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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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Conclusion 153

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153 Conclusion From the middle of the 19th century, the Swiss watch industry faced two major crises which challenged its existence. The fi rst was industrialization. American rivals challenged Swiss watchmakers by mass producing watches with machines in their factories and made Swiss watches become uncompetitive because they were too expensive or poorer quality. The industrialization of production modes was the object of intense discussions in Switzerland, and was opposed by many, but succeeded in being established during the 1880s and 1890s. After its successful move towards mechanization, during the interwar period the Swiss watch industry adopted an industrial policy aimed at putting an end to chablonnage and limiting the risk of industrial trans- plantation abroad. While customs protectionism spread worldwide from the 1890s, the export of disassembled watches, mainly to the United States, Japan, Russia and Germany, grew steadily and contributed to the development of new watchmaking companies in these countries. In order to cope with the emergence of new rival nations, and to maintain employ- ment in Switzerland, watchmaking organized, under the aegis of the State, a cartel which forbade chablonnage and controlled the activities of watchmaking companies (the Statut horloger), as well as a trust for the control of the production of parts and movements (ASUAG). The second existential crisis the Swiss watch industry faced was that of industrial concentration. The emergence and the spread of new mass production systems and new technologies, such as quartz watches, led to the establishment on the world market of rival fi rms...

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