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date: 05 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

The Swiss watch industry has enjoyed uncontested domination of the global market for more than two decades. Despite high costs and high wages, Switzerland is the home of most of the largest companies in this industry. Scholars in business history, economics, management studies, and other social sciences focused on four major issues to explain such success.

The first is product innovation, which has been viewed as one of the key determinants of competitiveness in the watch industry. Considerable attention has been focused on the development of electronic watches during the 1970s, as well as the emergence of new players in Japan and Hong Kong. Yet the rebirth of mechanical watches during the early 1990s as luxury accessories also can be characterized as a product innovation (in this case, linked to marketing strategy rather than pure technological innovation).

Second, brand management has been a key instrument in changing the identity of Swiss watches, repositioning them as a luxury business. Various strategies have been adopted since the early 1990s to add value to brands by using culture as a marketing resource.

Third, the evolution of the industry’s structure emphasizes a deep transformation during the 1980s, characterized by a shift from classical industrial districts to multinational enterprises. Concentration in Switzerland, as well as the relocation abroad of some production units through foreign direct investment (FDI) and independent suppliers, have enabled Swiss watch companies to control manufacturing costs and regain competitiveness against Japanese firms.Fourth, studying the institutional framework of the Swiss watch industry helps to explain why this activity was not fully relocated abroad, unlike most sectors in low-tech industries. The cartel that was in force from the 1920s to the early 1960s, and then the Swiss Made law of 1971, are two major institutions that shaped the watch industry.

Keywords: Switzerland, watch industry, brand management, industry structure, product innovation, global value chains (GVCs), luxury business, foreign direct investment (FDI)

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