Bingo! Unsurprisingly, the powerful trade organization that regulates Swiss Made-ness and preserves the interests of its member brands across the globe is located right here in Bienne, a 2 minute walk from the train station.
The Fédération Horlogère (FH) as we know it today results from the merger of 2 century old entities: the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking and Allied Industries, an industry organization by regional representation, and the Swiss Federation of Clock and Watch Manufacturers Association, directly representing the interests of its member companies. The merger took place in 1976, establishing headquarters in Bienne. As already discussed on this blog, Bienne is quite arguably the capital of Swiss watchmaking, making it an obvious home for the FH.
As in so many other areas, the history of the organization illustrates how the Swiss excel at finding compromises among competing interests to mutually benefit all parties involved. Back in the 1920s, during global recession, the urgency was for the industry to regulate prices and end «chablonnage ». You way wonder: what is chablonnage? It was the practice of exporting watch components instead of finished watches in order to reduce import taxes. The result was a loss for Swiss watchmakers, not only on the value of final assembly but also on cases, especially gold, typically produced in the country of destination.
A century later, the FH continues to defend the national industry’s interest in different ways. Perhaps the topic the FH is best known for is driving the definition of “Swiss Made”for watches. The organization represents the point of view of its 500 member companies, working closely with the Confederation (i.e., the Swiss government).
The Swiss Made label, which has evolved over the years, implies today that at least 60% of the production value is generated in Switzerland, and that final casing and inspection took place here too. You can read the ordnance in full detail on the Confederation website.
Another area where the FH is very active is in fighting counterfeits. Just yesterday I was reading about a French «replica » mogul now in jail after the FH tipped off police authorities. They encourage anyone aware of or in possession of fakes to reach out to them via their website.
Finally, for those of you who follow the watch industry closely, the FH is also known for releasing monthly statistics of Swiss watch exports. They are the source of truth used around the world to determine the health of the Swiss watch industry.
For over 20 years, the FH was led by Jean-Daniel Pasche (above), an intellectual property expert. He will end his mandate on December 31st. The new president is Yves Brugman. Elected in June, he previously led the organizations legal department.
To get a sense of the full range of activities conducted by the FH, such as publishing watchmaking standards or offering an online professional dictionary, visit their website.