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Economy, Manufacturing

manufacturing belt, Jura region, chronometers, embroideries, music boxes

Although raw materials are scarce in Switzerland, the country has a well-developed manufacturing sector. Switzerland’s skilled workers convert imported raw materials into high-value exports.

Historically, manufacturing in Switzerland stems from the country’s abundant sources of waterpower. For centuries the physical energy of falling water turned water wheels that powered mills and machinery of all sorts, especially those involved in textile manufacturing. Textiles, in turn, created demand for dyes, which stimulated development of a chemical industry. The country’s engineering, machinery, electrical, and metal industries also can trace their origins in part to the age of water wheels. Because potential waterpower exists throughout the country, Switzerland never developed a manufacturing belt or industrial heartland. Instead, industrial production is geographically dispersed.

Today, heavy engineering and machine building, especially the manufacture of top-quality custom-built equipment, accounts for a significant portion of Swiss exports. Switzerland is the largest producer of textile machinery in the world, and one of the world’s top manufacturers of weighing and printing machines. Switzerland remains a world leader in the production of dyestuffs, and the Swiss pharmaceutical industry ranks among the top producers of specialized drugs.

Also important to the economy are smaller products of precision engineering, especially watches, chronometers, and clocks—an industry that dates to the 16th century in Switzerland. Most important developments in watchmaking since that time have come from Switzerland, whose manufacturers have earned world renown for their expertise, workmanship, and inventiveness. Switzerland has been the world’s dominant producer of watches and chronometers since the 19th century. The contemporary Swiss watch industry is concentrated in cities and towns throughout the Jura region. Hundreds of Swiss firms annually produce some 1.5 billion watches, movements, basic parts, and other watchmaking products—95 percent of which are exported. Famous for its exquisitely engineered luxury timepieces, Switzerland is also known for making the world’s bestselling plastic watch, the Swatch.

Not all products manufactured for export have their origins in modern factories and workshops. Switzerland also has a long tradition of producing high-quality handicrafts. Most important among these are music boxes, embroideries, laces, and carved wooden objects.

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