last 20 years, the swiss watch industry increased heavily its productivity
and intensified seriously its rationalization, but without neglecting
to still offer a very large and unequalled range of products of
all performances and prices. In 1970 the rate of productivity was
850 pieces per year and per employee. Today the same rate reaches
more than 3000 pieces. It is interesting to examine how this industrial
sector was able to reach such a result.
The watch industry occupies today in
Switzerland 32000 people working within 580 companies employing
between one to more than thousand men and women. The watchmaker
producing his watch from A to Z is a historical image, which can
be forgotten nowadays. The division of labour and functions and
the specialisation brought a total change in this traditional belief.
The important changes occurred in the watch production these last
years make it difficult to classify precisely how these products
are conceived, manufactured and assembled today. Nevertheless we
will try to give hereafter an idea of the current production processes
of the swiss watches.
The finished product (the watch)
A distinction has to be made between :
- the "manufacture"
- the "établissage "
- the "terminage"
The "manufacture" produces on
its own part of the basic components of the watches it assembles,
especially the "ébauches" (mechanical movements without the regulating
parts and the motor springs) and sells its products under its own
The "établisseur" buys and assembles
the basic parts ("ébauches", movements, regulating parts, external
parts, etc.) and sells the finished watches under its own brand
The "termineur" assembles
the watches as the "établisseur". But he doesn't buy the components.
He only works for a third (a brand). He does not own the brand and
is not responsible for the sales.
A mechanical or electronic watch movement comprises
between 80 and 150 parts of different sizes, materials, technologies,
functions and of course sources.
This traditional and limpid classification
has to be shaded : as a matter of fact, the manufacturing of "čbauches"
and movements needs, to be profitable, big series for watches of
On the other hand, quartz movements
- set on the market in the seventies - are delivered in one block,
ready to function which is not the case for the mechanical movements
delivered as a non-finished product.
Consequently we can say :
- The "manufacture" and the "établisseur"
are the masters of the design of their watches whom they give their
external aspect and their personal character,
- There are today only a few number
of "manufacture", mainly in the upper range of the market,
- The technical character of the
"établisseur" and the "termineur" concentrates mainly on the design
of the product.
One of the ETA SA production centre, today as
well movement producer, "manufacture" and "établisseur".
Basic parts and related sectors
Manufacturing mechanical "ébauches"
and quartz movements, the hart of the watch, are the base of this
industry. Research and development are concentrated in the laboratories
of the movement producers. It should be observed that one of them,
the first in Europe, ETA SA Fabriques d'Ebauches (member of the
Swatch Group) is at the same time movement and components producer,
"manufacture" and "termineur". - 2 - On the other hand, there are
other producers of basic parts (balance wheels and springs, jewels,
integrated circuits, micro-motors, quartz resonators, batteries,
hands, cases, crowns, straps) or suppliers of services (electroplating,
plating, engraving, etc.).
The external look of a watch is the
matter of the brands themselves. According to their strategy, the
image they want to give to their product, decide the size, the shape,
the material, the personality they want to confer. For this purpose,
they need designers who are often free-lances.
is a fascinating world based on a very sophisticated micro-technology
(the consumer is mostly not aware of that). On the other hand, the
watch is an indicator, a symbol of the personal image the wearer
wants to give of himself in his environment. Finally, his requirements
regarding precision are considered normal in all conditions : hot
or cold weather, dry or wet atmosphere, quite or shock conditions,
etc. A terrible, but fantastic challenge for the watch producers