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Bulova to cash in on "Swiss Made" label

Bulova is hoping to make an impact on the European and Middle Eastern markets from Fribourg (Bulova)

The American watchmaker, Bulova, has named Fribourg as its new European headquarters, marking a return to Switzerland after a 25-year absence.

The 127-year-old firm says it will tap into Swiss watchmaking expertise and use the prestigious "Swiss Made" label to add impetus to its drive to go global.

Fribourg will serve as a logistical centre while production will be contracted out to a handful of Swiss experts in the region.

"Bulova is planning to go global and enter the European, east European and Middle Eastern markets," Bulova's new European director Robert Fässler told swissinfo.

"Today if you want to be a global player with a long history like Bulova, you have to think about what the consumer wants. Market research indicates that we need to be 'Swiss Made' and that's the reason why we said that we have to go back to Switzerland."

The "Swiss Made" label, which is associated with quality and precision the world over, has attracted global watchmaking powerhouses to Switzerland.

Swiss expertise

Bulgari, Gucci, Patek Philippe, Rolex and Swatch are just some of the brands that have their watch businesses in Switzerland, ensuring the desirable label is carried by their watches.

Bulova's move to western Switzerland is also being seen as an endorsement of the country as a centre of excellence in the field of watchmaking.

Fribourg is geographically close to the very heart of the industry, dubbed "Watch Valley", which runs north from Geneva to Basel and was the birthplace of modern timekeeping.

The American firm will draw on local experts and resources to start its production capacities.

"We will be using Swiss watchmakers because if you want to be 'Swiss Made', you have to manufacture and assemble watches in Switzerland. Fribourg is not in Watch Valley but it offers everything we need to do that," Fässler said.

Expert knowledge

Bulova will start with around six local watch experts, with the figure rising to 30 over the next five years.

"It's important that they will work with the local capabilities and the good people they can find here," Thierry Mouran from the Fribourg Development Agency told swissinfo.

The Agency, which works to attract business to the region, says it is delighted to welcome Bulova to Fribourg where it will be a neighbour to the Richemont Group's Cartier office.

Besides being bi-lingual (French and German), the canton also boasts a renowned university and technical centres which Bulova, like many other firms, will rely on.

However, this is not the first time that Bulova has established a base in Europe.

New technology

It used to have offices in Biel but pulled out of Switzerland in the 1970s when the country's watchmaking industry almost collapsed following the arrival of quartz technology.

Swiss watchmakers were slow to embrace quartz and electronic technology, preferring to stick to mechanical watch movements.

Believing the new technologies didn't have a future, the Swiss were left behind by the Japanese who developed the much cheaper quartz technology.

Established in North America, Mexico and Hong Kong, Bulova made its name by producing the world's first electronic watch.

"Brought out in the 1960s, Bulova Accutron was the first watch movement that was electronically driven by a turning fork," said Fässler.

The firm sold approximately two million watches last year and recorded a turnover of around $170 million. The Swiss watch industry sells around 30 million watches a year.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

Bulova

Founded by a Czech immigrant, Joseph Bulova, in New York in 1875.
Bulova opens first Swiss factory in 1912 in Biel.
The company introduces the world's first electonic watch, the Accutron, in 1961.
Turnover in 2001: $170 million.
Watches sold in 2001: two million.

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