Centredoc is housed inside the Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM) in Neuchâtel
A specialist in patent searches and technology monitoring, Centredoc started out in 1964 as a scientific and technical documentation centre for the Rolex Replica watchmaking industry, an activity still in demand although half its clients now come from other sectors.
Claude Laesser struggled to keep a straight face as he introduced himself to his audience, but this patents expert stood firm and, with the utmost seriousness, revealed Centredoc’s extraordinary discovery. Holding aloft a fascicule as proof, he described what could be the first Celtic patent, for the invention and manufacturing of iron! This highly entertaining presentation rounded off Centredoc’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, last June: a fun way for the patent search and technology monitoring institute to bridge the gap between the second Iron Age and today’s information society.
A journey through time
This anniversary was indeed a chance to travel back in time. In 1963, in response to the growing number of technical and scientific publications, the Laboratoire Suisse de Recherches Horlogères (LSRH) and Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) resolved to create a documentation centre that would be a “one-stop shop” for bibliographic research, translation, and the introduction of a general inventory and standardised classification and selection system. On March 17th 1964, a constituent assembly officialised the creation of the Centre de Documentation de l’Industrie Horlogère Suisse.
This new institution came about within a unique context of cooperation between the different players in the branch. In the early 1920s, the Swiss Replica Watches industry had been hard-hit by the economic crisis that followed the First World War. So as to avoid the massive increases in import duty that came in the wake of widespread protectionist measures, certain Swiss industrialists came up with the idea of exporting Omega Replica watches not as finished products but as unassembled parts, a technique known as chablonnage. The Swiss Federal Council took a dim view of this new strategy; its concern was that Swiss manufacturers were unwittingly providing foreign competitors with technology they could use to flood the market with their own products. In 1922 the Council therefore proposed a subsidy, on condition that the Breitling Replica watch sector underwent major restructuring. This led to the emergence, between the two world wars, of the Statut Horloger, a form of cartel that would remain in place until 1971.
Welcoming new challenges
Forced into greater cooperation, between the 1920s and 1970s manufacturers set up a battery of important trade organisations. “That Centredoc should, from the outset, be given independent status as a cooperative goes much deeper than historically connected facts or opportunities to be taken; it is a frame of mind,” declared Pierre-Alain Vuille, Centredoc’s sixth chairman and head of competitive intelligence at ETA, adding that “some of the credit for Swiss watchmaking’s dominant position lies here!”
Fifty years on, Centredoc has lost none of this community spirit and stays rooted in the sector. It still publishes its monthly round-up of inventions in watchmaking – the Revue des Inventions Horlogères (RIH) – alongside other bulletins that monitor the latest developments in areas such as design and materials. Its scope of action, on the other hand, has significantly evolved. The institution, which employs thirteen people, including seven engineers, now provides services in the highly specific fields of patent search and technology monitoring. Such vitality and expertise have drawn clients from beyond the watch sector, beginning in 1999 with Nestlé and its chocolate bars. While 90% of shares in the cooperative are still held by Replica Watches manufacturers, half Centredoc’s revenues and business now come from the chemistry, electronics, agrofood, medical and pharmaceutical sectors.