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The amazing spy story which changed the global watch industry

Oct 05, 2023

The amazing spy story which changed the global watch industry


In the fall of 1876, two Swiss spies conducted some of the most covert and consequential industrial espionage, changing the course of the global watch industry forever.

The Waltham stand at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia

During the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, Swiss emissaries of the “Intercantonal Society of Jura Industries”, Engineer Jacques David and Watchmaker Theo Gribi, witnessed the powerful Waltham Watch Company’sfrighteningly novel assembly line exhibit. This tehcnology allowed Waltham to produce affordable and high quality timepieces in large quantities. Something the Swiss were not able to do. They knew it spelled the end of their Swiss industry.

Jacques David (1845–1912)

A covert industrial espionage and infiltration operation was activated to gain intelligence on behalf of the Swiss watch industry.

Incredibly comprehensive and precise intelligence about the secrets of Waltham’s operations and America’s technology sector was captured by Jacques David — aided by a “mole” within Waltham Watch Company — in a 130-page report that would remain mostly secret until 1992.

Their espionage operation and their report would guide the subsequent revolution of the Swiss watch industry from artisanal art to industrial production.

This amazing story has now been brought to light by Author Aaron Stark in his book ‘Disrupting Time: Industrial combat, espionage, and the downfall of a great American company.’ Stark is also a co-author of the Harvard Business School case study “Stealing Time: America’s disruption of the Swiss watch industry.”

The best and most emotional way to learn about this incredible story is to listen to Aaron Stark speaking with Justin Black of the Spycraft 101 Podcast. Stark personally tells this incredible story about a pair of Swiss spies infiltrated the company in a last ditch effort to save their own nation’s failing industry and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.

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