All the Time in the World
Is Switzerland's run as the world's top watch producer over?
By Roberta Naas
THE SWISS ARE KNOWN for four things: private bank accounts, chocolate, army knives, and watches. And while they definitely hold a monopoly on the first three, a host of other countries have challenged the neutral nation when it comes to tracking our 24-hour days.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has waged war against the Swiss watch market. Even nearby Russia, France, Italy, and Spain have pulled out the stops and unveiled new lines of watches to the world. Combined, the European community has transformed the timekeeping business into a global one.
In the quartz field, Japan is home to such legendary giants as Citizen, Seiko, and Casio. Those companies were quick to jump on the production of quartz movements in the early 1970s, and nearly bankrupted the Swiss watchmaking world with their affordably priced timepieces. Now the Japanese are sharing quartz technology marketshare with China. In fact, as China—with its inexpensive labor and cutting-edge workshops— opens its doors, it’s able to offer not only quartz movements, but also elaborate timepieces such as tourbillons at incredible prices, ensuring the nation’s place in the world watch market.
And half a century ago, America—thanks to its digital technology—became a leader in watchmaking, playing home to a dozen or more top brands like Bulova, Elgin, and even Timex (which still produced watches in the US Virgin Islands until a few years ago). And while today that number has been whittled down to just a handful of brands (which manufacture in limited numbers and use movements exported from Switzerland and Asia), the US is still more than competitive.
So, all in all, Switzerland has the lock on one fewer commodity.
But we’ll still visit for the chocolate.
This Citizen Campanola Grand Complication ($3,400) is hand-assembled in Japan. The result of several artisans’ work, the case, dial, and movement are exquisitely finished. The watch offers a perpetual calendar, moon-phase indication, chronograph, and minute repeater. The hand-lacquered deep vermillion dial is polished by fingertip according to time-honored Japanese tradition. Available at Tourneau TimeMachine, 12 East 57th Street, 212-758-7300; citizenwatch.com.
From Reactor, this Asian-made Nucleus chronograph ($750) is crafted in steel and plated in black nitride, and harbors a Japanese movement. Water-resistant to 100 meters, it’s equipped with a triple-zero-ring, screw-down crown system. Available at Modern Watch, Roosevelt Field, 630 Old Country Road, Garden City, 516-873-0607; reactorwatch.com.
Although Tutima watches have been made in Germany since 1927, the new Pacific 300 ($1,550) is as modern as they come. The diver’s watch is molded in titanium, and is water-resistant to 300 meters. The rotating bezel has the points of the compass and a unidirectional locking function. Available at Kenjo, 40 West 57th Street, 212-333-7220; tutima.com.