The Globalisation of Brands and the Comeback of the Swiss Watch Industry on the World Market, 1980-2010



This paper focuses on the construction of global brands in the Swiss watch industry from 1980 to 2010, as viewed from a business history perspective. In the ten-year stretch between 1975 and 1985, the Swiss watch industry was hard hit by competition from Japanese watch manufacturers, which caused employment to decline by around two-thirds. However, it staged a comeback on the world market in the late 1980s via the rationalization of the production system and a move up to luxury, and has been the uncontested leader of the industry ever since.14 This industry is therefore an example of a sector which experienced a paradigm shift in the 1980s, and this contribution argues that the implementation of a new brand strategy, as characterized by brand globalization, was at the heart of this transformation.

The paper is divided into three parts. The first briefly introduces brand management in the Swiss watch industry before the transition to luxury then tackles the change in this industry and the move up-market. Subsequently, sections II and III focus on two cases studies, respectively, the adoption of a new brand strategy by Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch manufacturer, and by its subsidiary Longines.

The Business History Seminar is organised by the Business History Centre and has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication