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History of the Swiss Watch Industry

From Jacques David to Nicolas Hayek- Third edition

Pierre-Yves Donzé

This book tackles the history of the Swiss watch industry in a global perspective: it gives particular attention to rival nations such as the United Kingdom, the USA and Japan. The author demonstrates how Swiss watchmakers succeeded in facing various challenges: the industrialization of production at the end of the 19 th century, the delocalization of production in the interwar years and globalization since the 1960’s. These challenges helped Switzerland to maintain and strengthen its position as a leader on the world market. This study shows how innovation and new technologies, the industrial policy of the Swiss authorities, the industrial district organization and the relations with trade unions explain the worldwide success of the Swiss watch industry.


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4. Liberalization and globalization (1960–2010) 117


117 CHAPTER 4 Liberalization and globalization (1960–2010) The 1960s appear as a new rupture in the history of the Swiss watch industry, which faced a triple mutation, commercial, organizational and technological. At fi rst, this decade was marked by the establishment of new competitors on the world market (Japan, USA, USSR, France and Germany), whose suc- cess was essentially based on the mass production of standardized products, and called into question the dominant position of Switzerland. The necessity to reinforce the competitiveness of Swiss watch enterprises led to the end of the cartel; the watch industry reorganized its structures, characterized by the liberalization of cartel’s constraints and the international expansion of man- ufacturing. Finally, the last mutation was technological. During this decade the quartz watch was developed, a technical revolution which signifi cantly transformed the watch business, as from then on the issue was no longer the ability to manufacture watches, but rather the ability to sell them. 10 000 000 20 000 000 30 000 000 40 000 000 50 000 000 60 000 000 70 000 000 80 000 000 90 000 000 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Figure 12: Swiss watches exports, volume (1,000 pieces), 1960–2000 Source: Statistique du commerce de la Suisse avec l’étranger, Berne : Département fédéral des Douanes, 1960–2000. 118 This triple mutation led to a deep transformation of the Swiss watch industry, marked by ten years of crisis and stagnation. The evolution of watch exports between 1960...

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