Usage of the Swiss flag on advertisement
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The Swiss 'Armoiries' (© Pascal Gross 1997-2000)

Switzerland is embroiled in controversy over the commercial use of the flag, and confusion over its legal use. It is legal to use the Swiss flag for decoration and publicity, but its use is also regulated by the Society for the Promotion of Swiss Products and Services, better known as "Swiss Label". A 1931 law, which many now consider a useless relic, prohibits the use of the federal cross on any product not so licensed by the Society. To qualify a product must be more than 50% manufactured in Switzerland. Many products, like most Swiss chocolate, no longer qualify and yet continue to illegally use the federal cross. The Society sees this as deception in advertising, since foreign consumers have come to trust products that are Swiss-made. A recent poll shows that most Swiss are aware of the law, but the law is widely flaunted with impunity.

The only genuine Swiss Army Knives are Victorinox and Wenger, but there are many fakes bearing the Swiss cross. The Swiss Army was originally issued with German knives from the famous blade maker Solingen. Victorinox started making knives in Switzerland in 1891. These were issued to soldiers, but officers bought their own lighter, more elegant models. Victorinox made its first Offiziersmesser (officers' knife) in 1897, and in 1945-49 massive deliveries were made to the US armed services. Americans couldn't pronounce the word, so they became simply known as "Swiss Army knives", and that was the origin of its worldwide fame. In a twist of irony, Victorinox since 1976 has supplied the German Army with its pocket knife, but it is olive green and features a German eagle instead of the Swiss cross. Real Swiss officers' knives are aluminium-cased. The familiar red ones are for civilians and export. And if it doesn't say Victorinox or Wenger on the blade, you might have a piece of American or Chinese junk -- the Swiss cross is no guarantee.

T.F. Mills, 09 March 1998

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