Switzerland fights to safeguard "Swiss made" label

Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:16pm EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

ZURICH (Reuters) - "Fake watches are for fake people: buy authentic, buy real" -- that is the slogan of a campaign by the Swiss watch industry to fight booming demand for counterfeit goods during the global downturn.

Switzerland knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but wants to preserve its reputation for quality products, from watches to cheese, by setting strict rules on Swiss content and more rigorously tracking down fakes.

Defending "Swissness" will be an uphill battle beyond Swiss borders and promoting premium products is a risky strategy in a recession, but Switzerland wants to be ready for a rebound.

A search for "Swiss made" on the Internet returns dozens of websites offering replica watches at knock-down prices but also assurances that the mostly "made in China" fakes can match "made in Switzerland" quality.

"We're able to offer low prices, and you can be certain of the craftsmanship that goes into every watch," boasts one company based in Shenzen, China, offering a Rolex Santos "with correct markings and engravings, replicated to the smallest detail" for $449 instead of $952.

Exports of Swiss watches slumped by 25 percent in the first five months of the year to 5 billion Swiss francs ($4.6 billion), with 2.5 million fewer watches sold than a year ago.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry estimates that more than 40 million fake Swiss timepieces are made every year, generating profits of around $1 billion.

"People still like brands in an economic crisis but unfortunately if there is not enough money at their disposal, they buy counterfeits," said Yves Bugmann, head of the federation's legal division.   Continued...

<p>A man visits the Swatch Group showcase during press day at Baselworld in Basel in this April 2, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Files</p>