Last modified: 2023-03-25 by martin karner
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image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 3 January 2006
The relative dimensions of the cross are defined in Article 1 of Federal Order #111 on the arms of the Helvetic Confederation (12 December 1889).
Unlike most flags of the world, the Swiss flag is square. This was an issue when Switzerland joined the UN in 2002, as all the flags displayed on UN Plaza should have the same size. The UN first had a rectangular flag, but the Swiss mission protested. Eventually the UN accepted a Swiss square flag. But, in order to have a flag that is not too small, the flag displayed on UN Plaza has the same area of a rectangular flag.
image by Željko Heimer
Source: [pay00] (left), [neu39] (right)
The divisions along an edge of the 2000 version (6-7-6-7-6) are the same as those along the shorter axis of the Swiss naval ensign, whose construction details were set by law in 1953.
Željko Heimer, 30 January 2003
The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags
and Anthems Manual London 2012) provides recommendations for national flag
designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for
their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm
version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the
official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC
believed the flag to be.
For Switzerland: PMS 485 red. The vertical flag is simply the horizontal version turned 90 degrees clockwise (in 3:5 / 5:3 format, of course, like all Olympic flags).
Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012
Symbolism of the flag
The Swiss cross on a red field ultimately derives from a similar
banner of the Holy Roman Empire, and thus has strong Christian
connotations. The Swiss flag traditionally stands for freedom, honour
and fidelity (The motto Honor et Fidelitas was inscribed on the
cross of several Swiss mercenary flags of the 18th century). In
modern times, through association with consistent Swiss policy, the
flag has also come to denote neutrality, democracy, peace and refuge.
See also an article from Construire,
reporting views of Swiss citizens on the meaning of the national flag.
Another postulated explanation for the origin of the Swiss flag is that during the resistance against
the Austrians, the early Swiss (mostly peasants in arms) used to stitch two stripes of white fabrics on
their clothes to recognize each other during combat. From this, the white cross became the symbol of the
Swiss. The red color (imperial color) came later, as it was "granted" by the Austrian Emperor.
Jacques F. Baud, 7 December 2002
Mühlemann [mue91] states with "high probability" a connection
between the federal cross and the cult of the Ten Thousand Knights. The martyrs of the
Theban Legion later were added with this designation to the martyrology of the occidental Church.
The abbey of Saint-Maurice (Valais) owes its foundation to the veneration of those martyrs.
Since the Early Middle Ages the veneration of the Theban martyrs Mauritius (St. Maurice), Victor and Ursus
is proven in the Swiss realm which makes the connection to the events of the 4th century. Ursus and Victor
are said to have fled and been executed in Solothurn. Those three saints often are depicted on church
devices, reliquaries, seals and altar pieces. Since the beginning of heraldry fictitious flags have been
associated to those saints (as it was a usual practice in other European countries). Most depictions show
a white cross on a red field which is either extending to the edges (for Mauritius and Ursus) or a cross
bottony (for Mauritius and Victor) (p. 13). Notwithstanding Mühlemann doesn't exclude the possibility
that the war banner of the Holy Roman Empire (white cross on red field) could have influenced too the
early Swiss when they chose a white cross (p. 14).
Martin Karner, 4 December 2022
image by T.F. Mills
Gen. Dufour's federal flag, proposed in 1817, first flown in 1821, adopted in Aargau in 1833, and in the whole Army in 1840. Cross consists of five equal squares.
On the 21st of June 2013, the Swiss parliament adopted the project Swissness
that consists of two laws: the Law on the protection of trademarks (French:
Loi sur la protection des marques) and the Law on the Protection of the coat of
arms of Switzerland and other public signs (Loi sur la protection des armoiries
de la Suisse et autres signes publics).
That second Law was accepted almost unanimously and replaced the Federal Law of 5th June 1931 for the protection of public coat of arms and other public signs (French: la loi fédérale du 5 juin 1931 pour la protection des armoiries publiques et autres signes publics) and the Federal Decree of 12th December 1889 concerning the coat of arms of the Swiss Confederation (French: Arrêté fédéral du 12 décembre 1889 concernant les armoiries de la Confédération suisse).
The new law (which shall be published soon in the Federal Gazette) has many interesting things, that you can find here (in the project of law): http://www.admin.ch/opc/fr/federal-gazette/2009/7863.pdf
The article 1 gives the dimensions of the Swiss cross: vertical white couped cross, placed on a red background and the branches, equal, are a sixth longer than wide.
The article 2 says that the coat of arms is the Swiss cross on a triangular shield. There is a model in the annex 1 of the law that is binding as for the shape, the colours and the proportions.
The article 3 says that the flag of the Swiss confederation is a Swiss cross in a square. There is also a model in the annex 2 of the law, also binding for the shape, the colours and the proportions.
For the colours these are:
CMYK 0 / 100 / 100 / 0
Pantone 485 C / 485 U
RGB 255 / 0 / 0
Scotchcal 100 -13
RAL 3020 rouge signalisation
NCS S 1085-Y90R
The proportions of the flag 1:1 (or 32:32, that is 6-7-6-7-6 : 6-7-6-7-6), where the cross in the middle has arms with width = 6 and length=7.
The article 5 says that the coats of arms, flags and other emblems of cantons, districts, circles and communes are fixed by cantonal Law.
The article 8 speaks about the use of the coats of arms (Swiss, cantons, etc.)
The article 10 says that flags and other emblems of the Confederation, flags and other emblems of the cantons, districts, circles and communes and signs that may be confused with them can be used, unless their use is (a) misleading, or (b) contrary to public order, morality or law.
Armorial bearings, flags and other emblems of other foreign governments, including municipalities, may be used unless their use is (a) misleading, or (b) contrary to public order, morality or law.
There are other dispositions in the law.
That law gives also some precisions concerning the Swiss ensign in the Federal Law of 23rd September 1953 on maritime navigation under the Swiss ensign (French: Loi fédérale du 23 septembre 1953 sur la navigation maritime sous pavillon suisse):
The annex I of the law is binding for the shape, the colours and the proportions.
And the colours are :
CMYK 0 / 100 / 100 / 0
Pantone 485 C / 485 U
RGB 255 / 0 / 0
Scotchcal 100 -13
RAL 3020 rouge signalisation
NCS S 1085-Y90R
Pascal Vagnat, 23 June 2013
The public damaging of private flags is not culpable in Switzerland (i.e. everyone has the right to destroy a flag or any other object, so long as it is one's own). However all emblems (esp. flags and
coats of arms) that have been put up by an authority are protected by federal law. Stealing, damaging and insulting acts against them are penalized with prison or fine. The same applies to official emblems of foreign countries. The extent of the sentence is not specified by federal law because in case of an offence, the respective cantonal authorities determine it individually.
Martin Karner, 9 April 2004
In regards to protection of the Swiss flag from commercial misuses, there are
additional laws to protect it from misuse in relation to the Red Cross symbol.
According to: "Model law concerning the use and protection of the emblem of the
Red Cross or Red Crescent" (31-8-1996 International Review of the Red Cross no
313, p.486–495 or
Section III, Article 12 reads, "Owing to the confusion which may arise between
the arms of Switzerland and the emblem of the red cross, the use of the white
cross on a red ground or of any other sign constituting an imitation thereof,
whether as a trademark or commercial mark or as a component of such marks, or
for a purpose contrary to fair trade, or in circumstances likely to wound Swiss
national sentiment, is likewise prohibited at all times; offenders shall be
punished by payment of a fine of ... (amount in local currency)."
Orville Eastland, 19 January 2005
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, 9 March 1998
Aleksandar Nemet noted photographs of the Swiss flag with flames along one
edge (picture [source: transperfect.com],
picture [source: ourswissexperience.com]). This is a decorative Swiss
national flag, which is (as far as I know) only hoisted on a bridge in Geneva
city. On this bridge all the flags fly together with the Swiss flag for a mere
decorative purpose. All these flags on this specific bridge over the Rhodan
river, at the outflow from Geneva Lake, show a special pattern, which consists
of little flames along one or more borders of the flag. Flames, though also
sometimes seen in 17th and 18th century military flags all across Europe, are a
specific Swiss flag design element since the 17th century until today. Flames
may be placed across the flag or in the four areas separated by a white cross in
varied ways, or at the edges of a flag or at the edges of a cross, or in any
other possible way (like for instance in our case here).
Emil Dreyer, 21 November 2008
[Ed. note: The two pictures above replace the expired internet links which aren´t retrievable anymore. The flags may be wrapped around the pole like in the second picture
and thus give the impression to have the flames only on one border.]
The bridge is the famous Mont-Blanc bridge ("pont du
Mont-Blanc"), built in 1902–1903 and enlarged in 1964–1965. Photo
showing the flag display here (picture, source: blog.kornemuz.com). The
mountain in the background is Mt. Salève, known as the Genevans' Mountain, but
located in French territory; when they dug the Lake, the Genevans dropped all
the waste in France :-) During the last football European championship the
flags were replaced by the official UEFA Euro 2008 Genève flags.
Ivan Sache, 22 November 2008
Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours
Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms – not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.
Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow
tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.
Željko Heimer, 16 July 2000