whatever you want, you will always find something to satisfy you
amongst the products of the Swiss watch industry. And if you prefer
an alarm or other type of clock to a wristwatch, you will have difficulty
in choosing from amongst the vast range of models offered by the
Swiss manufacturers of this type of product.
Markets and Competition
While the Swiss watch industry is present all over the world (it
exports nearly 95% of its production), it does not carry equal weight
Asia and Oceania take 56% of Swiss watch exports in value, Europe
29%, Americas 14% and Africa 1%...and the top fifteen countries
represent over 82% of these exports.
With their worldwide reputation for quality and styling, Swiss
watches are not however the only ones to compete for the favours
of customers. They have many competitors in the markets, the most
serious of these being the Japanese and Hong Kong producers.
According to a number of economic analysts, the Swiss watch industry
was moribond in the middle of the 1970s, having missed out the electronic
revolution and being strongly affected by the economic crisis.
But what is the situation now, thirty years later ? Having successfully
completed its structural reconversion, the watch industry is today,
as it was yesterday, one of the brightest stars in the Swiss economic
firmament. Better still, during the last five or six years, it has
taken the leading position amongst the country's most successful
industries, breaking its own records in exporting each year and
going from 4.3 billion francs in 1986 to 19.3 billion