Watchmaking industry

The Swiss watchmaking industry has conquered the world with its high-quality products. The industry operates primarily in the luxury segment and generates around 4% of Switzerland's GDP. In terms of value, Switzerland is the world's largest exporter of classic watches. 

A mechanical wristwatch being repaired at a factory in Grenchen.
The Swiss watchmaking sector mainly sells luxury watches and, in terms of value, is one of the world's leading exporters. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

In 2022, the watchmaking industry was worth over CHF 24 billion and Switzerland’s third largest exporter, behind the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry and machinery sector. Half of the 16 million Swiss watches exported each year go to Asia and the other half to Europe and the US. The vast majority of Swiss watches are sold to the US and China. Wristwatches generated 95% of the watchmaking industry's export revenue at an average cost of over USD 1,500 per item. Watches priced at over USD 3,000 make up the largest share of exports. In terms of value, Switzerland is the world's largest exporter of watches, significantly outperforming Hong Kong and mainland China, even though it exports far fewer products. The Swiss watch industry employs 60,000 people and generates around CHF 25 billion in sales, which equates to 4% of GDP.

Origins and development 

The watchmaking industry can trace its roots back to the mid-16th century and the Reformation in Geneva. When Jean Calvin forbade the wearing of jewellery, goldsmiths and jewellers working in the region turned their attention and talents to watchmaking.

Thanks to a series of innovations, Swiss watchmakers began to dominate the global watchmaking industry. The first wristwatch was produced in 1926. This was followed by more technically advanced inventions, such as quartz and waterproof watches.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the emergence of battery-operated wristwatches and stiff competition from Japan plunged the Swiss watchmaking industry into a crisis. However, after a period of consolidation, the sector was soon back on its feet. Exports increased from just over CHF 4 billion in 1986 to more than CHF 20 billion by 2015.

Major players

There are around 700 watchmaking firms in Switzerland, most of which are based in Geneva and the Jura region. Many watch brands have been acquired by conglomerates such as LVMH Swiss Manufactures SA (TAG Heuer, Hublot, Zenith, Bulgari),  Swatch Group (including Omega, Longines, Tissot, Blancpain, Swatch),  Richemont (including Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget). Rolex is among the top-selling global brands, followed by Omega, Cartier, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Longines.