Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

Mechanisms of Technology Re-Emergence and Identity Change in a Mature Field: Swiss Watchmaking, 1970–2008

by Ryan Raffaelli

Abstract

I examine the processes and mechanisms whereby market demand for a "dying" technology re-emerges at a later date. In 1983, fourteen years after the introduction of the first quartz watch, mechanical watches, along with the Swiss Jura community of watchmakers who built them, were thought to be "dead" (Landes, 1983). Unexpectedly, however, by 2008 the Swiss mechanical watchmaking industry had re-emerged as the world's leading exporter (in monetary value) of watches. Using qualitative and quantitative analysis, which I apply to a wealth of data, I show how changes in product, organizational, and community identities associated with a legacy technology can be reconstituted to reconfigure a field. My findings highlight that three mechanisms — identity claims, leadership, and framing (i.e., temporal, linguistic, value) — are core to explaining field re-emergence. Although new or discontinuous technologies tend to displace older ones, legacy technologies that are seemingly "dead" can re-emerge, thrive, and even co-exist with newer technologies. Building on these results, I draw out theoretical and empirical implications that focus on the interface between technological shifts and identity change at multiple levels.

Keywords: identity; re-emergence; technology change; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Technology; Demand and Consumers; Identity; Change; Consumer Products Industry; Switzerland;

Citation:

Raffaelli, Ryan. "Mechanisms of Technology Re-Emergence and Identity Change in a Mature Field: Swiss Watchmaking, 1970–2008." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-048, December 2013.