"Swiss(ness) made" in Greater China: knowledge transfer, secrecy and national belonging in repair workshops of Swiss watches in Hong-Kong
(University of Geneva)
Paper short abstract:
The recent increase in sales of Swiss mechanical watches in Hong-Kong has brought a significant number of repair requests. Consequently, firms have transferred skills from Switzerland to HK to secure workforce on-the-spot. How “Swiss” techniques are appropriated by HK workers in dealing with secrecy?
Paper long abstract:
Ninety-five per cent of the watches produced today in Switzerland are intended for export. During the last fifteen years, Greater China has become the first importation market for Swiss watches due predominantly to the growth of the Hong Kong (HK) market. This has especially concerned high-end mechanical pieces, which are perceived as the most prestigious products due to their sophisticated production and maintenance. Their rapid increase in sales in HK has proportionally expanded the number of repair and servicing requests. This phenomenon has led numerous Swiss, HK and Chinese firms involved in the business to develop new knowledge management policies for providing on-the-spot "Swiss Standards" technical servicing. Consequently, various forms of know-how transfer from Switzerland to HK have been implemented in order to train local workers (e.g. implementation of training courses given by Swiss watchmakers, opening of "Swiss" watchmaking schools). On the basis of an ongoing ethnographic research in a vocational training school and service centres in HK, this paper aims to address two issues in order to shed light on the ambiguous world of Swiss watches: first, how repair techniques strongly associated with Swiss culture are appropriated daily by HK watchmakers? In what ways does the transnational circulation of these skills renegotiate the so-called "Swiss" standards? Second, as Swiss firms have to teach their technical knowledge in Asia for maintaining their profitability, do their members worry about the loss of know-how and copying? How professional secrecy is strategically used in these knowledge transfer initiatives?
Repairing the periphery