While the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry was established officially on 19 November 1982 and began its activities the following 1st January, its history dates back more than a century, since it grew out of the merger of the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking, whose origins date back to 1876, and the Swiss Watchmakers’ Federation, founded in 1924. This realignment was in response to a perceived need for greater unity of action in the industry and improved synergies, which already existed in part as a result of the different activities of the two associations.
1876 - 1900
Deputies in the Federal Chambers of the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Bern took steps “with a view to uniting and thereby providing effective representation to” the main industries of French-speaking Switzerland and the Jura. These initiatives led on 14 May 1876 to the creation of the Intercantonal Association of Jura Industries. With only rare exceptions, in the first quarter century of its existence the latter occupied itself solely with the affairs of watchmaking and its subsidiary industries. It was only natural therefore that in 1900 it should become the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking and Allied Industries (jewellery, gold and silver work, music boxes).
1901 - 1925
This new association did not represent companies, but cantonal chambers of commerce and industry and regional trade associations. It was this special feature that led to the creation of the Swiss Federation of Clock and Watch Manufacturers’ Associations (FH), on 17 January 1924, by the delegates of nine watch industry employers’ sections (Le Locle, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Fleurier, Bern, Biel/Bienne, Tramelan, Porrentruy, Geneva and German-speaking Switzerland).
1926 - 1930
The idea was to form an organisation which grouped together at a national level all producers of watches, whereas at the time - as was the case in other sectors of industry – all that existed was a regionalised structure. The initiative unfolded against the background of the 1920s crisis (over-production, declining sales and unemployment) which was then at its height. The fall in prices was at the time a key concern. It was necessary therefore to introduce a minimum price system between watch and clock manufacturers, and to conclude agreements with component suppliers and producers of movement blanks. The latter set up their own organisation, Ebauches SA, in 1926, the former the Union Suisse des Branches Annexes de l'Horlogerie (UBAH), in 1927.
A system of client-supplier discussions was introduced in 1928. The first collective agreements between these three central forces then saw the light of day. They sought to ensure mutual respect for prices and the prohibition of “chablonnage”, i.e. the export of watch components (save to France, Germany, Poland and Japan).
1931 - 1945
The year 1931 saw the amalgamation of Ebauches SA and several groups of spare parts producers (assortments, balances, balance-springs) within the ASUAG, a body formed with the assistance of the Confederation, banks, the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking, the UBAH and the FH. To consolidate the conventional system and limit “trafficking” by dissidents, the associations asked for intervention by the Confederation. In 1934, Bern published a “Federal decree intended to protect the Swiss watch industry” instituting a production permit and an export permit for unassembled components, movement blanks and supplies. This system was extended over the years, not without undergoing certain adaptations, before gradually being dismantled and, finally, completely abandoned at the beginning of the 1970s.
1946 - 1969
At the end of the Second World War, while remaining the normative instrument for client-supplier relations, the FH diversified its activity. To encourage the revival of Swiss watchmaking on the world stage, it organised, from the second half of the 1940s and over the following twenty years, collective promotional activities for Swiss watches on all five continents. These initiatives were financed by levying a tax of 50 centimes on every movement blank bought by “établisseurs” or sold in watch form by manufactures.
In parallel, in 1948 the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking adopted new articles of association which effectively removed the links which had bound it hitherto to watchmaking cantons and made it a purely private institution. As a result, cantonal chambers of commerce disappeared to be replaced by federations and associations of producers (FH, ASUAG, UBAH, etc).
From the end of the 1960s, to compensate for the loss of collective promotional campaigns, the FH began a range of new activities in the economic, commercial, legal and even technical fields, both in Switzerland and abroad. It also played an increasingly important role in relations between the industry and Swiss and foreign authorities. Thereafter its remit gradually began to overlap with that of the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking. Hence the inevitable merger of 1982 which gave rise to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH, with its headquarters in Biel/Bienne.