The Re-Emergence of an Institutional Field: Swiss Watchmaking

by Ryan Raffaelli
 
 

Overview — Focusing on Swiss watchmaking from 1970 to 2008, this study demonstrates key factors that contribute to, and influence, the re-emergence of market demand for a legacy technology in a mature institutional field. This paper shows how processes of preservation and transformation serve as necessary counterweights that encourage retaining some valued elements of the old institutional order alongside new elements that allow for change and survival.

Author Abstract

In this qualitative study of the Swiss watch industry from 1970 to 2008, I examine the factors that influence the re-emergence of market demand for a legacy technology in a mature institutional field. Drawing on 141 interviews with individuals (including senior executives, watchmakers, retailers, analysts, collectors, and historians), I offer analysis to illustrate that re-emergence is both a viable theoretical and empirical phenomenon. I present various institutionalization processes, inflection points, and focal constructs associated with a field's emergence, decline, and eventual re-emergence. This paper also exposes an unlikely relationship between institutional entrepreneurs and the institutional guardians, who each serve as a counterbalance to the other: entrepreneurs introduce innovations that ultimately drive field-level changes necessary for survival, while at the same time institutional guardians ensure that companies preserve key norms and values associated with mechanical watchmaking.

Paper Information