The Swatch Group and Cultural Uniqueness
OP ENING CASE
The Swatch Group (swatchgroup.com) with its headquarters in Biel, Switzerland (Europe), is a manufacturer of
watches and jewelry. The company was founded in 1983 by
Lebanese-born Nicolas Hayek from the merging of Allgemeine Gesellschaft der Schweizerischen Uhrenindustrie
and Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère. It is now the
world’s biggest watchmaker.
Nicolas’s daughter, Nayla Hayek, has been chair of the
board of directors of the Swatch Group since her father’s
death in 2010, and she is also CEO of the luxury jeweler
Harry Winston Inc., which was acquired by the Swatch
Group in 2013. Georges Nicolas “Nick” Hayek Jr. has been
the CEO and president of the Swatch Group since 2003.
Today, the Hayek family controls nearly 40 percent of the
Swatch and its 37 global subsidiaries employ about
37,000 people, and the company’s revenue is about 9 billion
Swiss francs (CHF), or about $9 billion in U.S. dollars. The
company’s headquarters in Biel sits on the language
border between French- and German-speaking parts of
Switzerland and is, by design, bilingual and culturally diverse. In fact, everything that Swatch engages in is based
on diversity and culture. This cultural diversity is embedded in its overall brand and global strategizing.
For example, many of the Swatch brands have become
cultural icons among a strong core following of customers
in the global marketplace. Some even talk about the
“Swatch Revolution” that began when Nicolas Hayek
founded the company. It was the combination of legendary
Swiss watch making (with the Swiss being famous for
watch brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre,
e.g.) and the unexpected appearance of an affordable
plastic watch that turned the watch world upside down.
Suddenly, a watch was more than a way to measure
time. It was a new individualized culture, a new language,
and a way to speak from the heart without words. By definition, “swatch” means a sample of material or color, oftentimes referring to a small piece of fabric. It is remarkable
how Swatch has been able to develop culturally unique
watches while also building the fabric for a globally integrated world by its watch making.
The Swatch Group’s brands go far beyond the iconic
Swatch watches, though. They also include top Swiss
brands like Blancpain, Breguet, and Omega along with
unique and classic products such as Balmain, Calvin Klein
watches and jewelry, Certina, Flik Flak, Glashütte, Hamilton,
Harry Winston, Jaquet Droz, Léon Hatot, Longines, Mido,
Original, Rado, Tissot, Tourbillon, and Union Glashütte.
These brands form the “art” of Swatch—a focus that is almost always emphasized upfront in the company’s annual
report and something the Swatch Group nurtures in various ways, such as via its Instagram account.
On Swatch’s Instagram (instagram.com/swatch), the
storyline is clear. Swatch wants you to create your own
unique way of accessorizing by the use of a Swatch watch.
A person can showcase his or her individualized Swatch
use by tagging #MySwatch. The new line of “Skin” watches
also helps users “dance with the unknown,” break down
barriers, and make #YourMove with Skin. The product is minimalist in style but unique, stylish, yet culturally diverse—
much like Swatch has created its cultural uniqueness for
decades in the global marketplace. Swatch’s own description of its brand captures this cultural uniqueness:
Everyone knows a Swatch when they see one. There’s
clearly something that makes Swatch different from every
other watch brand. What is it? The look, the colors, the
plastic? The design, perhaps, or the fact that it’s Swiss
made and versatile enough to be worn with almost anything. There are Swatch watches for people of all ages,
and a Swatch for every occasion. But there’s more to
Swatch than market coverage. Swatch is an attitude, an
approach to life, a way of seeing. The sight of a Swatch
excites emotion. Wearing one is a way to communicate, to
speak without speaking. Heart to heart.
The Swatch Group is not just about being culturally diverse, or as a company marketing products globally to
customers of different cultures. In many respects the company is actually creating the values, beliefs, norms, and
artifacts that form a globally unique culture worldwide. So,
Swatch’s large-scale production of watches and jewelry is
used to help create individually and culturally-based customer uniqueness.
Sources: Corinne Gretler, “Swatch CEO Nick Hayek Sees Swiss Watch
Turnaround in 2017,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 2, 2017;
Silke Koltrowitz, “Swatch Group Seeing Strong Demand So Far in
2017,” Reuters, March 16, 2017 (reuters.com/article/us-swatchresults-idUSKBN16N15B); “The Amazing Adventures of the Second
Watch,” Swatch History 2017 (swatch.com/en_us/explore/history);
“Swatch Is Challenging Google and Apple with Its Own Operating
System,” Fortune, March 16, 2017.
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