Beyond Swiss borders, entrepreneurial watch manufacturers can still flourish, says Financial Times. Both SevenFriday and Red8 are cited among a long list of emerging brands that manufactures a Swiss-quality watch at least partly in China. Young consumers interested in “affordable luxury”, who are not too worried about tradition, are embracing these pieces. But the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), the bastion of traditional watchmaking, is careful to alert the public to the origins of foreign watches.
Christian Bédat, who runs Red8 from a base in Switzerland and produces entry-level products in China, is unapologetic about exporting some of his manufacturing. “In China, they’re using similar machines and the same materials, and the technology is practically the same,” he says, “The processes done by hand are not done better in Switzerland, they’re just done at a higher cost because labor is more expensive.”
Over at SevenFriday, the attitude is roughly the same. Founder Daniel Niederer was a watch distributor in China for a decade before he launched his brand. He knows firsthand the misconceptions that exist about “Made in China” quality. “If I produce a watch in China and then have it assembled in Switzerland in order to have Swiss Made on the dial, I have to price it 80-100 per cent more expensively. Where is the value in that for the consumer?” he asks.
While brands are free to produce their watches wherever they choose, the FH remains vigilant about how those pieces are labeled and marketed. Both SevenFriday and Red8 have ended up under the federation’s scrutiny; most recently, a batch of Niederer’s watches produced in China was blocked at Swiss customs. The reason? The word “Zurich” was engraved on the dial. “The use of any Swiss name or symbol on the display can mislead the consumer to believe the watch has been produced in Switzerland,” said the FH’s president Daniel Pasche.
Switzerland is right to guard its tradition. Even Bédat agrees that while China is closing rank with Europe on producing low- and mid-level timepieces, the best still belong to Europe. “Upscale movement manufacturing is still exclusive to the Swiss watch industry,” he says, “I don’t see a movement of the same quality as a Patek Philippe being made in China – not yet.”
But Bédat also sees the attitudes toward watches made in China shifting. “I don’t think people care, so long as they understand. If you do it with pride, it’s not a problem, but if you make people believe something else, then it is a problem,” he says.
photo credit: sevenfriday, red8