Watchmaking industry

The Swiss watchmaking industry has conquered the world with its high-quality products. Following a major crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, the sector found a new lease of life and is today one of the jewels in Switzerland's industrial crown.

Mechanical wristwatch being repaired
Production in a watch factory, Grenchen © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

In 2016, the watchmaking industry was Switzerland’s third largest exporter, behind the machine and electrical engineering industry (31 billion), and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry (94 billion). Switzerland is the largest exporter of watches in the world in terms of value, followed by Hong Kong and China. In 2015 around 59,000 people in Switzerland were employed in this sector which generates 1.5% of the country’s gross domestic product. 

Origins and development 

The watchmaking industry can trace its roots back to the mid-16th century and the Reformation in Geneva. When Jean Calvin forbade the wearing of jewellery, goldsmiths and jewellers working in the region turned their attention and talents to watchmaking. 

Thanks to a series of innovations during the 20th century, Swiss watchmakers dominated the global industry. The first wristwatch was produced in 1926. This was followed by more technically advanced inventions, such as the quartz wristwatch and the waterproof wristwatch. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the emergence of electronic wristwatches and stiff competition from Japan plunged the Swiss watchmaking industry into a crisis. However, after major restructuring, the sector was soon back on its feet. Exports rose from CHF 4.3 billion in 1986 to CHF 21.5 billion in 2015. In 2016, the value of exported watchmaking products fell by 9.9% to CHF 19.4 billion, however. 

Major players 

There are around 700 watchmaking firms in Switzerland, most of which are based in Geneva and the Jura Arc. Among the companies which employ over 1,000 people are Swatch Group, Rolex Cartier, Omega and LVMH Swiss Manufactures SA.

Additional information