All is well in the land of watch certification, if the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) annual report is anything to go by. 2014 was, writes its president Nico de Rooij, an “exceptional year” as brands registered, and paid for, 1.8 million watches to be tested. Of these, exactly 1,701,868 were awarded the coveted certificate, the second best performance after 2012. As a reminder, 28.6 million Swiss watches were exported in 2014. The COSC itself has steadily evolved. Four years ago it migrated data to a specially developed system. The three test centres or Bureaux Officiels in Saint Imier, Le Locle and Biel, the latter now in new premises, have been re-equipped. The COSC is, says managing director Andreas Wyss, all set to modernise: “We are putting together a new-look COSC with infrastructures at the cutting edge of technology.”
It has, after all, a position to defend. The COSC was founded in its current form in 1973 from the independent laboratories that originated in the late nineteenth century, and while the criteria it applies have certainly evolved since then, its legitimacy is rooted in proven testing methods and more than a century of experience. So is Andreas Wyss at all concerned by the number of certification procedures springing up these past few years? “Let’s take one of the more recent, the Qualité Fleurier label,” he replies. “This certification can only be awarded to watches that we have already approved, which makes it a partnership. We can only regret that so few watches take these tests. Of course, the five Qualité Fleurier criteria are extremely tough as well as costly, given that potentially 32 watches are destroyed during testing.”
Passing on the message
More recently still, at the end of last year Swatch Group, through Omega, announced the new testing procedure it had developed in consultation with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). This new certification imposes stringent criteria in terms of resistance to magnetic fields. “I have to admit we were rather shaken up when we read about this new certification in the press,” says Andreas Wyss. “We hadn’t been informed. However, after contacting METAS and Swatch Group it was clear to us that the objective wasn’t to replace the COSC. In fact Mr Hayek provided all the necessary guarantees as to the COSC’s role in the process. Watches that wish to obtain this new certification must first go through our test centres. Just to be clear though, while this label is open to all brands, for the moment we are talking about Omega watches.”
Andreas Wyss looks favourably on any certification system that will add to the Swiss-Made standard. Even procedures that apply only to a single brand, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1000 Hours Control or the Patek Philippe Seal, are a step in the right direction. “Officially, there aren’t that many labels. We need to remember that customers care most about the emotions one or other watch inspires. They buy a brand, not a certification which at the end of the day can only confirm their choice. Of course there is the risk that any further increase in the number of certifications will only confuse matters, although in my opinion the problem lies elsewhere, in the quality of distribution networks and their ability to pass on information and explain at the very least what a chronometer is. If a salesman can tell the customer just three things about COSC certification, namely that it is issued by an independent, neutral body, after fifteen days of testing, and that every certified watch has been individually tested, that would be a great start!” And this is even before we start talking about variations in rate…
COSC definition of a chronometer
• A chronometer is a high-precision watch capable of displaying the seconds and housing a movement that has been tested over several days, in different positions and at different temperatures, by an official neutral body (COSC).
• Each chronometer is unique, identified by a number engraved on its movement and a certification number given by the COSC.
• Each movement is individually tested for several consecutive days, in five positions and at three temperatures.
• Each movement is individually measured. Any watch with the denomination “chronometer” is provided with a certified movement.