Economic history of Swiss watch industry

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Economic history of Swiss watch industry

Post by koimaster » July 5th 2021, 10:20pm

There is a lot of talk about ‘the economy’ today, as usual. Personally, my favourite quip is to remind people of Canada’s extraordinarily high household-debt ratio, predicated on the likes of car loans and consumer debt. Well, things are a bit different in Switzerland, where the watch industry has always been significant to the economy. And for most of the 19th and 20th century it has been one of the country’s biggest exports.

Switzerland faced a challenge in the late 19th century as American companies were beginning to industrialize their production processes. Swiss companies, most of which were in the north-west of the country historically, were now competing with Americans who could offer their watches at a fraction of the price. Swiss latched onto the new technology, with Longines among the first Swiss brands to build a new factory capable of mass-production, led by their technical director Jacques David.

Watchmaking: A Key Industry in Switzerland

Going back to the mid-1800s before pocket watches and the like were industrialized, and towards the end of the century, Swiss watch exports were always around 10% as a percentage of foreign trade. In fact, watches were the second most important export after textiles until the mid-20th century. Between the 1930s and 1950s the share of foreign trade was about 20%. So certainly, a very important industry, and I believe we all know the tale of the French Huguenots who were forced to move to Switzerland and brought their skills with them, as a starting point for watchmaking becoming so important in Switzerland.

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