Up to 1835, the Swiss clock and watch making industry has been based on cottage manufacture of components with hand assembly in a factory. In that year, the Vacheron and Constantin factory in Geneva was converted to mechanised production. In 1842, another Geneva manufacturer, Patek-Phillipe (founded in 1839), produced the first watch with a shaft winder; doing away with the previous inconvenient key mechanism.
While both Vacheron and Patek-Phillipe successfully made expensive watches for a limited market, the real impact of Swiss watch-making began in 1860, when George Frederic Roskopf began manufacturing a simplified, low-priced yet reliable watch.
In 1880, another Swiss firm, Girard-Perregaux, developed the wrist watch for officers of the Austrian Navy. The wristwatch was soon popularised by several Swiss manufacturers, particularly Omega, but prior to the 1920s remained prone to damage, dust and humidity.
In the 1920s, another Swiss company, Rolex, went to great lengths to improve and demonstrate the strength and watertightness of their watches. Rolex was also the first manufacturer, in 1945, to display the date on the dial of their watches and, in 1956, to display the day as well.
The first automatic wristwatch (powered by the wearer’s movements) was made by Blancpain in 1926. In 1953, Jaegre-LeCoultre produced the first fully automatic wristwatch. Girard-Perregaux produced the first high-frequency mechanical watch in 1966 and the first mass-produced quartz watch in 1969.
Despite continued Swiss technical leadership in mechanical watches, in the 1970s lower priced Japanese electronic watches achieved market domination. The Swiss response to the crisis was the founding of SMH, the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries, and its introduction, in 1983, of the Swatch watch. The Swatch was a slim plastic watch with only 51 components that combined top quality, innovative design and affordability.
The many innovative Swatch products include the Swatch Chrono (chronometer), the Swatch Irony (metal), the Solar Swatch (light-powered), the Swatch Musical (melodious alarm) and Swatch the Beep (a pager in a wristwatch). Swatch also produces limited edition designs by artists such as Keith Haring and fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood.
Some Famous Swiss Watches:
- Audemars-Piguet “La Grande Complication” – only 100 made between 1915 and 1989.
- Audemars-Piguet “Royal Oak” – the first stainless steel luxury watch.
- Baume & Mercier “Riveria” – sports watch par excellence.
- Baume & Mercier “Medicus” – made specially for doctors, includes a pulse scale.
- Breitling “Navimeter” – a chronograph designed specially for pilots.
- Jaeger-LeCoultre “Ligne” – world’s smallest wristwatch, worn by Queen Elizabeth 11 at her coronation.
- Jaeger-LeCoultre “Reverso” – which pivots in its casing to protect the face.
- Longines “Conquest” – with a rotating bezel which can be adjusted for the time zone.
- Omega “Speedmaster Professional” – the only watch to have been worn on the Moon.