At the beginning of September 2018, Swarovski Optik invited us on a special 3-day Factory tour with an educational background concerning their latest products and technologies. Since this was the 4th visit of mine at Swarovski factory I did not go alone, but Matjaž (head of customer consultants’ team at Optics Trade) joined the trip. It is always a pleasure and privilege to visit Swarovski Optik and Tyrol itself since it is an extraordinary place, so we were really looking forward to visiting the Factory. Swarovski set us up at a nice traditional hotel overlooking the Inn valley where the optics factory is located. Looking at the beautiful surrounding mountain scenery and rich wildlife, it was not hard to fathom what keeps people at Swarovski going.
Swarovski Optik is currently the absolute leader in the market of premium sports optics and their current leading position has been secured by decades of constant innovation and seeking of perfection. The company was founded in 1949 and is a part of a much bigger Swarovski Group. The Group contains three main divisions:
- Swarovski Crystals, the biggest part and globally famous by its Crystal jewelry production
- Tyrolit, the business division responsible for the production of grinding and abrasive materials
- Swarovski Optik, responsible for sports optics production
The Factory of sports optics is located in the City of Absam, which is practically on the outskirts of the Tyrol capital Innsbruck. Currently, they employ around 950 people and have yearly revenue of around 150 million EUR. The factory itself is worth a closer look, due to its architectural style and the way it is nestled in front of a beautiful surrounding mountainous background. The views from the offices of Swarovski employees are nothing short of stunning and it would be extremely difficult to rival their main conference room. Factory facilities also include a cafeteria, a product showroom and even a kindergarten for children of the employees. They are also very proud of the fact that most of the Swarovski employees have been working their entire lives in this Company and rarely fluctuate to other Companies.
Swarovski Optik philosophy is that they produce their products locally in their factory and outsource as little as possible. Due to this approach, all their products are of the highest quality and in the premium price segment. This is a stark difference if compared to most of their competitors, which have their products scattered in all prices ranges, going from premium European products all the way to Chinese OEM products that just carry a premium European logo. There is even an urban myth that when new products are discussed, Carina Swarovski always keeps in mind that her Family name will be put on these products and thus the products should make them proud.
Optics trade has been selling Swarovski Optik products almost since its beginning. We have been cooperating since 2012, to be exact. When we started our business, it was generally acknowledged that becoming an Authorized Swarovski Optik dealer is one of the more important steps on the road to success. This has not changed since then, and it is still a pleasure to work with them. We have had the chance to witness some great events during our cooperation. The most notable were the presentation of the EL Range series at the end of 2011, followed by a launch of the Z8 premium rifle scopes, and the extraordinary dS in 2018. Many more innovations have been presented in the last 7 years, but it is hard to top the excitement felt at encountering the mentioned new products. It was great time when we first used Z8 scopes at Ulm shooting center in Germany and tried to foresee their impact on the market, or when we had the first training of how to use the dS at a shooting range with the Alps as a background. At that time, memories of all the previous talks between the Swarovski development team, Thomas Haugland and myself about long range hunting came to life. Let’s just hope that the upcoming years will be equally exciting for our cooperation and, above all, equally fun.
Swarovski Optik factory tour
Our tour started in the countryside above the factory where we visited a national park with a knowledgeable guide who showed us unique wildlife and vegetation of the park. At the same time, we were well equipped with Swarovski Optik products and were able to adequately test most of their models of binoculars and their latest spotting scopes. To start a day in the open on a walk and with a chance to get to know and test the equipment in the field, was a brilliant idea.
We continued at the product showroom at the Factory premises where we talked about how their product range has been developing, ever since the development of the first series of EL binoculars. What a great impact their Z6i riflescopes had on a market and the Company itself. They were a game changer and, rarely, one single series of products changes an industry as much as the Z6i rifle scopes have. They were the first in the era of super-zooms that which is still nowhere near its end. We also touched the new dS, discussing its impact on the future of the company, since digitalization of products has finally arrived. A very interesting topic was also the clear separation of products and customer groups into 3 categories: hunting, birding and travel/leisure. Such a clear and distinct focus is necessary for the future of this industry. Since the mountains surrounding the factory are so close, we also grabbed the opportunity to test ATX interior spotting scopes and the whole line-up of the new tripods and tripod heads.
The next stop was their apprenticeship program where high school pupils start to gain their knowledge of optics and mechanics. As a youngster, you can enroll in either optics or mechanics program (they are both strictly separated) and start to gain knowledge of the field. For those best in the program, transition from school program to normal work at Swarovski Optik is natural and smooth. Many of them also stay employed at Swarovski Optik for their entire life, since high school and until their retirement. This is also one of the foundations of the spirit that Swarovski Optik employees share. It is called “Swarovskigeist”.
From the “in-Company high school,” we continued our tour through their R&D department. All research and development are done at the premises. Glass processing department where all the grinding and polishing takes place was our next stop. The raw glass material is brought to the company and then all lenses, prisms, and other glass elements are produced in house. All surfaces of these glass elements are later additionally processed with all external coatings developed by Swarovski. These technologies carry different names like SWAROtop, SWAROdur and similar. Every surface gets a different and unique coating. This combination aids in achieving the premium optical performance which makes Swarovski Optik products so valued. A big part of the factory is dedicated to the production of the mechanical parts of their products and assembly lines. Almost all assembly work is still done by hand and the skill of craftsmanship is still extremely important. In the last step, there is always quality control and testing of the product before it leaves the factory. This is the best way to ensure high quality with a little sample to sample variation.
What was really interesting for me as an outside viewer was the pace and the stress levels in the work processes at different production stages. There was not any to be seen. Everybody at the factory worked at a seemingly enjoyable pace and without any noticeable stress. When I confronted our guides with my observation, I got a very interesting reply. They ensured me that if production is not rushed, fewer mistakes happen, and the total result is better. I admire this stance, especially in the light that the waiting time for the dS scope is more than 1 year.
Due to the almost extreme rise of the sales of Swarovski Optik products, expansion is necessary and thus they are already building a new production facility on the site. The total investment is more than 20 million EUR and it will provide for many new jobs at Swarovski Optik.
As part of the whole Swarovski experience, we also visited famous sites in Innsbruck to get the feeling of Tyrol. The oldest church bell factory in the world, the famous Golden Roof, Bergisel ski jump, Hofburg, cathedrals, and museums, etc. are worth seeing.
Working with Swarovski Optik is a joy because of multiple reasons. Their products are among the finest in this industry and every new technology they unveil is more exciting than the previous one. And then is it the way they treat their partners, us in this case. We are genuinely grateful to be a part of this story and hope on many years of cooperation to follow.