The German Brand That’s ‘Infiltrated’ The Swiss Watch Industry

The German invasion Switzerland never expected...

The German Brand That’s ‘Infiltrated’ The Swiss Watch Industry

Image: Jaeger-LeCoultre

The Swiss are rightfully proud of their watch industry, which is is notoriously insular, exacting and uncompromising. But something Swiss watch brands might not readily admit is that there’s a German brand they couldn’t live without…

Germany is world-renowned for the quality of its manufacturing, especially precision manufacturing. But while Germany is home to a few highly regarded watch brands – A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original and Moritz Grossmann spring to mind – it’s its smaller neighbour Switzerland that’s considered the world leader in watches.

Yet virtually all Swiss watch brands rely on a German company to make their watches: Leica. Famous around the world for their impeccably made, high-end cameras (indeed, Leicas are sometimes called “the Patek Philippe of cameras” – a highly appropriate horological compliment), Leica also produces quality precision optics.

It’s these precision optics that Swiss watchmakers rely on to craft their finest watches. Microscopes, loupes, enlargers, lenses… Without Leica’s top-tier instruments, the Swiss watch industry wouldn’t exist.

Leica microscopes at the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture, to assist hand-enamelling (L) and anglage – fine polishing. Images: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

I recently had the chance to visit Jaeger-LeCoultre’s manufacture in the famous Vallée de Joux north of Geneva. Jaeger-LeCoultre is often called “the watchmaker’s watchmaker”, and its creations rank among some of the most refined and complex watches on the planet.

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The factory tour was fascinating for a multitude of reasons, but something I couldn’t help but notice is how many Leica instruments JLC’s watchmakers use in order to create their impressive watches.

Virtually every part of the watchmaking process and in every part of the manufacture, from the stamping of parts to movement assembly to gem-setting, there were Leica instruments. Just as JLC’s watchmakers were all wearing JLC watches – a vote of confidence in their own products – they all used Leica instruments. This German brand has infiltrated every level of the watchmaking process.

JLC is by no means the only watch brand that relies on Leica. Rolex, too, relies on Leica instruments to produce and test their most famous watches. Indeed, I bet every Swiss watch manufacture would be filled to the brim with Leica products.

A Rolex watchmaker uses a Leica microscope to inspect an Explorer II movement. Image: Rolex

Of course, this technical and cultural exchange cuts both ways. Just as the Swiss would be lost without German precision optics, Germany’s most prized industry would be lost without Swiss watchmaking.

Cars are to Germany what watches are to Switzerland, and many of Germany’s top car marques rely on Swiss watchmakers for precision timing. For example, Mercedes-Benz has long utilised IWC Schaffhausen clocks in their high-end AMG and Maybach models, and their Formula 1 team counts IWC as a major sponsor and timing partner.

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All makes sense to me – I like my watch Swiss, my car German and my wine French. Santé. (Or should that be Prost?)

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