The Pirate Flag Outside Swatch Group HQ


After posting about this on Instagram today, and some of the feedback I received, I thought it would be worth going a bit deeper on the topic than what I could write as a caption.


The picture above was taken earlier this week, in front of the Swatch Group headquarters, near Lake Bienne (exact location here). As many of you probably already know, beyond its eponymous brand, the group also owns plenty others, across a wide spectrum from entry level to high horology. Among the most famous are Tissot, Longines, Breguet, Blancpain and Bienne's very own OMEGA. Full list here. The group is, by revenue, the largest in the world of watchmaking.

Understanding Swatch Group's history is critical to understanding Swiss watchmaking. Without its creation, in 1983, merging conglomerates ASUAG and SSIH, alongside the invention of the Swatch, no one knows how, or even if, Switzerland would have overcome the "quartz crisis". I will cover this more extensively in other posts. In the meantime, this recap on the Swatch Group site gives a good introduction.


For today, let's focus on the flag. I mean, it's a pirate flag, hanging outside the corporate offices of a large group that generates most of its revenue from high end, luxury products. Granted, the flag is "branded". Still, this is pretty unique.


But what really is striking here is whose office exactly the flag is hanging from. While not officially mentioned anywhere, it is effectively public knowledge in Bienne that the flag is located outside the office of Mr. Nick Hayek. That's right, the CEO of the entire group, son of its founder Nicolas G. Hayek, has a pirate flag hanging out his corner office window!

Beyond its surprising nature, the fact is not at all trivial. Swatch, when it was founded, took the industry by storm. Watches back then were meant to be serious. Swatch, which stands for "second watch", made them fun. Its phenomenal success was critical to rebuilding the industrial web of Swiss watchmaking, and funding the upscaling of traditional brands and their focus on craftsmanship.


Ever since, the group, and Mr Hayek, have been renowned for going against the grain, rarely following consensus. This is where the pirate metaphor comes into play. It's an ongoing, rebellious mindset, perpetually challenging status quo. The recent success, to put it mildly, of the MoonSwatch, is here to remind us of the group's ability to think outside the box.

When you visit Bienne, it can be worth taking that 5 minute walk from the Lake, and its adequately named Nicolas G. Hayek Park, to the Swatch Group HQ. The building's architecture may not be the most exciting (especially when compared to Shigeru Ban's recent marvel) but that flag alone says quite a bit about the history of Swiss watchmaking.