In 1982, there weren’t many important indicators of life remaining within the emaciated physique of the Swiss watch trade. In one 12 months alone, the gross sales of Swiss watches dropped by 25 per cent. The large of Swiss Watch Manufacturing, Allgemeine Schweizer Uhrenindustrie AG – Société Suisse pour I’Industrie Horlogére (ASUAG-SSIH), proprietor of a variety of memorable Swiss manufacturers together with Omega, was hemorrhaging cash so badly that its bankers intervened to make sure that not less than one thing remained of their funding.
The considerably smug and superior Swiss horological institution was within the depths of an horror-logical nightmare from which it could not awaken. End of Days was in sight, and Switzerland’s wealthy watchmaking custom and splendid historical past of innovation had been in peril of being swept apart by some piddling piezoelectric materials that vibrated at a specific frequency when captured inside an electrical subject, specifically quartz expertise.
The Japanese quartz invasion, and, to a lesser extent, the emergence of the American jewel-free, throw-away watch firm Timex, delivered a blow of atomic proportions to the Swiss. So many strong and cherished manufacturers had been vaporised in a single day.
Like many producers on the time, the doyens of ASUAG-SSIH had been in a state of suspended shock on the devastation brought on by the quartz onslaught. When the bankers stepped in and took management of the conglomerate, one of many first issues they did was make use of ‘outsiders’ to steer the rescue try, believing, with some justification, that the job could not be carried out by trade insiders. This, as you possibly can think about, went down about as badly as serving a plate of squid rings for lunch after a brit milah ceremony.
One of the good champions to proper the wrongs of the Swiss watch manufacturing trade was a person who knew valuable little about horology and mass manufacturing of timepieces. Nicholas Heyek was referred to as in to develop a turn-around plan for ASSUAG-SSIH, a plan that finally led the Swiss out of the darkish winter of despair into the sweetness and lightweight loved by the trade right now.
Lebanese-born entrepreneur Hayek was the proprietor of a enterprise consulting agency Hayek Engineering Ltd. of Zurich. He carved the moribund conglomerate into three separate divisions masking the manufacture of actions and watch components, completed timepieces, and manufactured merchandise that leveraged the organisation’s key capabilities.
Another outsider, Pierre Arnold was chosen to move the organisation. Arnold’s solely expertise of mechanical timepieces was that of carrying one on his wrist. Before he joined the organisation he headed the Federation of Migros Cooperatives, a multi-billion greenback flagship of Swiss retailing.
Perhaps probably the most galling selection of all was the appointment of a doctor to run the watch division of ASSUAG-SIH. Radical surgical procedure was vital if the affected person was going to outlive, and, aside from slicing deeper into the fats of the organisation, one of the important medicaments Ernst Thomke prescribed was to promote ‘ebauches (watch actions) on the worldwide market. This hitherto unprecedented observe was greeted by a number of the extra conservative insiders as tantamount to treason.
But, by far crucial resolution made by this farsighted medico was to wage the horological equal of the Battle of Midway with the Japanese to recapture territory owned historically by the Swiss. Thomke established 5 guidelines of engagement for the approaching hostilities. In making a look ahead to the decrease finish of the market he decreed that the watch:
1. should have type
2. have to be low cost to make
3. have to be priced competitively
4. be sturdy, and
5. set up a technological lead.
Thomke’s imaginative and prescient result in the last word creation of the Swatch in 1983, a model that clawed again a lot of the bottom misplaced to the Japanese. The Swatch was an excellent fusion of favor and expertise. It mirrored the style preferences of the day and supplied a quartz motion below an analogue dial. The variety of components used to provide the watch had been lowered to round 60 % of these employed in commonplace fashions of the day. Great economies had been achieved by robotics and single meeting strains.
Swatch has been the dominant lower-end model of the final twenty years releasing actually tons of of designs, creating ersatz exclusivity and collectiblility by producing restricted editions and branching out into merchandising by Swatch shops of a spread of style equipment .
In 1985, ASUAG-SSIH underwent a reputation change to SMH and Nicholas Hayek was chosen to steer the brand new entity. His appointment was greeted with the now-customary hauteur by the Swiss horological institution who could not fairly get it into its head that outsiders supplied a freshness of imaginative and prescient that was in very quick provide throughout the trade. Their cries reached banshee degree when, in a while, he acquired the high-end ‘ebauche maker Piguet and its luxurious bedfellow Blancpain.
Perhaps taking heed of Thomke’s surgical method, Hayek excised almost fifty % of the corporate’s workforce and rationalised the variety of manufacturers produced by SMH. This allowed him to focus on the organisation’s energies into build up the model energy of vital marques like Omega, Rado, Longines, Hamilton, Certina, Tissot, and Mido whereas nonetheless milking the Swatch money cow for all it was value.
Swatch bankrolled the renaissance of a lot of SMH’s finest recognized manufacturers together with our beloved Omega, and definitely has earned the appropriate to a rename of SMH to the Swatch Group. Hayek’s declare that what rescued the Swiss watch trade was the very un-Swiss idea of the Swatch stands up nicely to scrutiny. Swatch signalled that performance and time-telling had been not the first promoting factors in a watch.
Swatch was not a lot advertising time-telling because it was enjoyable, style and equipment. Heyek stated, ‘We had been satisfied that if we may add our fantasy and tradition to an emotional product, we may beat anyone. Emotions are one thing no one can copy.’ Heyek went on to invent the Smart Car for the Mercedes group, recognized affectionately because the Swatchmobile, and the identical mixture of fantasy, tradition and emotion has made the Smart Car ubiquitous in Europe.
What is indeniable is that with out the imaginative and prescient, perception and vigor of three trade outsiders – an engineer, a retailer and a health care provider – the mass manufacturing of Swiss mechanical timepieces and Switzerland’s function because the considerably immodest excessive priestess of horology might have been however a fading reminiscence of the previous.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006