How To Understand ‘Swiss Made’ & Switzerland’s Watchmaking Culture

How To Understand ‘Swiss Made’ & Switzerland’s Watchmaking Culture

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

The purpose of this guide is to help people better understand the culture that designs, manufactures, and sells high-end Swiss timepieces – ideally, in the most lighthearted and non-stuffy of ways. I’ve spent the better part of 15 years looking at the Swiss watch industry from the outside, and most of that time actually working with it.

While Switzerland produces a lot of nice things (from delicacies to cosmetics), it is their watches that capture my attention. I love watches, I really do, but I can say that many elements of Swiss culture that allow them to continue making excellent-quality timepieces also make them pretty awkward (to say the least) in other areas. To be clear, I’m not Swiss (just an uncivilized American), and I’m not here to define the Swiss people or Switzerland's watch making segment, but I can help explain a lot of it to those people who are understandably mystified by a lot of what I’ve come to understand are elements of the culture that have caused feelings from confusion to frustration in people everywhere who have been romanced be their products.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

“Swiss Made” isn’t just an indicator of product origination, but also a brand. The legal meaning of the Swiss Made label has also evolved and we explain the latest regulations on it here. The Swiss government and the country’s businesses have a valuable interest in making sure that people around the world imagine a certain setting, mentality, aesthetic quality, and air of prestige when it comes to all products that carry the “Swiss Made” mark. That is especially important when it comes to watches because, let’s face it, most of them come with high price tags that don’t exactly lend themselves to impulse purchases.

I’m adding humor in this article because some of the things I’ll say won’t make me too popular with my colleagues in Switzerland. They know I care about them and that I want what’s best, but making light of some of their less affable qualities, as well as those that are worth a firm pat on the back is often best delivered with a smile on one’s face.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

Calvinism & The Ban On Luxuries

Despite what some Swiss watch marketing professionals would like you to believe, Switzerland didn’t invent the watch. Nevertheless, Switzerland was historically very important in the development of watches and clocks – along with other countries such as France, England, and Germany. All watch technology began as clock technology that was made increasingly accurate (and small) over many generations starting in roughly the 16th century. Books have been written about how an increasingly “time-aware” society in Europe was good for business, navigation, and also religion.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles
Konstantin Chaykin's Computus Easter Clock

Interestingly enough, religion has a huge role to play not only in the proliferation of clocks and watches, but also their development as personal items for the rich elite that could afford them. In the early days of clocks, often the only one in town was part of the church, and its main purpose was to tell people when to gather and worship. It wasn’t until the 17th century that clockmakers more or less nailed down techniques to start producing clocks for personal use, and the only people who could afford them were the same people who could also commission other works like art, estate homes, and other impressive structures.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles
The Zytglogge medieval tower in Bern, Switzerland. Built in the early 13th century, it has served as guard tower, prison, clock tower, centre of urban life, and civic memorial.

Clocks and related mechanical items started to become synonymous with conspicuous wealth which provoked a cultural backlash against the rich. In Switzerland, this was manifested in the split between sects of Christianity. Calvinism, which originally was a rather extremist backlash to the practices of the “egregiously decadent” Catholic church, started in Switzerland around 1520 and went on to gain popularity (through turbulent times and wars) in the 16th century and, for a long time, they enforced a cultural segregation between themselves and Catholics.

Laws were passed that, among other things, forced Catholic people to live high up in the mountains – which, while nicer in the summer, was too cold to allow for the people to do much of anything during the winter. Now a major part of Calvinism was to emphasize a rather boring life of working hard, depriving oneself of luxuries, and not making anyone jealous. The lavish art and items which typified the lifestyle of wealthy Catholics were more or less banned. A strict focus on utility and piety was laid down as the law of the land in large areas of Switzerland.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles
Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), leader of the Reformation in Switzerland

Interestingly enough, clocks and watches were given a pass by Calvinist religious authorities. The rationale, as I understand it, was that because clocks were primarily functional (and as I mentioned, helped people get to church on time) their production was not only allowed but encouraged. Geneva and surrounding cities were an epicenter of watch and clock selling and assembly, but production came from other places. An interesting nuance to the allowance of watch production was that the people who made them (and they took enormous effort and time) were able to include things like decoration and art. That means people could carry around a decorated watch and not make too many people raise their eyebrows because it wasn’t just a luxury meant to show off, but rather a tool that happened to embody the pride of the people who made it – and if there is anything Swiss culture values, it is pride in one’s own hard work.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

Now, I mentioned before that the powers that were in Geneva forced a lot of people to live up in the relatively nearby mountains, and that during the winter they had nothing to do. Well, what they ended up doing was to produce watch parts during the long and otherwise uneventful winters. Places up in the Swiss mountains like the Jura region and cities like La Chaux-de-Fonds are current epicenters of watchmaking in Switzerland due to these historical reasons.

Those who were farmers by summer and watchmakers by winter in Switzerland didn’t actually get a huge amount of credit back down in Geneva, where the stores that sold the watches would put their own names on the dial and take a lot of said credit. Despite that, such a history led to a long heritage of collaborative production in Switzerland that promoted particular people, families, and later companies to specialize in the production of particular parts. Such efforts and talents produced items that, when assembled, created Swiss watches. Today in Switzerland, a lot of companies like to take credit for doing everything themselves, which is a funny irony because their real history is a lot more social than it is independent. With that said, despite marketing claims, pretty much all Swiss watchmakers rely on at least some suppliers to manufacture timepieces that are inherently still assembled from an array of small, rather specialized components – and that is actually true whether we are talking about traditional mechanical or more contemporary electronic quartz watches.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

How Swiss Is “Swiss Made?”

Given our globalized world economy, it is actually surprising to some people that you can still get some watches with more or less 100% Swiss Made parts – but such items are the exception and not the norm. The actual definition of Swiss Made is something we’ve covered in other articles on aBlogtoWatch (see the article we linked to above and also this one for a bit more information), but I will remind you now that it doesn’t actually mean 100% made in Switzerland. A lot of people in Switzerland would actually prefer that, but as I’ll discuss a bit more below, things in Switzerland just cost too much money for literally and purely Swiss-made watches to be at all cost effective to produce.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

Currently, the standards for Swiss Made mean that about 60% of the total value of the movement inside of a Swiss watch must be from Switzerland. Moreover, the watches must undergo “final assembly” and quality checks in Switzerland. If you read that carefully it should become very obvious that there is a lot of room for the majority of a Swiss Made watches to not actually be produced wholly in Switzerland.

Where does the rest come from? Mostly Asia. I wouldn’t get too hung up on that because while stuff in Asia doesn’t have the same production reputation as stuff in Switzerland, the Swiss tend to be proud enough to ensure that what you are buying is actually well-made (well, for the most part). In addition to using “Far East” suppliers, Swiss companies sometimes also buy parts from surrounding countries such as France, Germany, and also Italy. The moral of the story here is that “Swiss Made” can mean a lot of things, and while something not made in Switzerland doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it is important for consumers to better understand the true nature of what the mark means. For me, the value of “Swiss Made” isn’t in where the actual parts come from (quality can come from many places) but rather how, on average, watches with the Swiss Made designation tend to look, feel, and perform.

How To Understand 'Swiss Made' & Switzerland's Watchmaking Culture Feature Articles

An important note I want to add is not just where Swiss Made watch parts are made, but who is actually making watches in Switzerland. A surprisingly small number of Swiss people are actually sitting at watchmakers' benches actually assembling watches. If you look at a map of where most factories (“manufactures,” as they prefer to call them) that produce watches and watch parts are, you’ll notice that they are mostly clustered on the borders of other countries such as France, Germany, and Italy. Why? Well, because Swiss people cost a lot to employ. Many if not most of the employees in watch factories come from these countries, and if you really want to appreciate Swiss Made watches you also need to appreciate the hard work that comes from the French, Italian, and German people who are instrumental in producing them.

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  • Gabe Steel

    Great article, Ariel. Nice to peek inside the culture that generates so much of what we as horology enthusiasts love.

    • The Deplorable Boogur T. Wang

      IMO, Switzerland has set the bar very high; and for that they are deserving of many kudos.
      This has, however, led them to a very parochial mentality that is biting them in their collective butts.
      Good analysis Mr. Adams.

  • Simon_Hell

    Not sure where the ‘uncivilized american’ notion comes from. Most of Europe, especially southern, eastern and central Europe, is far – and I mean f&@*ing far less civilized than an average Yank.

    • IanE

      How true – the Big Mac has scarcely arrived in many of those barbarian outposts!

      • Sheez Gagoo

        The Bic Mac is a symbol of uncivilized food: Who can open their mouths so wide to bite into it? It will cause a huge mess that looks horrible. So I eat the less barbarian Cheese Royal.

        • Jack in the Box. It may kill you, but you will die with a satisfied look upon your face.

          • Sheez Gagoo

            I love JITB, but unfortunately there is no reataurant in Switzerland. It seemes to be a rough market for fast food. KFC tries for the second time to enter it with very moderate succes and the Pizza Hut…well here in the city was a restaurant in the nineties for one year. Because it was new and exciting we all went once. There are obviously huge cultural diferences how a pizza should be. Maybe because there’s an Italian part in Switzerland. But American Burgers are the best!

      • Sheez Gagoo

        …the cheese makes all that stuff stick together.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Erm,………let me just interject here. Jealously is not a nice trait.

    • Not sure where it comes from? Traveled in Europe much? Observed the average American tourist in Europe? On average, there is some basis for Europeans to react that way based on the asshats they may have encountered. I would like to think that all of us Americans try to be good ambassadors for our country, but sadly that is not 100% true.

      • Sheez Gagoo

        By the way, I ordered a fossilized turd that broke int pieces when the stoneguy tried to cut it. Sad, I already have a nice 6497. I even asked a paläontologist from the local university which turd is best, but he thought I was kidding.

        • Best as defined in watchmaking might not be the same as best for other purposes so I can see why he was confused, ha ha.

  • The Deplorable Boogur T. Wang

    Amen.

  • BNABOD

    thanks for the article, Ultimately the Swiss need to remain competitive in the exceedingly electronic world we all live in. So while Swiss labor is expensive something needs to give to ensure some of these brands will survive. If that means producing stuff in Asia bringing it back to hand polish it by yodeling mountain goats then so be it.

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Not only an electronic challenge but a change in consumer behavior. Watches/cars/clothes are not longer considered to be an ostentative statement. But this is all Swiss watches are about. And we need more Ricola to keep the mountain goats yodeling.

      • BNABOD

        more Ricola certainly will not hurt.

    • I’ve always found that disconnect to be ironic. With lower labor rates, you’d expect Asian watch factories to be the kings of hand finishing (for a reasonable price), yet they would rather have machines and relatively unskilled workers in shitty little factories in China grinding stuff out with only a passable level of quality control (on average – there are exceptions). If the Swiss could convince a Chinese factory to pay their people more and really care about quality and then do the labor intensive black polishing there, they could produce outstanding watches for less and still meet the 60% Swiss rule since Chinese labor is so much less. But it would require truly Swiss level oversight to make that work. Otherwise the Chinese “I give you good price” mentality will erode the process.

      • BNABOD

        Indeed there is no reason anyone properly trained regardless of location could not make it happen. This is a learnt skill but somehow (prob best for Swiss labor) this is not happening right now

  • DanW94

    Ariel, you state early in the article that “you’re not here to define the Swiss people or Switzerland’s watch making segment” but then proceed to characterize the industry, and more troubling the cultural fabric of the Swiss people as secretive, insular, inflexible and suspicious of outsiders. Feel free to write an opinion piece but don’t attempt to distance and excuse yourself from the content with opening statements like the one above.
    BTW, this from a dedicated reader who enjoys your work…

    • BNABOD

      I will test this out next Saturday while in Geneva but every single time I go to Switzerland I do not feel welcomed one bit. this is based on my observations only but would line up with Ariel’s comments

      • Sheez Gagoo

        I’m sorry to hear that. But you have to consider: Nobody is welcome here. Except you have a huge amount of money and you want to live here. Then you even can negotiate your taxes. Then we will kiss your ass (sorry for the expression). But even then: Don’t expect us to be like Italians. I can see it with myself: When people are to loud, and they embrace me and kiss me (for hello), and become emotional, I’m unconfortable. Like Wednesday from the Adams family when she drank poison when people were singing “Kumbaya” around her.

        • It’s the same to a degree all over – differences with social intimacy. I’m originally from Iowa and was raised as a Methodist, so when I moved to Hawaii and you are expected to give every auntie and (female) cousin a hug and kiss on the cheek, well, it was a bit unsettling for the first 10 years or so. Maybe it still is…

          • Sheez Gagoo

            Half of my family lives in France. I live in the German part of Switzerland but it’s a journey of two hours to go there. Different planet, different behaviour. Kisses are a substantial hello, even for men. But France changes quickly and loses it’s charme: Wine is no longer for kids anymore, prostitution is illegal and smoking in bistros is not allowed anymore. The concept of non-smoking and non-prostitution wasn’t even known a few years ago.:) At least baguettes are still available and their fabulous soap from Marseile.

    • Ariel Adams

      Thanks for the comment. My implication is that I’m sharing a personal observation which I hope is useful to others versus trying to definitively define a culture that I am technically an outsider of. It isn’t supposed to come across as a contradiction.

  • Sheez Gagoo

    Yes, it’s true. Every single word. This mentality causes a huge ignorance, so that a crisis in the watch industry is considered as a personal insult and it’s the customers fault, not appreciating their masterpieces enough. Most Swiss Watchmaker never heard of Seiko, especially not Grand Seiko and Casio is still considered as a cheap toy for bararians. Now it’s time to pay the price (again) for such an ignorance/arrogance. Hayek still can’t see any troubles in the industry. Maybe the new Swatch sunglasses blindens him.

  • SuperStrapper

    I like watches.

    • DanW94

      Watches are good.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Am quite fond of them myself .

  • “When the United States became the most important producer of watches during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Swiss watch industry didn’t even attempt to compete. Rather, they stayed the course producing a low volume of high-effort watches for rich people.”

    I think it is important to point out that the Swiss watch industry was heavily influenced by American production techniques in the 1800’s. Florentine Jones, for instance, had a huge influence on the industrialization of Swiss watch manufacturing, beginning in 1868.

    Had the production processes of the industry’s American counterpart never evolved, I would
    speculate that the Swiss industry would look far different today.

    • cluedog12

      You’re right to point this out. There’s a disconnect between the narrative Ariel presents and the business reality. The Swiss identity sells Swiss watches, but the maintenance of this Swiss identity is driven by business interests, which are international.

      This article is thought-provoking, but it’s not a tightly-researched piece. That’s fine by me, as it’s the word-efficient articles of unassailable erudition that put me to sleep. A sleep absent wants and dreams.

      • Ariel Adams

        It wasn’t meant to be a research paper on history but rather a sociological discussion that uses historical events as context for behavior and identity formation. The business reality is that Switzerland prominence as watchmakers for the world ebbed and flowed over its long history of having a watchmaking culture.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    The Zytglogge clock tower,……………….spooky.

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Nobody knows this tower.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        I,ve seen it work , remarkable……………..1410 !

        • Sheez Gagoo

          1410?

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Sorry i should do better research before i open my big cake hole . Am now changing the date to 1530, still impressive.

        • Sheez Gagoo

          Poor Käfigturm. Always in the shadow of the Zytglogge.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            My house is older than that tower ! ( the rebuild after the rebuild )

          • Sheez Gagoo

            ….but is it that cool? With clocks and cages?

          • Raymond Wilkie

            no 🙁

          • Sheez Gagoo

            So you need:
            1.Clock
            2. Torture cage
            3. Weird smell
            4. Annoying bats

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Swiss made, .big whoop, wanna fight about it ?

    • IG

      You wanna blow Glasgow kisses?

      • Raymond Wilkie

        What a horrible thing to be known for, for those who don’t know a Glesgae kiss was a head butt ). You know what they call a Glasgow salad ?……a plate of fries ! . We’re taking the yanks over in obesity.
        A good thing Glasgow has done ?,.erm…….Glasgow coma scale ?

        • IG

          Sir Andrew Barron Murray?

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Crack a smile for god sake Andy !

  • Yan Fin

    I would go Lange, but those are more expensive

  • Shawn Lavigne

    the more a watch is actually made in the place where it says it is made, the happier i am as a consumer because i value honesty as part of the commercial transaction of purchasing said watch. political and economic smoke and mirrors don’t change that. caveat emptor.

    • Tõnis Leissoo

      Do you also care that much about your other belongings? How many percentage of Mercedes is made in Germany? What about some clothing brands? Are they all actually 100% Italy?

      • Tony NW

        I don’t think of Mercedes as a prestige brand such as Porsche, Audi or BMW; it’s more a generic brand a la General Motors, with some high end and some very low end vehicles. But still… Mercedes doesn’t advertise as a “German” car. It’s a Mercedes.

        Your clothing analogy is closer; watches and clothing are often as much fashion statement as function. Example: The second Princess Diaries movie, Royal Engagement, has the protagonist almost always wearing a conspicuous Lacoste crocodile shirt. (Ironically, often not French.)

        That said, he did say “transparency and honesty.” Your response seems presumptuous and perhaps prejudicial, as you didn’t ask him if he owns Seiko or Casio units. He may be fine with Asian production, as long as it states it.

  • Pascal Fabre

    A good reading: A.A. is always quite good in navigating us through history and culture, relating to what it seems a very materialistic hobby/industry/society.
    However, it leaves me with more questions than answers, as, per the author’s words, when considering a purchase, we have to factor in:
    – percentage of Swissery inside the watch;
    – percentage of snobbery factor;
    – percentage of “rampant over-pricing”.

    In other words, you can spend 100% of your hard-earned money in a watch which is 100% made in Switzerland, with the profits kept at a minimum by a honest company or spend the same money in a 60% Swiss made watch, over-priced for brand/marketing/snobbery reasons by a ruthless factory. 😀
    How do we calculate those? We don’t know. We are given the final price and that’s it.
    That leaves us in the cold out there! 🙂
    This Swiss “mentality” though, apparently will be put to the test in the near future, as figures given monthly by the FH are constantly downward and, in the market, usually, when demand falls, the prices should also fall.
    And, IMHO, it’s what we have to hope, as consumers.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I’ve looked,…..you can trademark ” Swissery “

      • Pascal Fabre

        Hey, it can also be a portmanteau of “Swiss” and “Snobbery”.
        Is there a better word to talk watches?!?
        Serious linguistic stuff here! 🙂

  • Shinytoys

    Excellent article A.A….Thanks

  • IG

    I think from the end of the 90s when wristwatches turned into jewellery/gimmick from necessity the Swiss watch industry became a caricature of itself.

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Sir, I am Swiss and I am a watchmaker AND WHAT YOU SAY is simply true I have to admit. It causes a huge Identity crisis but the truth is the truth. Can’t argue with that.

  • Omegaboy

    In my late teens I bought a new Bulova Accutron Spaceview that I just loved. A year or so later I became a Christian and got sucked into a church that majored in guilt, so I sold the watch (interestingly enough to a young guy at this same church who wasn’t as guilt-ridden as I was). Fortunately, I have learned sense that God didn’t have much at all to do with all that, and I’ve had the good fortune to acquire – and enjoy! – some great watches. Moderation in everything, including moderation.

    • R Khalifa

      Always good to make a few watch purchases that truly disregard all sense of moderation. As humans we should always be expected to be consistently inconsistent.

  • Emperius

    Really simple, across world history. When nations place God, family and nationality first, nations prosper, like Europe did during the Reformation era, as mentioned here, which booted out the false, counterfeit “christian” church of the RCC of the Vatican. Science, technology and education rose to all time highs, then the Jesuits took over Europe again through infiltration and insertion of governments and churches, twisted several books in the Bible, removed verses and ultimately ended towards the 1800’s with world wars that the Vatican funded and orchestrated, proven by Hitler’s quotes, ex-Presidents and literature outside of the control of the Vatican. Guess what the U.S. did? It’s same founding fathers who rejected the overreaching monarch control of Britain was none other than the Vatican. Britain was fully in control and due to that, our nation rose with God, Family and Nationality through our Constitution. No need tell you guys that we went to space. But it was around the early 20th century that the Vatican has started to infiltrate Washington, passed the Fed, Banking Emergency Acts, and a lot of ‘under the table’ regulations that essentially took our freedoms up until this day. The U.S. is THE LAST country on earth that the Vatican has yet to take full control of, and we’re in the middle of a tsunami, as well know, except we tend to name it as “globalists”, “elites”. Finance, globalization, exportation of jobs are all tactics directly from the Vatican. May U.S. create their own watches!, Great article.

    Vatican / Jesuits / Catholic Church Control CIA
    Let’s Talk About The Catholic Church: Its Satanic History Exposed
    Satanic History of the Catholic Church
    Hagmann & Hagmann report host Eric Jon Phelps – The Real Powers Behind The NWO [10, July 2014]
    The Black Pope: A History of the Jesuits
    Washington In the Lap of Rome
    Ex Jesuit Alberto Rivera and others Speak on Jesuit infiltration
    The Godfathers

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Any info on Big Foot or 9/11 ?

      • Emperius

        Typical, deflect truth with bigfoot, flatearth monkey wrenches.

    • DanW94

      LOL….Meds work wonders when you remember to take them……

      • Sheez Gagoo

        Or to much of them causes…this?

      • Emperius

        🙂 You’re informed, that’s what matters. Time will take care of it.

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Wtf?

  • Yojimbo

    tl:dr? here just watch this instead https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQGN0UwuJxw

    • IG

      Is this a metaphor of SuperLuminova?

  • Yanko

    IRS should step in to see about this banks – watch companies business.

  • Salvo

    You are judging an entire country starting from an evaluation of one business sector, the watch industry. It’s like judging the american people analyzing Mc Donald’s. Come on, you probably do not know what you are writing about, you know nothing about the swiss culture or the swiss government: your approach is simplicistic. The watch industry is what it is because the market wants it in this way: remenber, if a company produces something that no one wants it will run out of business.

    • Yojimbo

      did you even read the article?

      • Salvo

        Yes, I did, and you? The first part of it was particularly useless and didn’t show the reality. I can accept criticisms on the business sector or on the manufacturers but I have difficulties in accepting a digression, at the beginning of the article, on the Swiss people, the Swiss culture or the Swiss government.

        • Yojimbo

          Well given that there’s nothing else you can conceivably be arguing about, you have first hand information on what life was like in Switzerland during the 1600s do you?

          • Salvo

            I’m Swiss and I live in Switzerland, I know something about this 😉

          • Yojimbo

            Point to me where he passed judgment on the Swiss people then

      • Timestandsstill

        Exactly what I was going to say

    • Sheez Gagoo

      That’s exactly what happens right now: Nobody wants Swiss watches anymore and nobody buys them. Companies are running out of business or adjust their size.

  • Laurent Mousson

    Just a fine historical point about the Reformation:
    Jean Calvin indeed did preach in and from Geneva. His influence spread a lot across Europe : France, The Netherlands, Prussia, Scotland, but actually very little in Switzerland, the only other canton with a calvinist tradition being former Prussian (I kid you not…) principalty Neuchâtel (which includes La Chaux-de-Fonds and le Locle).
    Berne (along with Biel/Bienne, home of Omega and many others such as Glycine, along with the Rolex production side) and Zurich went protestant under Zwingli, whose views were not as strict in terms of jewelry. Vaud (where Vallée de Joux, another horology hotbed is) was the field of a long power struggle between Geneva calvinists and Berne zwinglians, but the latter prevailed as they occupied it militarily. As to Basel, closer to Germany, it went Lutheran. But at the same time most rural and Alpine cantons remained catholic (the Reformation catching on mostly in larger cities with strong trade connections, something that also had todo with Zwingli’s stance on Mercenary service – but I digress…).
    Therefore, generalising calvinist Geneva into the whole of Switzerland is not quite accurate, although it is indeed true that the Swiss watch industry started there and that calvinist objections to ostentatious jewellery had a lot to do with it.
    As to mountain farmers as a workforce, indeed the horology industry (along with other precision mechanical industries such as musical boxes) relied on them. But about Catholics settling mountain areas: it’s is not quite accurate either. Rather, at one pint in the 16th Century, the catholic Bishop of Basle allowed dissident protestants (notably Anabaptists, i.e. Amish, but other sects as well) persecuted by Zwinglians and Calvinists, to settle in mountain areas under his authority, notably around Delémont, Porrentruy, and Le Noirmont, i.e. what currently is Canton Jura, another horology stronghold, which is still mostly Catholic, but with an wide array of various protestant denominations as well…
    Simple, isn’it it ?
    My point being : indeed protestant views and ethics are an important key to understanding Swiss watchmaking culture, but its a much more diverse picture than just Calvinism, although the latter indeed was crucial in the beginning.

    • Laurent Mousson

      Further down the line, regarding when watchmaking becomes a real industry in Switzerland, approximately from the mid-19th Century on : at that point in time, the strongly dominant political force in Switzerland are the secular humanist Radicals, which has a notable effect on the way the country evolves to become a modern, secular state with a constitution, a solid culture of seeking consensus above all (i.e. an industrial and trade unions culture of negotiating rather than going on strike), giving guarantees to minorities, etc. that ensures long-term stability.
      The former catholic (conservative) / protestant (liberal) divide did remain and does to this day to a certain extent, but had lost much of its relevance by 1850 or so.

      Last but not least, the final key, useful to understand where the Swiss watch industry stands now, is the 1970s quartz crisis, which you no doubt know about quite well. The cautionary tale par excellence against the belief, as an industry, that you’re on top of the World and that nothing can happen to you…
      Back then, with watchmakers and their contractors in severe trouble – apart from the luxury end of the market – horology strongholds such as la Chaux-de-Fonds or Biel/Bienne lost up to one third of their total population, as the workforce made redundant sought jobs elsewhere… and then Swatch turned the tides in the mid-80s, and you know the rest.