Blog: The brand "Swiss made"
Date: 12 February 2015Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.
The section reproduced here is from my page about Swiss marks.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact me page.
The origin of "Swiss made"
The Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 was intended to prevent the the importation into Britain of foreign goods carrying names or marks implying that they were of British manufacture. It had the unintended consequence of causing the Swiss to adopt "Swiss made" as a national brand.
English watchmakers had long complained that some foreign watch manufacturers, particularly Swiss, sent watch cases to Britain to receive British hallmarks. These cases were returned to be made into complete watches that were then imported and sold in Britain. This was actually what the British law required, gold and silver watch cases being assayed and hallmarked before being sold, but the English watchmakers complained that the public believed that watches with British hallmarks were made in Britain, and they were thus being misled to their cost and to the detriment of the British watch trade.
There was probably an element of protectionism in the English watchmakers protestations, but it is also fair to say that a watch with a British hallmark upon its case and no other indication of where it was made would be easier to pass off onto a member of the public as English made than if it was marked with its place of origin. Whether this was detrimental is a moot point; if it was a good watch, then the customer would suffer no real harm, but the door was open to unscrupulous traders to pass off poor quality watches as English made, although the English also made their fair share of poor quality watches.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the watchmakers arguments, a significant proportion of the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act was taken up with ensuring that foreign watches could not be mistaken for English watches.
One of the provision was that foreign watches that were hallmarked in a British assay office would be stamped with marks that were different to the ones applied to British made items. From 1 January 1888 these new import marks took the form of a combined mark, where all the assay office marks, the town mark, standard mark and date letter, were engraved onto a single punch with the word "Foreign" predominant across the centre. It might as well have said "Foreign muck", which was perhaps what the English watchmakers would have liked to see, and the effect on foreign manufacturers was predictable and instant: no more foreign watch cases were sent to British assay offices.
Another requirement of the Act was that there were no words that implied, or could be taken to imply, British manufacture. The exact wording of the Act in section 7 was:
7. Where a watch case has thereon any words or marks which constitute, or are by common repute considered as constituting, a description of the country in which the watch was made, and the watch bears no description of the country where it was made, those words or marks shall primâ, facie be deemed to be a description of that country within the meaning of this Act.
A footnote made it clear that this was mainly concerned with hallmarks being taken as marks of origin, but it had wider consequences.
A letter published in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith journal in March 1888 by a Swiss national working at the time in an English custom house explained how the new law was being put into effect. He reported how watches bearing a mark "Warranted 0.800 silver" had been confiscated for two reasons; firstly, the alloy 0.800 was not of sterling silver, and secondly, "Warranted Silver" are two English words and, as there was nothing else upon the watch indicates its place of origin, the mere fact that the words were in English was deemed to falsely indicate that the watch had been made in England. Other watches without any place of origin but marked "Patent Chronograph", or with only "Fast" and "Slow" upon the regulator and no other words or marks, were also seized for the same reason.
However, it is clear that some Swiss manufacturers were aware of the Merchandise Marks Act and had already taken action. An article in the Swiss watch trade journal La Fédération Horlegère Suisse on 3 March 1888 reported that the Swiss Consulate General in London had requested that the British customs allow watches bearing the inscription "Swiss Make" to be imported. The British customs agreed to this request, but only until the beginning of April and on the condition that for each shipment a prior declaration was sent to the central customs in London so that it could give special orders to the customs of the respective port.
The report does not state why watches marked "Swiss make" were being seized, but the fact that a declaration had to be sent to the central authority prior to each of the shipments so that special orders could be issued to the ports implies that it was local port officers who had concluded that "Swiss make" was not acceptable. The reason for this almost certainly lies in a General Order in regard to watches issued on 18 January 1888 by the Commissioner of Customs. The order stated that watches could be imported if they had a foreign assay mark and no wording ... indicating make or produce in the United Kingdom, and it may be that keen eyed customs officers had picked up on the word "make" in this awkwardly worded phrase, or they had decided that "Swiss make" did not constitute a ... definite indication of the place or country in which the watches were made. Whatever the reason, it is clear that watches bearing "Swiss make" were not going to be allowed in after the first of April 1888.
La Fédération Horlegère Suisse, March 1888
The article concludes with the paragraph shown here, which says We add that from the beginning of April, the brand "Swiss make" will not be accepted and it should be replaced with "Manufactured in Switzerland", "Swiss Made" or simply "Swiss", subject to the decision to be taken by the British government as a recognition of the official Swiss control punching as sufficient indication of origin..
The final sentence about "poinçonnement officiel suisse de contrôle", the Swiss term for government regulated hallmarking, suggests that the British government might accept Swiss hallmarks as as sufficient indication of origin. But since these were only placed on gold and silver watch cases and not to steel, nickel, or gold or silver plated cases, or to watch movements themselves, there was no chance this would be accepted as adequate.
Of the three possible choices of mark suggested; "Manufactured in Switzerland", "Swiss made" or simply "Swiss", the first would meet the requirements but would not fit comfortably on a watch dial or movement, and simply "Swiss" was probably considered insufficiently definite. As we now know, the wording chosen by Swiss watch manufacturers in the spring of 1888 was the simple yet precise "Swiss made". Every Swiss watch movement made since then has carried this legend, which became known worldwide and created a unified identity for the Swiss watch industry, all thanks to a British Act of Parliament!
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated January 2016. W3CMVS.