Swiss-made watches are functional timepieces and works of art that showcase the skill and expertise of the nation’s watchmakers.
Explore the history of Swiss-made watches, their features, and the various watch brands that have made Switzerland the go-to destination for luxury timepieces.
Learn the key factors to consider when buying a Swiss-made watch to choose the perfect timepiece, including style, material, and functions.
Whether you’re a watch enthusiast wanting to expand your collection or a novice looking to invest in your first luxury timepiece, let’s look closer at what makes Swiss-made watches unique.
The history of the Swiss-made watch
The Swiss watch industry began in 16th Century Geneva and is a fascinating history of upheaval and frugality.
During this period, many French Huguenots came to Switzerland following the European Reformation, as it was a neutral and stable place to live.
John Calvin, a prominent local Protestant leader, welcomed refugees to Geneva and allowed experienced crafters to work alongside Swiss watchmakers.
As a supporter of piousness, Calvin also banned ornamental objects. These restrictions forced goldsmiths and jewellers to turn their attention to watchmaking to continue making a living.
Their skills in creating beautiful and intricate designs paired well with precision watchmaking. The result was a unique and functional timepiece that became popular in the face of austerity.
The Watchmakers Guild of Geneva was formed in 1601, establishing the city as a hub for timepiece excellence.
As the number of watchmakers in Geneva grew, many took their business into the Jura mountains to an area now called ‘Watch Valley.’ The Valley stretches from Geneva to Basel and is still the primary location of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
Switzerland relaxed its jewellery-wearing rules in the late 1600s. Watchmakers could now create even more elaborate designs and advance their craftmanship.
Swiss-made watches remain high-quality, refined, and opulent timepieces. Switzerland is the world’s largest exporter of watches, employing around 60,000 people and accounting for 1.5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Swiss watchmakers are always at the forefront of industry innovation, and watchmaking is an integral part of the nation’s culture and heritage.
Technological advancements, expert craftsmanship, and respected household names have made owning a Swiss-made watch aspirational.
What makes a watch Swiss?
Swiss watches celebrate the craftsmanship of generations of watchmakers. But what exactly does ‘Swiss-made’ mean?
Timepieces must adhere to strict rules to sit alongside the world’s best Swiss watch brands.
These are called the ‘Swiss Made’ or ‘Swissness’ regulations. They prevent manufacturers from using non-Swiss-made parts or manufacturing processes and falsely declaring them Swiss.
To be regarded as a Swiss movement, the watch must:
- have undergone technical development in Switzerland
- be inspected by a manufacturer in Switzerland
- have at least 60% of its production costs generated in Switzerland
- contain at least 50% Swiss-made components in value (not quantity)
- be cased up in Switzerland.
The Swiss Watch Industry implemented these regulations to protect the credibility of the Swiss-made label, ensuring customers receive a quality product.
Swiss-made vs. Swiss
It’s important to note that Swiss-made and Swiss watches are two different products, and you may come across both terms during your watch research.
‘Swiss’ refers to a watch made in Switzerland. Swiss-made watches are manufactured in the county and meet the specific criteria for quality and production, as outlined earlier.
Genuine Swiss-made watches will feature the words ‘Swiss-made’ or ‘Swiss Movement’ on the dial or case back.
What are the benefits of Swiss-made watches?
Owning a Swiss-made watch comes with several benefits. They are second-to-none in the timepiece industry, from unique design features to functional additions.
Less likely to tarnish
Most Swiss-made watches are made with 316L surgical steel — a high-grade, metallurgical strong steel. It’s resistant to biological and industrial corrosives, making them less likely to tarnish or wear and tear.
They are also hypoallergenic — ideal for wearers who usually react to other metal alloys.
Swiss-made watches feature a mechanical movement with metal gears, which is easier to service and update. This means wearers can use the same mechanism over an entire lifetime.
Mechanical movements are handmade by experts who adjust them to achieve maximum accuracy. The mechanism components and link pins are made of more robust materials, superior to a standard watch’s plastic parts.
Sapphire crystal face
The majority of Swiss-made watches use sapphire crystal for the watch face. Sapphires have a Mohs hardness rating of 9, meaning it’s exceptionally durable and scratch resistant.
The watch dial and other vital elements are well protected and maintain their excellent condition for many years.
What to look for when buying a Swiss-made watch
With over 20 million Swiss-made watches entering the global market each year, knowing what to look for when buying a timepiece can be overwhelming.
Follow these tips to ensure a hassle-free buying experience and get the best Swiss-made watch for your budget.
As we’ve already highlighted, not every Swiss-made watch is genuine. Some sellers use deceptive tactics to skirt the requirements of Swiss-made watches, tricking buyers into thinking they’ve got the real deal.
Buying from reputable, experienced sellers minimises this risk. Choose household names and brands with many happy customers, and thoroughly research the company beforehand.
The finest Swiss-made timepieces feature handmade mechanical movements, the benefits of which we’ve already highlighted.
Some Swiss-made watches feature a transparent case back so you can inspect the movement and determine its quality. This feature also distinguishes between automatic Swiss watches and mechanical movements.
Another way to tell the difference and pinpoint watch quality is to look at the movement of the seconds hand — mechanical movements have a seconds hand that sweeps smoothly around the dial.
Swiss-made watch dials come in a variety of colours and finishes. Whatever hue you choose, ensure you can read the timepiece, testing the luminescent watch features if there are any.
Check if the dial offers technical information on the watch, whether it meets the Swiss-made requirements, and what movement it has.
More luxury timepieces may include ‘guilloché main’ to indicate hand engine-turned decorations or ‘email grand feu’ if the watch features an oven-fired enamel dial.
Most Swiss-made watches use stainless steel cases, which don’t oxidise or rust. They are also hand polished and should feature smooth round edges.
Whatever shape case you choose, ensure the watch has no sharp edges and doesn’t catch on your clothes or skin — this may indicate an inferior timepiece.
The same advice applies to the watch bracelet — it should appear polished with smooth contours, usually in stainless steel or gold.
Any non-metal watch bracelet is called a strap. A Swiss-made watch strap can be made from various materials, including leather, fabric, or rubber.
Choosing the best watch strap for your needs is essential. Rubber is best for diving watches, while leather is more classic and fashionable. Nylon is better suited for sports, and silicone watch straps are robust and casual.
The best Swiss-made watches
These quality brands boast exceptional watches for diving, sports, formal and casual wear. Choose from various straps, functions, and materials, ensuring your Swiss-made watch perfectly suits your style.