he creation of the Battenberg Foundation in 1962 was prompted by two basic needs. Andreas Nauer, recently appointed CEO of the Foundation, explains: “Firstly, there was a need to fulfil the potential of persons with disabilities and to reintegrate them into the workforce. And secondly, there was a lack of skilled craftsmen at the time in the booming watchmaking sector. Several industry executives therefore came together to set up the foundation.”
In 1965, they invested in the construction of the foundation’s first building in Biel/Bienne. The Foundation still occupies these premises. Following the quartz crisis in the 1970s, it decided to extend its operations into other areas, such as the electronics, mechanical engineering and even business sectors. It continued to focus, however, on assisting the recipients of invalidity insurance benefits (IV/AI). “The main objective was always, and still is, the professional integration of people experiencing serious difficulties in the prime labour market”, the new CEO emphasizes.
- Andreas Nauer, newly appointed CEO of the Battenberg Foundation
Ties with the watchmaking industry remain strong. Jean-Daniel Pasche, historic president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), has also presided over the Battenberg Foundation until this year.
But how has the Foundation been financed following the initial input of watch industry executives in the 1960s? “We had no municipal, canton or state subsidies in our budget. We had only three sources of funding to cover our operation and growth. Firstly, the disability and unemployment insurance providers who approach us. Secondly, the proceeds from the sale of our products and services to companies or private individuals. Lastly, a small amount of funding from private donations, mainly in kind, such as the 106 tonnes of fabric collected in 2022”, Andreas Nauer adds.
This method of operation has enabled the foundation, now numbering around 250 employees, to diversify into other business sectors and make the digital transition required to cater to Swiss labour market needs.
Swiss businesses therefore approach the Foundation when they have specific needs. But what are their motivations? Cost? Lack of a skilled workforce? Stefan Kuonen, head of the Foundation’s “Watchmaking, Industry and Craftsmanship” division and board member, replies: “It’s more often the case that we approach companies to show them the potential of the people we train and the quality of our training courses. They can then see the dual benefits we offer: high-quality, productive services, such as casing, mounting and assembly (T1, T2 or T3), or packaging, for example, and the reintegration into the workforce for individuals in need to ensure social inclusion.”
- Stefan Kuonen, head of the Foundation’s “Watchmaking, Industry and Craftsmanship” division
Watchmaking still accounts for an important share of the Foundation’s clients, “around 15 to 20%”, Andreas Nauer concedes. But all their partners share the same motivation, that is, integration into the workforce for a social group that is often overlooked.
Are lower costs ever part of the equation? Stefan Kuonen replies: “We don’t aim to compete with recruiting agents or other actors in the economy. Our costs are perfectly in line with the market. We can make a difference, however, when it comes to deadlines, especially for simple tasks, such as packaging, changing batteries or strap adjustment”.
- The Foundation was launched in Biel/Bienne in 1962 on the initiative of local watch business executives with the aim of integrating persons with disabilities into the labour market.
And as Stefan Kuonen adds: “The Foundation can be a valuable partner for small watch businesses. It can carry out different tasks for the industry, such as folding cardboard boxes for watches. Our Media Design department can even help in showcasing products, for example, by designing websites and providing photos or print articles. All these centralized type services can be very useful for small businesses.”
The Foundation also provides repair (after-sales) services for bigger watch brands. It is certified by a dozen or so such brands (Balmain, Certina, Groupe Festina, Hamilton, Longines, Mido, Nomos Glashütte, Omega, Rado, TAG Heuer, Tissot, Vogard) to carry out repairs using original components supplied by the brands themselves. All of which goes to show that the Foundation maintains a relevant business offering.
- The Foundation’s watchmaking division in Biel/Bienne
The 2025 strategy, begun in 2019, continues in the same vein.
Andreas Nauer confides: “We’re still mainly concerned with integrating individuals into the prime labour market. We have a recruitment team to be able to cater closely to industry and HR agency needs. We’re also keen to provide innovative training. The competition is huge. IV/AI has a huge choice at its disposal. Our greatest assets are our close ties with the industries, our full bilingualism and our efficient management.”
- Revenues generated from sales of the Nixie NX.2 clock, pictured above, are reinvested in the Foundation.
Stefan Kuonen confirms: “Before, we had four separate workshops devoted to watchmaking for the apprenticeship year. In 2018, following the merger with AK15, another recognized social institution, we gained some space. We opted for an open space workshop because it’s an accurate reflection of today’s employment world. We also adapt our methods to be better geared to actual working conditions in companies. And, for the first time, we’re launching a new course open to everyone called the “Watchmaking Adventure”. Participants get to work on their own watch with the support of an instructor and the help of an apprentice and have a tailor-made Swiss Made watch to take away with them at the end of the course.” This innovative offer forms part of a more transparent communication approach within the continuing context of an inclusive social responsibility strategy.
On the issue of ESG policy (Environmental, Social and Governance), does the Foundation provide specific environmental training? The newly appointed CEO confirms that this is also the plan for the future: “Clearly, every business should be more heavily committed to such initiatives. We have a very strong social plan with a focus on inclusion, which helps to increase diversity among companies. But we hope to develop other aspects, such as eco-design.” The Battenberg Foundation thus maintains its course on integration, whilst catering closely to labour market concerns and business needs. Just like 60 years ago.