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The Hallmark of Geneva, historical origins and modern developments

Since the beginning of the 19th Century Geneva established itself as the world capital of watchmaking.

The founding of the Ecole d’Horlogerie (Watchmaking School) in 1823 contributed to strengthen Geneva’s worldwide reputation for excellence in the industry.

Geneva watchmakers like Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe had a key role in the development of mechanised production systems - just think of the pantograph invented in 1839 by Vacheron Constantin’s watchmaker Georges-Auguste Leschot for the production of perfectly identical copies of components - which made it possible to increase production and further expand sales.

Most cabinotiers - watchmakers but also jewelers, engravers, guillochers, stonecutters and enamelers with a solid reputation for quality of work, attention to detail and precision - did not trust in mechanization and mass production so watchmaking firms had to find a delicate balance between industrialization and craftsmanship.

The suburb of Saint-Gervais in Geneva. From the 17th to the 19th century, it was the district of the cabinotiers.


Les Cabinotiers au XVIIIe siècle, Christophe François von Ziegler (1879). The cabinotiers took their name from the “cabinet”, a small workshop on the top floor of a house where there was the most natural light.


With yearly production approaching a million pieces, Geneva watch exports represented more than a third of total Swiss exports in value at the end of the 19th century.

Nonetheless, the advent of industrialization in watchmaking posed a potential threat for the leadership of Geneva. The increasing competition from other Swiss regions as well as from foreign countries suggested Geneva watchmakers to raise the bar of quality of their products making them sought-after objects for their perfection, precision and beauty, something that the simple adoption of the new manufacturing processes could not easily reproduce.

Geneva watchmakers started to engrave the name of their city onto their watch movements as a sign of superior quality and excellence.

But, unfortunately, this protection was not particularly effective. In fact, several watch manufacturers not based in Geneva kept using the name of the city in a fraudulent manner. They even advertised their watches on newspapers as "made in Geneva" although they were not. Even worst, they engraved the Geneva name even on low quality timepieces causing a serious risk to damage Geneva’s reputation.

To fight this situation, in 1873 a group of watchmakers established the Union des Horlogers, which, five years later, took the form of a structured association with the name Société des Horlogers de Genève (Geneva Society of Watchmakers), basically a trade group committed to protect its know-how.

Watchmakers wished that the name of Geneva could constitute proof of authenticity and that customers could obtain a guarantee backed by law.

Their lobbying action was successful and, on 6 November 1886, the parliament of the Republic and Canton of Geneva passed a law (Law I 1.25 on the Voluntary Inspection of Watches in the Canton of Geneva) which set out strict conditions for the Geneva-made watch and established the certification label Poinçon de Genève (Hallmark of Geneva).

Law I 1.25 on the Voluntary Inspection of Watches in the Canton of Geneva - Courtesy of Timelab (timelab.ch)


An Inspection Office was created with the responsibility to inscribe the official Hallmark of Geneva on candidate watches presented only by watchmakers living in the Canton of Geneva.


The mark was punched on the most visible part of the movement (the plate or bridge). The office would also deliver or legalise certificates of origin.

As for the certificate, it had to contain "the identification of the watch movement, its serial number, the inspection stamp and an attestation of responsibility signed by the manufacturer in case of faulty construction”.

The hallmark was stamped on those watches that, upon examination, possessed “all the qualities of good manufacture guaranteeing regular and long-lasting operation”. To ensure faultless monitoring, the inspection office was placed under the direction of a commission composed of a State Councillor, who was its president, and twelve members, six of whom were named by the State Council and six by the Grand Conseil.

These twelve members were elected every two years. The commission was in charge of determining the quality levels of the different technical parts of the watch, as well as the minimum number of components required to be made by workers residing in the canton of Geneva.

The first hallmarked piece dates to 30 November 1887 and was manufactured by C. Dégallier, a watchmaker based in Rue de la Coratterie which was active between 1870 and 1926.

The Inspection Office also has the responsibility to "do all necessary publicity, whether in Switzerland or abroad, for bringing attention to the institution of a watch inspection office in Geneva."

 Hallmark of Geneva advertising card, 1887 - Courtesy of Études caribéennes (etudescaribeennes.revues.org)


Hallmark of Geneva advertising card, 1910 - Courtesy of Études caribéennes (etudescaribeennes.revues.org)

Anyone who imitated, counterfeited or falsified seals or certificates would be punished by the applicable sentences as spelled out in the penal code.

This law was revised in 1891, 1931 and 1955 to adapt to contemporary developments.

A pocket watch produced at the beginning of the 20th century stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva


Vacheron Constantin Calibre 1400 - 2002


A major change happened in 2012, when it was decided to apply the certification not merely to the movement, but to the entire watch taking into account also the exterior appearance.

The manufacture of components and checks on all operations leading to the completion of the watch became subject to more systematic and stringent controls, with a particular focus on whether the assembly, adjustment and casing are completed in Geneva. Inspection of the finished watch also constitutes an integral part of the requirements for the Geneva label. Checks are now also performed to the water resistance, precision, functions and power reserve of each timepiece.

The Hallmark of Geneva office is today managed by Timelab, the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Microengineering. The assessment is conducted by officially appointed sworn inspectors supported by at least one audit of the participating companies a month.

The award of the certification is governed by three main conditions:

1. The candidate company has to be registered in the Canton of Geneva. It must also have carried out the assembly, adjustment and casing-up of the movement and any additional mechanical modules as well as the inspection of the cased-up watch.

2. The movement, additional modules and the exterior parts of the watch have to be approved by the technical committee of the Hallmark of Geneva, made up of seven sworn members. Its components are then regularly inspected at the company by the auditors of the Hallmark of Geneva office.

3. All the cased-up watches (without strap or bracelet) have to comply with the criteria of the Hallmark of Geneva. The inspections cover the water-resistance, the rate, the functions and the power-reserve of the watch. Satisfying these criteria demand about 40% more work compared to a movement that does not bear the seal.


Watches that qualify for the Hallmark of Geneva bear the official seal on the movement and on the case. If possible the hallmark must be engraved on the component that bears the serial number. If the movement has an additional mechanism, the hallmark can be stamped on the plate of the mechanism and/or on one of the bridges.


By bearing this seal, manufacturers provides their customer with a guarantee of Provenance, Precision, Durability, and Know-How.

Each Hallmark of Geneva timepiece is accompanied by an individually numbered certificate of origin certifying that it has passed all the criteria of the Hallmark of Geneva. This certificate includes the name of the applicant, the reference number of the watch and of the movement, the serial numbers of the case and movement as well as a reproduction of the Hallmark of Geneva.


So far, nearly 1,300,000 timepieces have received the distinction of the Hallmark of Geneva, a label that since its introduction, has helped protecting and preserving the expertise and crafts that make the world of fine watchmaking so special.

Vacheron Constantin is, without a doubt, the most faithful representative of the Hallmark of Geneva having embraced this highly demanding certification process since 1901.



The brand, established in Geneva in 1755, is also the manufacturer which produces the largest number of timepieces stamped with the exclusive seal.

You can find a description with pictures of the various Hallmark of Geneva criteria on the web site of Vacheron Constantin.



Suggested reading:  A visit to Vacheron Constantin activity sites

Additional info at the Poinçon de Genève official web site.

Name

A. Lange & Sohne,72,AkriviA,8,alarm,7,Alpina,8,Andersmann,2,Andreas Strehler,5,Angelus,4,annual calendar,29,Anonimo,7,Antiquorum,2,Antoine Martin,2,Antoine Preziuso,1,Apple,1,Apple Watch,1,Aquadive,1,Armin Strom,34,Arnold and Son,20,Astarwatch,1,Ateliers deMonaco,2,Auctions,53,Audemars Piguet,40,Autodromo,1,Bamford,1,Baselworld,4,BaselWorld 2013,50,BaselWorld 2014,53,Baselworld 2015,69,Baselworld 2016,27,Baselworld 2017,64,Baselworld 2018,75,Baselworld 2019,41,Baume,1,Baume et Mercier,19,Bell & Ross,21,Bernard Lederer Universe,1,Blancpain,40,BLU,1,blue dial,3,Bonhams,2,Bovet,8,Brands histories,1,Breguet,58,Breitling,40,Bremont,1,Bremont Watch Company,4,Breva,2,bronze,10,Bücherei,1,Bulgari,44,Burberry,1,C3H5N3O9,1,carillon,1,Carl F. Bucherer,2,Carl Suchy,1,Carrera,4,Cartier,39,ceramic,5,Certina,2,Chanel,1,Chaumet,3,chiming hour,4,Chopard,23,Christie's,4,Christophe Claret,5,Christopher Ward,5,chronograph,340,chronometer,27,Chronoswiss,3,Citizen,3,co-axial,1,column-wheel,7,complete calendar,6,complications,59,concept watch,5,Concord,1,constant-force,28,Corum,13,CSEM,1,Cyrus,5,Czapek,3,Davosa,1,Daytona,3,De Bethune,15,de Grisogono,3,dead seconds,16,detent escapement,2,DeWitt,9,diving,2,diving watches,161,double regulator,2,Doxa,3,drei,1,dress watches,269,dual time,74,Eberhard,17,Edox,1,El Primero,19,Emile Chouriet,1,Emmanuel Bouchet,1,enamel dial,7,enamelling,14,Equation of time,5,Eterna,17,exhibitions,1,F.P.Journe,25,Faberge,2,Favre-Leuba,1,feature article,20,features,55,Ferdinand Berthoud,3,flyback,31,Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie,1,Fortis,4,Franck Muller,6,Frederique Constant,9,Gallet,1,Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix,8,Georg Jensen,1,George Daniels,3,Gerald Genta,2,Girard-Perregaux,38,Glashuette,16,Glashuette Original,21,Glashütte,30,Glashütte Original,50,Glycine,2,GMT,62,GoS,1,GoS Watches,1,GPHG,6,Graham,5,Grand Feu,3,Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve,10,Grand Seiko,12,Grande Complication,18,Grande Sonnerie,5,Greubel Forsey,21,Gronefeld,7,Grönefeld,7,Grossmann,3,guilloché,2,H. Moser and Cie,23,Habring,7,Habring2,8,Hajime Asaoka,1,Hallmark of Geneva,2,Hamilton,17,hands-on,18,Harry Winston,9,Hautlence,5,Hermes,14,high jewellery,1,Hublot,11,Hybris Artistica,1,Hydro Mechanical Horologists,7,HYT Watches,12,Icon,1,In pictures,4,independent watchmaker,7,industry news,118,IWC,85,Jaeger-LeCoultre,82,Jaquet Droz,29,JeanRichard,3,jumping hours,26,Junghans,7,Kaj Korpela,1,Kari Voutilainen,5,Korpela,1,Krayon,1,Kudoke,1,Ladies watches,95,Lang & Heyne,2,Lange,18,large date,1,Laurent Ferrier,16,Le Garde Temps,1,Leica,1,Lemania,1,Leroy,3,Linde Werdelin,1,Longines,37,Louis Erard,1,Louis Moinet,5,luxury steel watch,1,LVMH,3,Maîtres du Temps,1,Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps,3,Manufacture Royale,3,marine chronometer,1,Maurice de Mauriac,1,Maurice Lacroix,5,MB&F,27,MCT,1,MeisterSinger,34,meteorite,1,metiers d'art,1,Mido,7,military watches,10,Minerva,1,Ming,1,Minute Repeater,37,Montblanc,46,moon phases,76,Moritz Grossmann,24,Moser,22,Muhle,4,Mühle-Glashütte,3,mystery watches,2,Nautilus,4,New Britain Corp,1,new watches,1872,Nomos,27,Ochs und Junior,4,Officine Panerai,60,Omega,78,Only Watch,2,Only Watch 2015,4,Only Watch 2017,2,Oris,28,Panerai,36,Parmigiani,4,Parmigiani Fleurier,20,Pascal Coyon,1,Patek,15,Patek Philippe,73,perpetual calendar,81,Perrelet,4,Phenomen,1,Philippe Dufour,1,Phillips,4,Piaget,20,Pierre DeRoche,1,pilot watch,64,Pita,1,planetarium,1,platinum,2,pocket watch,3,pocket watches,2,Poincon de Geneve,2,Porsche Design,13,Pre-SIHH 2016: Cartier - Clé de Cartier Automatic Skeleton,1,pulsometer,4,quartz,3,Rado,8,Ralf Tech,2,Ralph Lauren,2,rattrapante,14,Raul Pages,1,Raymond Weil,1,rectangular watches,7,reddot award,1,regulator,15,remontoire,3,Reservoir,1,resonance,7,Ressence,6,retrograde,4,Revelation,1,Reverso,16,review,17,Richard Mille,55,Richemont,3,Richmond,1,Roger Dubuis,11,Roger Smith,1,Roger W. Smith,1,Rolex,38,Romain Gauthier,8,Romain Jerome,1,Royal Oak,17,Rudis Sylva,1,Seiko,21,SevenFriday,2,SIHH,1,SIHH 2012,4,SIHH 2013,25,SIHH 2014,36,SIHH 2015,43,SIHH 2016,44,SIHH 2017,40,SIHH 2018,43,SIHH 2019,52,Singer,2,Singer Reimagined,3,single hand,7,single-hand watches,8,Sinn,12,skeleton,13,smartwatch,6,solar energy,1,Sotheby's,5,Speake-Marin,4,Speedmaster,15,split seconds,7,sport watches,435,Spring Drive,2,squelette,34,steampunk,1,Steinhart,1,striking time,10,SuisseMecanica,1,Swatch,3,Swatch Group,9,table clocks,2,Tag Heuer,73,terra Cielo Mare,1,Tiffany,15,Tissot,2,top news,87,Torsti Laine,1,tourbillon,226,Trilobe,1,Tudor,16,Tutima,1,ultra thin,24,Ulysse Nardin,31,Union Glashutte,1,Urban Jurgensen,23,Urwerk,14,Vacheron Constantin,67,Van Cleef & Arpels,7,Vauchier Fleurier,1,Vianney Halter,3,vintage watches,1,Vulcain,9,wandering hours,1,Watches & Wonders,14,Watches&Wonders,1,worldtime,30,Zenith,57,Zodiac,3,
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Time and Watches: The Hallmark of Geneva, historical origins and modern developments
The Hallmark of Geneva, historical origins and modern developments
The Hallmark of Geneva, origins and development. History of the Hallmark of Geneva. The Geneva seal. On 6 November 1886, the parliament of the Republic and Canton of Geneva passed a law (Law I 1.25 on the Voluntary Inspection of Watches in the Canton of Geneva) setting out strict conditions for the Geneva-made watch and establishing the certification label Poinçon de Genève (Hallmark of Geneva). Poincon de Geneve. Hallmark of Geneva. In addition to the long-standing name of Vacheron Constantin, the most faithful representative of the Hallmark of Geneva since 1901, over the years other firms like Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Chopard, Roger Dubuis and others adopted the Hallmark of Geneva certification process for their most prestigious timepieces.
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