How Switzerland Lost Out To Japan In Watch Chips
Jean Hoerni, one of the ‘treacherous eight’ who left Shockley Semiconductor to co-found Fairchild Semiconductor, was Swiss. At Fairchild, Hoerni invented the planar transistor which was the key to Bob Noyce’s invention of the integrated circuit. Hoerni left Fairchild to found successively Amelco, Union Carbide and Intersil. When he founded Intersil he tapped a couple of Swiss watch companies, Omega and Portescap, for venture capital.
So when Hoerni he came up with the idea of using MOS ICs in watches in 1969, it was natural for him to suggest to his Swiss backers that they give him a $75,000 development contract to come up with suitable chips.
But his backers had gone to a technological consultancy which had advised them that Hoerni’s proposal was technically impractical. His backers turned him down.
Hoerni then flew directly from Switzerland to Japan where he met Shoji Hattori, Chairman of Seiko, and inked the deal.
Ten years later, most of Japan’s watch output was chip-based rather than mechanical, and the Swiss watch industry very nearly went to the wall.