More than 125 years after its promulgation by the Grand Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the Poinçon de Genève remains the oldest watchmaking certificate in the world, issued by a neutral and independent organisation operating under State control. Since it was updated in 2011, it is also the only official certification that guarantees a watch’s quality of craftsmanship, chronometric precision and principal functions by checking each timepiece individually.
At the end of the 16th century, Geneva acquired a reputation of excellence in international watchmaking. Its name alone had a magical effect, and was soon being exploited by unscrupulous manufacturers. To combat such abuse and counterfeiting, the Grand Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva officially introduced the Poinçon de Genève on 6 November 1886.
Generally stamped on one of the watch components such as the bridge or baseplate, the Poinçon de Genève was exclusively reserved for mechanical watches that had been assembled, adjusted, cased up and checked in the Canton. More than a seal of approval, it embodied the spirit of the “cabinotiers”: the independent watchmakers based in the Saint-Gervais district who formed the dedicated aristocracy of the working class and who elevated watchmaking to an art form.
The Poinçon de Genève is currently the only watchmaking label to benefit from State guarantee. Today, this responsibility is fulfilled by TIMELAB, the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Microengineering. The inspection criteria are drawn up by a Technical Commission made up of seven experts appointed for their knowledge and expertise in fine watchmaking.
Their purpose, according to Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, founder and director of the company Agenhor and member of the Commission, “is not so much to define standards as to ensure the great tradition of Swiss watchmaking is preserved and respected. The Poinçon de Genève offers the assurance that a watch has been designed and manufactured according to the rules.”
In 2011, to mark the Poinçon’s 125th anniversary, the Technical Commission announced it was updating the rules to take into account technical progress and recent developments in the watchmaking industry. To complement the rigorous criteria of craftsmanship set out in 1886, it added tests on the finished watch: functions, water resistance, power reserve and accuracy.
The Poinçon de Genève now covers the aesthetic, technical and functional aspects of the watch and is the only watchmaking certificate that guarantees the quality of decoration and the proper functioning of the watch, which is fully tested and checked individually in simulated on-wrist conditions.
The incredibly strict criteria of the Poinçon de Genève mean that certification is the prerogative of fine watches made by “manufactures” and independent watchmakers based in Geneva. The brands that comply with the certification standards undertake to respect its philosophy, right down to the design and development of their timepieces. In return, the Poinçon and accompanying certificate provide their clients with objective, irrefutable and internationally recognised proof of the quality of their craftsmanship and the correct functioning of their timepieces.
Since 1886, every watch stamped with the Poinçon de Genève has been delivered with a certificate of origin. Since September 2013 it has also included a unique authentication key and QR code. These enable the purchaser to check the authenticity of the document and the watch’s certification before buying it by consulting a database available on the website. Produced using an innovative procedure that combines holographic and hot stamping techniques, the certificate is almost impossible to forge.
The official Poinçon de Genève website will be launched on 6 November 2013, the anniversary of the passing of the law of 1886. It features a history section that traces the evolution of the Poinçon from the time of the “Fabrique” (late 16th century).
A technical section explains the approval criteria and, to ensure full transparency, details the different stages and working methods of the individual functional tests and the people who carry them out. In addition, there is an international database that covers all watches that have received the Poinçon since September 2013. A major effort is currently underway to create an archive of all watches approved since 1886 – more than a million timepieces.
Brands that currently submit their timepieces for the Poinçon are Cartier, Chopard, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin. To date, more than one million watches around the world have been stamped with the Poinçon de Genève. In 2012, the number of submissions increased by 30%.
TIMELAB is the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Microengineering. It was set up as a Swiss private-law foundation by a law voted in by the Grand Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva in December 2008 (Law I 1 25). The State of Geneva has delegated to TIMELAB, via its approved personnel, the role of ensuring that the philosophy of the Poinçon de Genève is respected, along with its certification criteria.