European Adventure-Day four: Retailers check out Swatch factory

In 1982, Swatch was launched by a group of watch manufacturers called ETA. Today the company has made and sold more than 200-million watches worldwide. What does a company this large want with snowboarding? That’s what 22 U.S. snowboard retailers were wondering when Palmer Snowboards added the Swatch factory to the list of factories and companies the group visited during the week long trip.

Despite its mass-market sales, Swatch has been supporting snowboarding for several years now. The company has been sponsoring boardercross events for three years and is committed to backing at least two more years of the five-stop European and U.S. Swatch Boardercross Tour. It has also helped start and promote the Palmer-Swatch Boarder-X team. Swatch sponsors several other snowboarders as well, including Shaun Palmer, Steve Klassen, Karine Ruby, and Gilles Voirol.

In addition, Swatch has made a signature model Shaun Palmer watch and is planning to release a Peter Bauer model as well. Both of these time pieces feature the special Access Pass chip that allows ski resorts to load an electronic lift ticket into the watch and then let the wearer pass it in front of a sensor to get on a lift for the entire day.

But despite all this support, the company has witnessed other watch brands, such as Casio-with its G-Shock line-come into the action-sports market and make impressive sales.

So with the help of Palmer, the company is considering selling watches to specialty snowboard shops, starting with the 22 that the Palmer staff invited to Europe.

What the shops saw was incredible, to say the least. The company employs 4,000 people in Switzerland and 10,000 worldwide. In the Biel region of Switzerland, the company has numerous buildings with assembly lines to manufacture every piece of each watch.

For example, in one giant hall were rows and rows of die-cutting machines manufacturing metal parts of the watch that were no larger than the head of a push pin. The machines have cameras magnifying the work areas so workers could actually see and monitor what’s happening during the production process. On another floor in a totally clean and sealed room, quartz were being made with special laser cutters. On another, an automated assembly line was putting together the watches. The line was divided into anywhere between twenty and 26 separate processes, each monitored by employees watching magnifying cameras. The company can assemble sixteen-million plastic and four-million metal watches in one year alone.

Although Swatch hasn’t decided whether to sell to the specialty shops yet, the shops were left with a very positive impression of the company’s size and manufacturing ability.

-John Stouffer