Swiss Watchmaking Tradition Under Siege From Counterfeiting

Heaps of wristwatches background for sale

A 21 June 2018 article on the Swiss news website Le Temps reported that Switzerland didn’t seem to be doing enough about the growth of the black market. Yet many Swiss products are currently the target of trafficking and counterfeiting, including watches, chocolates and medicines.


Watchmaking hit hard

TheTemps report cites Yves Bugmann, head of the legal department of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry: in “2017, [its] internet unit detected over 1.2 million online counterfeit watches for sale online and blocked a multitude of counterfeit sites. […] Over a million counterfeit Swiss watches [were seized].” He estimated a 800 million Swiss franc annual loss from this.

The extent of the fake watch output is striking: counterfeiters produce 35 million fake watches a year. By comparison, only 29 million genuine watches are produced over the same timeframe.


But Swiss customs are facing cutbacks

 Federal government austerity measures have hit Swiss customs activities hard. Seizures halved between 2017 and 20161. Jürg Herren, head of the legal department at the Intellectual Property Institute in Switzerland, affirms that counterfeits considerably harm the Swiss economy: “It’s important to get them out of circulation. And the customs service has a key role to play” 2.

The customs services are all the more necessary given the relatively inventive methods they face.

In April 2018, the American bank Morgan Stanley published a study of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Its main finding was the striking growth of online sales in luxury watches, in a world where fears of counterfeits are on the decline. Customs officers would seem more crucial than ever in tackling illicit counterfeit trafficking.

In 2013, the OECD estimated that the global market for counterfeits was worth 461 billion dollars, 2.5% of global trade.

1  Christine Talos, ‘Contrefaçons. La douane contrôle moins de paquets’, Le Matin, March 2018

2 Idem.

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