Monday, July 3, 2017

HOW TO: Find the Manufacture Date of Victorinox Swiss Army Watches

Over the years, I have handled a boatload of Victorinox Swiss Army watches. I am an avid collector who buys, blogs about and resells this brand. The best way to get to know them is to own them for a while, and that is what I do. I was several years into collecting this Swiss Army when one of my readers showed me the date his watch was manufactured. This excited me because the method that I had used previously was more convoluted and probably less accurate.

The serial number shown here is from a Swiss Army watch from 2001.
Before I tell you how to look up your watch date, we should discuss the important dates associated with any Victorinox Swiss Army watch. Although you might be able to apply some of this information to other brands, they all have their own distinct nuances.
  • RELEASE DATE – This is the first year that a certain model was sold. 
  • MANUFACTURE DATE – This is the year that a particular watch specimen was physically produced, and it can be tied directly to the serial number. Because most watch companies create a new model and sell it for many years, the MANUFACTURE DATE and the RELEASE DATE do not have to be the same. They can be years apart.
  • FINAL DATE – This would be the last year that a model was made. Perhaps the model got phased out or replaced with a newer version of the watch. This date is almost never published, but it can be deduced by finding the first year the watch is NOT sold and subtracting 1 year.
PVD coated watches can have the serial numbers filled in with white paint.

Why are these different dates important? 

The small details are what makes watch collectors "tick". In high-end brands it can mean a significant difference in value based on desirability and rarity. In some cases it may be desirable to have the first year model of a watch. For a more accessible brand like Victorinox, it may be better to have a later year if improvements were made (though Victorinox seems very consistent within the lifespan of any given model). I think it is just a good practice to know what you are buying and how old it might be.

Before I knew this serial number trick, I spent many hours piecing together the release dates of the Victorinox Swiss Army watches in my collection. I used a few methods to make my best guess of a watch's age. Sometimes I still use these old school techniques to find out the RELEASE DATE of a watch model. Here are some suggestions on how to do this for almost any watch.

Victorinox Swiss Army watches after 2004 usually have a serial number and a model number on the case back.
  • No, I am not talking about praying to heaven for answers, but contacting the manufacturer. Many watch companies have decent customer service and should be able to answer the basic question of RELEASE DATE. They should be able to answer the MANUFACTURE DATE if you have the serial number. Some historic manufacturers, like Longines, have dedicated employees to answer obscure questions. I was very impressed with their professionalism when I asked them to help date my grandfather's watch. 
  • Some brands realize that a rich heritage of past models should be celebrated. Some manufacturers may have official online references for the watches that they have produced. Victorinox is sadly very much in the here-and-now. Once they stop selling a watch, it pretty much disappears from their web site. However, you should still ask them the basics about your Swiss Army watch model by contacting customer service. 
This serial number indicates that this watch was made in 2004 in February.
  • If you do not know what your watch is called, try using the Google image search and descriptive words like "Swiss Army red dial chronograph automatic". This could reveal the model number or name of the watch and you will be one step closer to getting the information you want. Once you have the model name or number you can proceed to the next step.
  • Google finds everything so get creative and search for watch reviews, press releases or "old news" about your watch. Use the product name and model number in combination with the brand name to get the most out of your search. 
  • The "good thing" about the web is that it is a treasure trove of information. It is possible to access watch reviews from several years ago and many of those reviews have a date in the byline or title. This way if a review reads "New watch model revealed at Basel World" and the article is dated from 2010, then there is your answer. 
  • The "bad thing" about the web is that its content is like shifting sand. The web sites of yesterday do not necessarily last forever. Probably thousands of aging web pages go off line everyday taking the valuable "old" information with them. Part of the reason for the Watch Hunter blog is to keep some of this disappearing information available for Victorinox Swiss Army watch lovers.
The serial number is the longer digit in the lower left. The model number is shown to the right.
  • There may be no better experts on Earth than the passionate collectors of any given brand. Joining a watch community like the WatchYouSeek Forum opens you to a large pool of collective knowledge and wisdom about practically any watch on Earth... and a few that have traveled off Earth like the Omega Speedmaster.
Some Swiss Army serial numbers that are not etched can difficult to read on older models.
  • I have meticulously collected many Swiss Army catalogs with the oldest one going back to 2005. Anything before that has been incredibly difficult to get my hands on. Catalogs have detailed information about the watches, and new releases are usually labeled "NEW MODEL".
Now that you know some ways to find the RELEASE DATE of your Victorinox Swiss Army watch, let's get more specific about putting a MANUFACTURE DATE to your particular serial number. This is simple... just look at the first 4 digits of your serial number and compare it to the chart below.
According to Victorinox Customer Service, this technique might not work for all of their watches because the ones pre-dating 2004 did not consistently have a year hidden in the serial number.  However, many of these watches that I own seem to corraborate the list of probable dates. This evidence is too much for me to ignore, so I feel confident making an educated guess using the first 2 digits for the MANUFACTURE YEAR. There is no guarantee so the chart below should only be used as guidance. It becomes less accurate before 2004 so you should always use common sense and a secondary method to confirm the MANUFACTURE DATE of a watch.

Victorinox Swiss Army Watch Serial Number Lookup
(Key: *Unconfirmed year. †possible repeating serial number prefix)
Unknown or N/A 1989*
00† 1990*
10† 1991*
20† 1992*
30 1993*
40 1994*
50 1995*
60 1996*
70 1997*
80 1998*
90 or 99 1999*
00† 2000*†
01 2001*
02 2002*
03 2003*
04 2004
05 2005
06 2006
07 2007
08 2008
09 2009
10† 2010†
11 2011
12 2012
13 2013
14 2014
15 2015
16 2016
17 2017
and so on... and so on...
I won't claim that my chart is completely foolproof. In fact, I own a watch that is likely from 1999 and the serial number begins with 99 even though the chart above suggests that number should really be 90. Perhaps, different watches have different serial number patterns.

Also, I found a strange repeat in the numbering-scheme were future decade dates match up with the numbers assigned to the 1990s years. For instance, The following years could potentially have the same starting serial numbers
  • 1990 & 2000 (both start with 00)
  • 1991 & 2010 (both start with 10)
  • 1992 & 2020 (both might start with 20)
I could not get a precise answer from Victorinox on this repeating pattern, and honestly this info is probably not available to the typical customer service rep. I am going to chalk it up as a mystery only to be solved if I had my hands on some manufacturing records, but even then that mightn't prove anything. Over time, I may be able to confirm more dates in the chart above as I collect more vintage Swiss Army watches... so please use it with common sense and the secondary dating methods I suggested. I hope that Swiss Army watch collectors find this information helpful as a guide to the age of their watch. Enjoy!

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