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Editorial - Happy Birthday Switzerland !

Editorial Happy Birthday Switzerland !

Thoughts on mechanical watchmaking and the thing that people call Suissitude.

It’s the old girl’s birthday this week! This Thursday, on the first of August, Switzerland turns 728. There’s going to be fireworks, barbecues, fun in the sun, and, best of all, people leaving the city for the long weekend so you can finally get a table at that super trendy lakeside bar. 

My favourite thing about Switzerland — and you might share my view, since you’re reading this either on a horological website or its weekly newsletter — is the watchmaking. I moved halfway across the world to Geneva for this, so you can take that as a gauge of how much I love watches. 

Today, Switzerland is pretty much the home of fine timepieces. There are enclaves in Germany and Japan, but really Switzerland is where everything happens. 

The thing is, watchmaking didn’t start off being Swiss. Watchmaking in this country only developed in a major way after the 16th-century French Wars of Religion. The Protestant Huguenots, which comprised a large percentage of merchants, craftsmen and other professionals, got fed up of being pounded into the dirt by the ruling French Catholics, and decamped to Switzerland, taking their trades and skills with them. 

Switzerland welcomed these highly talented refugees with open arms, setting the scene for their current global hegemony in mechanical watchmaking. This embrace of economic opportunities is a very Swiss thing, part of a corpus of activities, attitudes and preferences that form the phenomenon known as Suissitude, the characteristic of being culturally and psychologically Swiss.

Other things that make up Suissitude, according to various Swiss people advising me how to better integrate myself in my new country of residence:  skiing (nope), not speaking to my neighbours (easy), eating Cenovis (I quite like it, actually), eating Parfait (looks scary, hard pass), eating Toblerone (the whole world is Swiss, then), drinking Rivella (only the red one), loving Roger Federer with unabated fervour (I’m just not that into tennis), hunting the dahu (I have my suspicions about this), not making any noise after 10pm (someone should tell my neighbours this), complaining to the building authorities or leaving passive-aggressive notes on apartment doors about people running the vacuum cleaner after hours (I speak from personal experience), being moderate in all things (definitely not me), fondue (mega-yum), having ill-defined but deep-rooted stereotyped assumptions about other cantons (which I find hilarious), believing in the incontrovertible sanctity of business closure on Sundays (I will never support this), having arguments about how to correctly prepare rösti (they’re all delicious), and talking about money either a lot or not at all.

For better or for worse — Suissitude has shaped watchmaking. This country’s love of ingesting weird shit and being antisocial has given us some of the most ingenious micromechanical creations in history. In his award-winning novel Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie observed that in order “to understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.” Substitute “one life” with “watchmaking” and “the world” with “Suissitude” and you’ll have a statement just as true as the original.

Happy birthday, Switzerland. Keep doing your thing, because we really dig it.

Lecture 1 Comment(s)

1 August 2019
Emmanuel Vuille
Merci Suzanne pour votre article et pour nous avoir rejoins en Suisse !