Style. Just in Time.

042015

In this week’s post I am going to indulge my hedonism and hope you join me. As you might know I am crazy for stylish articles; no matter if it is about architecture and furniture, fashion, art or jewellery.

Today we will talk about one of the most stylish traditions Switzerland has to offer: Watches.

I came up with this idea because form January 19 to January 23 the crème de la crème of the watchmakers organises an exhibition called “Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie” in Geneva.

If you take a look at the fancy brands you will see that the notion “international” is justified since the manufacturers come from various countries.


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However, a significant number of these top notch timepieces are produced in Switzerland and almost all of them have French names.

History

These French names are neither coincidence nor are they made up for PR reasons. People started measuring time by means of mechanical instruments in the 14th century. At that point Switzerland had not much to contribute to this new industry sector. Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain and Holland were the forerunners. In these countries the aristocrats wanted timepieces as treasures while the Navy needed precision instruments to navigate.

From France to Switzerland

In the 16th century the protestant reformation started and cleaved the Church in two. Catholics and Protestants were fighting each other. In France the Protestants were called Huguenots and they were hunted and executed since this movement was illegal in France.

Therefore many of them fled France and settled in the Calvinistic and rather liberal city of Geneva. Along with them came the know-how of manufacturing portable timepieces. This was a perfect match since Geneva was a stronghold of goldsmithery.

A new industry started flourishing in Geneva between 1770 and 1786 while the watchmakers and goldsmith developed new knowledge. The watches were sought for even in the Orient and in America.

One of the oldest – if not the oldest – manufacturer is Vacheron Constantin. The face of their watches still bears the Huguenot cross.

Facing Crises

The watch sector suffered its first crisis in 1786 when France annexed Geneva for several years. The city was admitted to the Swiss confederation after the Napoleonic war in 1814. The watchmaker’s industry took up again and spread all over the French speaking part of Switzerland.

Of course the competitors in other countries did not sleep and more crises should follow and being mastered.

Some manufacturers even had to shut down. I once wrote an article about Du Bois & Fils who successfully reopened their doors by means of a very clever strategy and quite some entrepreneurship.

Bottom Line

Looking at the watch industry it seems to me that we can draw some conclusions:

  1. Tolerance is a useful business model; even if you don’t know it from the start
  2. Using synergies is not as new as we tend to think, but still useful
  3. Given the amount of watches sold world-wide there must be a lot of collectors out there

As for the “Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie” one needs an invitation to get to see it. If you know how to get one just tell me, ok?
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2 Comments

  1. I never knew the French took it back…interesting. As for the reformers being tolerant, this is up for debate. I remember those beheaded Virgin Marys in the gothic cathedral in Lausanne…still there, without their heads..

    • I did not say the the reformers were tolerant. But Geneva was more secular (laical) than other cantons. This is still visible today.

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