National Geographic : 1969 Jul
Gaily garbed quartet, in the traditional male costume of Appenzell, stage an im promptu concert of singing and yodeling as they cele brate theAlpabfahrt,the late summer descent of cattle and herders from high Alpine pastures to their farms thou sands of feet below. King-size cowbell, borne by a lead animal, announces the herd's return with its deep tolling. Embroidery and a decorative metal plate adorn the leather strap. One of the men smokes a Lindau erli, a topsy-turvy pipe with a trapdoor on the bowl to prevent spilling. created the world in six days and on the seventh-just for fun-he made Appenzell." I believe it! Appenzell is one of the last areas in Switzer land where most people still work the land. Despite their pastoral image, only one Swiss in ten is a full-time farmer. Even here, with winter a few snowflakes away, many families would be turning to seasonal work at small embroidery factories in town. Country Famed for Craftsmanship Skills built up in cottage industries and small factories formed the framework of Swiss industry. With scant coal, iron, and other metals, the Swiss learned early in the game to apply a maximum of ingenuity to a minimum of raw materials. Craftsmen began building clocks and watches in Geneva more than 400 years ago, and by the early 1700's the industry had spread throughout the Jura Mountains. De spite the trend toward mergers and mass pro duction, many of Switzerland's 515 watch assembling plants are small and scattered. Today they produce some 67,000,000 watches a year-almost half the world's total. I visited one of the newest factories, the Rolex headquarters in Geneva (page 102). When Rolex began selling wrist watches just after the turn of the century, few of its com petitors worried. After all, what man would give up his cherished pocket watch for a "bracelet"? But history proved Rolex was right. Later it introduced the first waterproof wrist watch and the first practical rotor self-winder. "Accuracy, not quantity, has always been our first concern," said Rene Jeanneret, a director of the firm. "Less than 1 percent of all Swiss watches come from our factory, yet we make nearly 40 percent of the chronom eters-the fussy breed of timepieces built to observatory standards. To maintain consist ently high standards, we still do a lot of our most exacting work by hand." Upstairs I peeked into one of the hospital like work rooms. The sign on the door read Pieces Compliquees. Department head Roger Fallet was using complex electronic equip ment to check a new wrist stopwatch. "It takes a great deal of patient work to assemble the 300 parts of this watch-and many days to regulate the movement," Mon sieur Fallet explained. "We're constantly working to the limit of the materials-to the nearest 1/25,000 of an inch." Even on assembly lines there is no com promise with precision. At the Omega factory in Bienne I was fascinated by a room that held 200 automatic lathes. I watched one for several minutes. It whirred and clicked and pumped oil-but nothing happened. "You must look closely," explained Henri Ziircher, one of the expert machinists. He reached a finger into the oil stream, caught an almost invisible speck, and set it under an inspection microscope for me.