What puts the Swiss in a "Swiss Made" watch?

Mon Mar 4, 2013 3:44pm EST
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By Silke Koltrowitz

ZURICH (Reuters) - How much are the words "Made in Switzerland" worth to consumers increasingly vigilant about the provenance of everything from what they eat to what they wear? The answer, luxury watchmakers say, is "a lot."

Protecting the label is essential to the industry's image, profitability and future growth, many luxury watchmakers say, and studies by St. Gallen and Zurich universities do show the tag can almost double a luxury watch's price.

But as with so many other products in a globalised world, there is a gray area around what makes a watch Swiss, and that lack of clarity has consequences for quality - and revenues.

The issue is part of proposed new legislation before Switzerland's parliament to regulate the use of the label for foods, services and industrial products.

With politicians and lobbying groups fighting over designations on products as diverse as cheese, pocket knives and textile machines, the chances for passage this year are dimming, however, and many watchmakers are growing anxious at the delay in solving what they see as an urgent problem.

"This law is (like the debate over) the Loch Ness monster," said Richard Mille, whose ultra-light watches are worn by tennis player Rafael Nadal.

"I'm not sure if there ever will be a solution."

In the first discussions in the two houses of parliament, the lower house has argued that 60 percent of the value of an industrial product must originate in Switzerland for it to be labeled "Made in Switzerland", in line with the draft law proposed by the government, while the upper house holds that 50 percent is sufficient.   Continued...

A visitor looks at watches on the Vacheron Constantin booth at the "Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie" SIHH exhibition at the Palexpo in Geneva January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse