Customs officers in western Switzerland have destroyed five tons of fake Swiss watches in an effort to deter counterfeiters.
According to officials, the production and sale of copies are taking a heavy financial toll on both the Swiss economy and the country’s influential watch industry.
"Counterfeiting is one of the major problems we face,” admitted Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
“We estimate that the cost in loss of revenue is as much as SFr800 million per year,” he added.
That figure represents almost eight per cent of the total value of Swiss watchmaking exports, worth over SFr10 billion ($8 billion) in 2003.
In an attempt to drive home the message that counterfeiting is bad for business, the authorities crushed around 100,000 imitation watches in canton Fribourg on Wednesday.
Each year, thousands of fakes are seized by customs authorities while in transit both in and out of the country.
According to a report issued in June, one person is arrested every five days at the Swiss border with a consignment of fake watches.
Worldwide, Swiss watches enjoy an excellent reputation but watchmakers are alarmed by the growing number of fakes available on the black market.
The industry, which employs 40,000 people in Switzerland, produces around 26 million timepieces per year.
An estimated 30 to 40 million counterfeit watches are made every year in places like southeast Asia, China and Mediterranean countries, including Turkey, Italy and Spain.
According to Daniel Monney of Switzerland’s Precious Metals Control Office, it is very difficult for the authorities in countries like Thailand and China to clamp down on counterfeit producers.
"They might manage to close down a factory producing fakes, but another one pops up the next day," Monney told swissinfo.
He added that internet and tourism sales were also playing an increasing role in the availability of copycat watches.
"It's alright to buy books or things like that over the internet, but never buy jewellery or watches,” he said. “Even with online auctions such as E-Bay and Ricardo, many of the items on sale are fakes.
"By buying a fake, most of the time you are supporting a criminal organisation or mafia.”
Switzerland produces 26 million watches per year.
It’s estimated that between 30 and 40 billion fake watches are manufactured annually.
The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry estimates that counterfeit timepieces cause losses of SFr800 million.
That represented about 8% of total Swiss watchmaking exports in 2003.
The Swiss watch industry, which saw a drop in exports in 2003, has been doing better since the start of the year.
During the first three months of 2004, exports went up by 10%.
Sales of Swiss watches generate roughly SFr10 billion per year.
90% of watches manufactured in Switzerland are exported.