Distinctiveness: Japanese vs. Swiss

November 18th, 2009 | 13 Comments


In-House is Superior

A recent trend in the Swiss watch industry has been the switch to in-house movement production:

  • Breitling recently released its first mechanical watch featuring in-house movement production:

    the Chronomat B01


  • Audemars Piguet recently acquired Renaud et Papi (a producer of movements)
  • Rolex has stepped up recent efforts at marketing the fact that they feature in-house production

If the Swiss watch companies are switching from their long held “ebauche” tradition, is that a sign that in house-production is superior?

It would be difficult to prove that in-house movements are of a superior quality from this vantage point alone (strategic reasons behind diversifying suppliers complicate the issue). However, the trend of Swiss companies attempting to incorporate in-house movement production is a clear sign of recognition that the watch community has deep respect and interest in watch companies that do use in-house movement production. After all, the mechanical watch is more than just an instrument for keeping time.

Distinctiveness: Japanese vs. Swiss

If the Swiss have centered their quality control around the idea of accountability being tied to quality, then the Japanese should be just as well-known for producing high-quality mechanical watches. The majority of Japanese companies do feature in-house movement production, and hence, are directly accountable for more than the average Swiss company. What the Japanese lack, particularly new entrants like Orient, are the marketing budgets that the Swiss possess.

To create quality mechanical watches with in-house movements for a much more reasonable price, they rely on:

  • Economies of scale
  • Lean operating budgets

budget1

There is no doubt that both the Japanese and the Swiss make top-of-the-line mechanical watches.

The Swiss Industry relies on the “Ebauche tradition” which focuses on the utilization of mass-produced movements that are assembled by the various Swiss watch companies. This may have the advantage of allowing more focused concentration on pure movement-making as it is limited to one company that is only in the movement business.

However, the most expensive watches coming out of Switzerland generally do feature in-house movement production, and why not?

One of the great allures of a mechanical watch is its distinctiveness. Why pay a premium for a product that is a rehash of thousands of others?

The Japanese companies have used lean marketing budgets and large economies of scale to mass produce mechanical watches featuring distinctive in-house movement production. Something which Swiss companies seem to admire, and in their recent trends of production, wish to emulate.

Which nation produces the best mechanical watch is a complicated, and perhaps, ultimately unattainable question to answer; however, who produces the most affordable quality mechanical watch with in-house movement production, is not.


  1. 13 Comments | Tell us what you think!

  2. By RobG on Jul 26, 2009

    Yep, swiss are great, but haven’t developed the quality rigor a lot of Japanese manufacturers have adopted (I’m in Quality). Many of the Swiss movements aren’t even made in Europe, they’re just designed there. New laws are addressing this. I have no qualms choosing a high quality Japanese movement over a traditionally swiss-designed one.

  3. By Nathan on Oct 18, 2009

    Totally agree. Most of the “swiss made” movements are designed in Europe but are produced in Asia. Companies such as Orient are currently on the leading edge of production and accuracy allowing people with a limited budget to still purchase a quality watch. The only thing I have noticed is most Asian movements lack features that a Swiss might like a stop watch for example. Bottom line is that Asian made (by this i mean Japan, not China) watches are high quality and will give you just as many (or more) year of enjoyment as a Swiss watch.

  4. By Jason on Nov 18, 2009

    Yawn… wake me up when the deals come back.

  5. By Blake on Nov 18, 2009

    I agree with Jason, come on man “Deal of the Day” my ass!

  6. By sean palmer on Nov 18, 2009

    Totally agree. Most of the “swiss made” movements are designed in Europe but are produced in Asia. Companies such as Orient are currently on the leading edge of production and accuracy allowing people with a limited budget to still purchase a quality watch. The only thing I have noticed is most Asian movements lack features that a Swiss might like a stop watch for example. Bottom line is that Asian made (by this i mean Japan, not China) watches are high quality and will give you just as many (or more) year of enjoyment as a Swiss watch.

  7. By Eric on Nov 19, 2009

    I have to say, my Orient watches definitely are right there with my Swiss offerings, and in many cases are more accurate! They are on par, and in some cases better than my Swiss ETA movements. Great quality and craftsmanship.

  8. By Bill on Nov 19, 2009

    That’s a great looking watch on the title banner.

  9. By mary freitas on Nov 19, 2009

    Good afternoon, I receive a Win a Free Orient Watch, libya street 583, the cross ii, Colombo, Brazil, zip 83,405,170, Mary Davis, thank you!

  10. By Pankaj Chauhan on Jan 19, 2010

    What it matters is the look and the accuracy of the watch, over the complexities of moonphases, chronographs, My dad has a Ricoh 27 jewel Japan movement, I have a Invicta ETA movement(beautiful look), Seiko5, I myself find the ETA movement lethargic is comparison to the both Japan movements.

    No doubts about it Japanese movt is far accurate than the Acclaimed Swiss Movt. Simplicity, light weight and accuracy

  11. By adnan on Apr 6, 2011

    I have Swiss auto and Seiko Auto in my collection. In comparison of timing accuracy, the Seiko movement is the best and accurate at all time, even my Seiko Laurel circa 1965 production still give me a perfect time, everytime. Swiss makers is good for my pride and proud due to its “Swiss Made” but in reality, I would say, Japanese watch movement is very much reliable than Swiss made. They just lack of personality and brand of Swiss watches.

  12. By AJH on Oct 25, 2011

    I think that it all comes down to psychology a Chinese movement could be smoother, more accurate and may have more longevity than an ETA automatic or an In-house Rolex movement but because they are far cheaper except for the ETA equivalents that can be more expensive people feel more comfortable thinking that because they paid several thousand dollars on their watch it is automatically better. Like the Tag Heuer Quartz Chronograph pay one and a half thousand dollars one a watch which has a $45 movement so enjoy your $1600 dollar case I’m sure I do. But in the end quartz is arguably the most reliable and accurate but because its quartz its cheap so the elite in society aren’t interested. Well that’s my opinion anyway

  13. By John Shick on Apr 27, 2012

    The reason many swiss makers are returning to or turning to in house movements has nothing what ever to do with making them better and everything to do with Swatch which owns CTA no longer supplying movements. The alternatives to the swiss makers is doing it them selves or committing the heresy of having to buy automatic movements from miyota or seiko. Both seiko and miyota make excellent movements every bit the peer and in some cases superior to the cta offerings. But the sky would fall and the holes in the cheese would disappear if god forbid there were a Japanese movement in a swiss watch which is assembled in China. Tag Heuer has already announced that they will be doing an in-house movement which will use some Japanese parts and the sky has not fallen but the fall out at least in some watch forums has been heated to say the least.
    JOhn

    John

  14. By phil thomas on Jan 15, 2014

    Recently purchased a orient blueraywatch! Have had it about two weeks the watch was accurate right out of the box in fact its been very close to quartz accuracy! Highly recomend if looking for a affordable mechanical watch!

13 comments | Tell us what you think!