A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Watches

Zurich Bahnhofstrasse in December

Welcome back to my Swiss themed A - Z challenge. 

Yes, we're famous for cows, cheese, chocolate and banks - but we're also the world market leader in luxury watches, and this is what the letter W is about. 

In order to be reliable and punctual, us Swiss need a quality time-piece, wouldn't you agree?

The industry is divided into four big players:
  • Swatch Group: Swatch, Omega, Harry Winston and Tissot, 
  • Richemont: Montblanc, Piaget, Cartier, Alfred Dunhill
  • LVMH: Tag Heuer, Hublot, Zenith
  • Rolex: Rolex and Tudor
And then there's the others group: Blancpain, Longines, Rado, Certina, IWC, Patek Philipe, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Breitling, so many big names!

Most are based in the French part of Switzerland. This is what makes Geneva's Rue du Rhône our shopping mile for watches (and high end clothes). 

When I was working for Starbucks, we had just opened our first store in Geneva in spring 2005, one fine day the manager called and asked the following:

"There's this gentleman who approached me. He works for a wealthy oil sheik family from the Middle East. They plan on visiting Geneva tomorrow in order to purchase watches and jewellery from the boutique next door, and it'll be closed for the public during that time. He asked us to do the same, so when they're done shopping, they want to sip their coffee, and they want to do so alone. What should I tell them?"

I was shocked, and I had a strong opinion about it, but as he Human Resources person it wasn't really my call.

I was glad, however, that my counterpart in Operations immediately agreed with me. 

The Swiss watch industry has dramatically changed over the years. Mechanical watches are the Swiss industry's bread and butter; they account for 82% of watch exports in value. 

Most of the Swiss watches are exported to Hong Kong, USA, China, UK, Germany and Japan.

Photo by Pat Taylor on Unsplash

The bulk of Swiss watch production in units, however, consists of quartz watches. Here, production keeps declining. The primary cause is competition from smartwatches and wearables, particularly the Apple Watch. 

So we'll see where this is going. 

Last year, after a construction time of almost five years, Swatch inaugurated its new headquarters in Biel. Since we were in the vicinity, we had to see the snake-like timber structure, built by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, for ourselves. 

This is the entrance:

Walking around the premises, this is what it looks like from the outside. Yes, this is actually an office building, 240 meters (787 feet) long and 35 meters (115 feet) wide. Inside there's 25,000 square meters (almost 270,000 square feet) of office space spread over five floors, housing Swatch International and Swatch Switzerland.

I couldn't find out what brought up the not very Swiss reptile theme, but I have to admit it fits nicely into the area, probably better than an alpine ibex?

To my naive knowledge Biel was a bilingual city just the same as Fribourg. However, in Fribourg we mainly met French speaking people. Biel was much more mixed. So much so that they employ a French speaking salesperson and a Swiss German speaking salesperson at the Swatch drive thru

Wait a minute, at what drive thru?

You heard right, Swatch. 

My husband, who never wears a watch, wanted to do this, just for the fun of it.

This is how it works: Just like at your regular burger joint, you pull up...

For your orientation they placed menu boards on your left and right. You talk into the  microphone and place your order. 

You proceed to the cash register window, pay for your Swatch

and receive your brown bag.

Unbox and wear, voilà!

How fun was that!

Are you typically on time? Do you wear a watch? What kind?

Let me know in the comments below.

Please check back in tomorrow for the letter X. Even though it's sadly about Switzerland's  Xenophobic touch. 


  1. Surprising building! Fun to buy a watch this way ;) I haven't wear a watch these last 20 years, maybe more! Asking for the time is more fun, and there is always a public clock on the streets ;)
    W is for Women

  2. Beautiful snake building! It almost looks like solar panels on the exterior. I wonder what it looks like on the inside? The very idea of doing a drive-thru for a high ticket item like a Swatch is cool in its utilitarianism. I'm sure a person can do all of the research on the watches so they show up knowing which one they want. It does eliminate the middle person so more profits for the company. I haven't worn a watch in years as I don't like watching the time, which I did when I had one probably 40 years ago. Nowadays the time is in the bottom right corner of the monitor and my cell phone is with me at all times and has the time when I need to know. The appliances (stove and coffee maker) have digital clocks. I had no idea Rolex watches were made in Switzerland, but it makes perfect sense, as Rolex is the standard for excellence in the watch world, as is Switzerland.

  3. I love the drive up window to purchase your swatch. How creative and fun. The building is definitely unique.

    When we got our new puppy, my friend came over to meet him. We were hanging out enjoying our wine when we realized that the swatch watch she had taken off and put on the end table was missing. Apparently it was too enticing for the new pup. Fortunately, he ate the band but left the mechanical pieces. I found a replacement for her and had it mailed directly to her house. Didn't need my pup having access to another watch. We're much more careful about leaving things around him now.

    Weekends In Maine


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