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Surveillance action - FH: missions at Zurich and Basel Airports and at Baselworld

Surveillance action FH: missions at Zurich and Basel Airports and at Baselworld

Unauthorised use of Swiss made, misleading customs declarations, breaches of trademark law, withdrawal of contested pieces from the stands… the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH intervenes to make life tough for the counterfeiters.

For the eighth year in a row, five FH staff members were on call at the airports in the run-up to Baselworld to track down watches which falsely claim Swiss origin and are then liable to be exhibited at the watch show. This surveillance team is also mobilised during the event itself and keeps watch in the halls to track down the last fraudsters who have escaped detection so far.

Once again Baselworld attracted over 150,000 visitors from just under 100 different countries. They all came to discover the latest innovations displayed by the 1,500 exhibitors present. This essential rendez-vous of the year for everyone wishing to admire the finest products of the Swiss and global horological industry attracts an incalculable number of potential buyers and distributors to Switzerland. That of course also encourages a great deal of underhand action. Some unscrupulous companies then try to profit from the event to promote their products using false Swiss indications around the show and even on the premises. The FH presence ahead of this event and while it is in progress therefore seeks to track down fraud so as to safeguard the reputation of the Swiss watch industry as effectively as possible.


The FH, the Swiss customs authorities and the precious metal assay offices already cooperate very closely throughout the year to deal with every issue surrounding the watch industry and unlawful use of the Swiss made designation. In the run-up to Baselworld this cooperation is intensified in line with the importance of the event. It all begins well before the show opens its doors. The FH coordinates its intervention with the customs authorities concerned and gives them information enabling their risk analysis to be sharpened up. Then, just a few days before the event proper, five FH staff members arrive on site alongside the customs officers to assist them with their inspection tasks.

The first phase of the surveillance action was organized in the cargo zones of Basel and Zurich Airports. Inspections at Basel Airport took place directly with the carriers concerned after targeting, with the help of the customs officers, what were potentially the most «interesting» packages. Several dozen parcels were searched and around 20% of them held back on grounds of false customs declarations, because of breaches of trademark law (counterfeiting) or infringement of the Swiss made rules. These blocked consignments represent dozens of watches and several hundred automatic movements.


On the cargo side of Zurich Airport, more than 600 watches in three different consignments were temporarily held up; 345 of them were specifically destined for exhibition on the stands. A majority of these products were immediately inspected and found to be making unauthorised use of Swiss geographical indications. All these goods are currently being held back pending action to bring them into compliance with the law or destruction. Others are being temporarily retained by customs while awaiting a detailed technical analysis on which their ultimate destination will depend.

The second phase of the investigations took place on the passenger side of Basel and Zurich Airports. The operations began at 6 a.m. in the customs offices as the first intercontinental flights were arriving. The first finding was this: the number of persons travelling to Baselworld and entering Swiss territory via the EuroAirport in Basel-Mulhouse with watches in their baggage has been falling constantly for the past two years; that explains why few problem cases were encountered. In Zurich successive waves of travellers disembarking from jumbo jets were watched closely by the customs officers who directed the flow towards the inspection zone when passengers seemed clearly to be heading for Baselworld. In this way, several hundred persons were checked and their baggage scanned. The latter contained personal effects but also very often goods, catalogues and other advertising material - and of course watches. Some of these passengers recognised the FH staff members and were amused to see them remaining loyal to their post year after year. These passengers understood the reason for the action perfectly and sometimes even welcomed it. The preventive effect of the FH presence in the airports is therefore clear for all to see even if a dozen passengers were again tracked down for offences this year and a hundred or so watches impounded in the passenger terminal at Zurich Airport.

These operations in the cargo and passenger zones of the airports enabled us to avoid the presence on Swiss territory of a large number of non-compliant watches heading for Basel, thanks to the involvement of the customs officers and Swiss precious metal assay agencies without whom, it should be stressed, no intervention would be possible.


The third and final phase of the investigations took place on site at Baselworld where for three days the FH staff members scoured the exhibition halls in search of potential cases of abuse. This year saw a very significant reduction in the number of cases of infringement in Hall 4 which is home to the national pavilions; just one case was detected compared to six last year and twelve two years ago. However, the phenomenon has not disappeared altogether but unfortunately moved to other more prestigious halls, especially Hall 2. The FH had to intervene there on five occasions to ask for contested pieces to be withdrawn from the display cabinets or to negotiate compliance by the company concerned for its future products. A majority of these exhibitors seemingly acting in good faith immediately withdrew the pieces in question and two of them even gave a written undertaking to respect the legal provisions governing Swiss made in future. Baselworld is also an opportunity for the FH to get to know new brands which use Swiss designations and make sure that they comply with the legal requirements. With very few exceptions, most of the exhibitors visited were perfectly compliant with the stipulated criteria. Cooperation by the exhibitors can therefore be regarded as particularly good this year.


The slight fall in the number of offences involving Swiss made puts us in an optimistic frame of mind for the next edition of Baselworld which will, we hope, see even fewer examples of this type of fraud.