Swiss VS Japanese Movements: Everything You Need To Know.

“Swiss movement or Japanese: which is better?” There’s a question that often comes up among mechanical watch enthusiasts. The answer is rather complex, but we’ll try to explain it as simply as possible in this article.

With the growing number of Japanese watchmakers, it’s become difficult for fans of fine watches to choose between movements from Japan, and ones from Switzerland. The natural question that follows is: which of the two is better? Unfortunately, it’s like choosing between a stylish sedan and its intelligent counterpart: each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let me elaborate.

A bit of history

The watchmaking industry has its origins in early 16th century Switzerland, but the English weren’t far behind. In fact, in the early days of the industry, the English made a significant quantity of watches and clocks between 1650 and 1850; often better than the Swiss, incidentally. Switzerland was established as the definitive capital of watchmaking as a result of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Thus the first Swiss watch brands date back to the same era.

On the other side of the world, the Western system of timekeeping with hours of equal duration had not yet reached Japan at the start of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1873 that Japan adopted the 24-hour clock. The fledgling Japanese watchmaking industry flourished until the outbreak of the Second World War, the devastating effects of which almost wiped out the entire nation. But Japan would rebuild, its watchmaking industry included. By the dawn of the 1950s, the level of quality of Japanese watch production was on a par with the demands of the global market. Since the 70s, the Japanese watchmaking sector has been one of the biggest exporters of watches of its time.

Japanese mechanical movements

So Japan has a long history of watchmaking, and today manufactures a large proportion of the world’s mechanical movements. Although the quality of finishing might not always be up to scratch, Japanese movements are renowned for their reliability and sturdiness. The main manufacturers are: Seiko, Orient (which belongs to Seiko) and Miyota (Groupe Citizen).

While the Swiss watchmaking industry still employs manual assembly for certain models of caliber, Japanese movements are mostly produced by an automated robot assembly line. This allows for a much lower degree of error than the naked eye. Due to the nature of this method of assembly, Japanese movements are often cheaper than those from Switzerland, though this in no way implies inferior quality.

The main characteristics of Japanese movements can be summed up as follows:

  • Very high level of reliability
  • Extremely sturdy
  • Incomparable value for money

With their high performance and attractive prices, Miyota movements have become unavoidable in the world of watchmaking, and now feature in the watches of a great many brands around the world, from entry-level to high-end.

Swiss mechanical movements

Among the industrial manufacturers we have ETA, Sellita and Soprod. Companies like Dubois-Dépraz produce modules to be added to ETA movements. There are also high-end manufacturers who often remain in the shadow of the big brands, developing custom-made movements; these include Concepto, Chronode and La Joux-Perret.

Swiss movements are held in high esteem by many watchmakers and collectors for a variety of reasons. Finishing is an important aspect of Swiss mechanisms; from the way the metal is machined to the color of the jewels, each esthetic detail is considered during the design and construction processes. As we’ve already mentioned, the Swiss often still employ manual assembly for some movements, which can affect their price.  

The main characteristics of Swiss movements can be summed up as follows:

  • Very high precision
  • Often higher prices
  • More detailed finishing

So which should you choose?

For the most part, Swiss and Japanese manufacturers produce quality, reliable movements. In terms of industrial-type movements, you can see differences in precision between one model and the next. For example, after 3 days an ETA movement will be slow or fast by around 21 seconds, compared to around 60 seconds for a MIYOTA. But the main difference for this type of movement is in the quality of the finishing; in this aspect, Swiss movements are typically a cut above.

It’s quite difficult to compare Swiss and Japanese movements with the wide range of variables in design, production, assembly, finishing and style from piece to piece. Ultimately, it all depends on what you’re looking for: the renowned image of a Swiss movement, or the value for money of one from Japan. The precision and sturdiness of the movements are comparable, even if the ETA movement admittedly has a bit of an advantage in terms of finishing.

Here at CODE41, we’ve incorporated the following 2 movements into our collections:

  • The Japanese Miyota 82S7 movement for our ANOMALY-01 model
  • The Swiss ETA 2824-2 movement for our ANOMALY-02 model

The Miyota 82S7 was selected not only for its high value for money, but also for the specific availability of display features (hour, minute, second disk and 24hr disk) which don’t appear in standard Swiss mechanical movements.