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Issue 11, 2003 (05 June)
 Industry News

Swiss restrictions on nickel in watches and jewellery follow EU policy

Hong Kong's exporters of watches and jewellery may like to know of a Swiss decision to continue to apply restrictions on the use of nickel should these products be placed on the market in Switzerland. Indeed, given the substantial nature of exports of watches and jewellery from Hong Kong to European countries including Switzerland, producers should be alerted to potential obstacles arising in the form of national legislation in the targeted markets.

With respect to the manufacturing of watches and jewellery, it is quite common to alloy nickel with gold to produce a harder, more ductile alloy. Nickel is also used to produce smoother surfaces after annealing or casting. However, when placed in contact with human skin for an extended period of time, nickel is believed to produce a rash-like allergic reaction called "nickel dermatitis".

Consequently, increasing attention has been paid to nickel sensitivity, particularly for Europe's consumers. Indeed, in Europe, nickel dermatitis is viewed as a health risk and legislative action has therefore been taken in this area. In 1998, the EU adopted Directive 94/27/EC of 30 June 1994 relating to the restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations, notably nickel. Switzerland has had specific legislation on nickel since March 1995 but following the EU's example, Switzerland updated its own requirements in March 2002.

The maximum threshold for nickel established by the Swiss Ordinance applies to goods which contain nickel and which are, by their nature, in direct prolonged contact with the human skin. The Ordinance provides a list of concerned items, as follows: rings, earrings, buckles of belts, rivets on trousers or spectacle frames. It should be noted that this list is not exhaustive, which leads to the implication that watches and other items would also be included.

The Ordinance prohibits the goods concerned from releasing more than 0.5 micrograms of nickel per square centimetre per week. If goods are coated, the coating must be of such a nature that, provided the item is used normally, the maximum threshold is not transgressed during at least two years.

Sticks which are introduced into pierced ears or other pierced parts of the body during the epithelisation process (meaning the period of skin-building) of the wound may not contain more than 0.05 % of nickel. The same threshold is applicable to the closing device.

It should again be pointed out to producers of watches and jewellery that these thresholds applicable to the admissible amount of nickel in goods which are in contact with the human skin for a prolonged time period are the same as those applied EU-wide. This unification of the law should make it easier for Hong Kong's exporters of watches and jewellery to Europe to follow the legal provisions, which do not differ between Switzerland and the EU Member States.