The original development in the field of optics, especially sport optics, is credited to European nations, who started working on the earliest forms of glass and glass instruments, such as microscopes, telescopes, eyeglasses, and binoculars in the 1600s, long before any other country. This made them pioneers in the field since they had plenty of time to develop their skills and very little competition to worry about. Consequently, several countries in the European continent have joined the list of nations to have pioneered in optics products since the invention of the first telescope by Hands Lippershey, including Austria.
Tale of two companies
Before the advent of World War 1, the map of Europe looked a lot different from what we can see today. It was partly because of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was founded in 1867 and spanned from Austria to Ukraine. During this time, the optics industry in Austria saw great development which ultimately led to the formation of two of the greatest optics producers, Swarovski Optik and KAHLES Optics. Presently, both optics companies produce binoculars, riflescopes, and other telescopic sights.
Karl Robert KAHLES, a highly decorated optics manufacturer in Austria, merged two Vienna-based optics workshops to form the KAHLES company. On the other hand, the family-owned business, Swarovski Group, was originally founded in 1895 as a crystal-cutting workshop, however, it only produced crystal glass and crystal products at the time. Its current optics sub-division, Swarovski Optik, was later formed in 1949.
Post World War 1
KAHLES was a major supplier of optics products for the armed forces during WW1. When the war was ended in 1919, the companies restarted their manufacturing operations with great enthusiasm and went on to develop some of the best telescopic sights for rifles, binoculars, and telescopes of that era. Even though both Austrian companies managed to regain their momentum after WW1, the real success of the Austrian optics industry came after the formation of the Republic of Austria in 1955. As of today, the ”Made in Austria” binoculars are seen as a synonym to quality products.
There is no question that the foundation of the Austrian optics industry was laid by Karl Robert Kahles in 1989. While KAHLES became the biggest name in Austria’s sport optics industry some 100 years ago, the tables have now turned in favor of Swarovski Optik. At present, there is no other name which is as popular as that of Swarovski in the sport optics market.
The Swarovski Group is headquartered in Absam, a municipality city near the town of Wattens in Tyrol, Austria. The company was initially founded as a crystal-grinding company in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, his brother-in-law Franz Weis, and Armand Kossmann. It was named KS. & Co. after the name of the founders. Over the years, the company made several innovations to the crystal business, and ultimately developed the first electric crystal grinding machine which made the process much efficient. It was not until 1935 when the company produced the first set of binoculars with a 6x magnification and objective lens size of 30 mm using crystal grinding equipment.
Although the first Swarovski binoculars were developed much earlier, the company did not start the commercial production of binoculars and other optics products until after the Second World War. Presently, the Swarovski Group is divided into three major industries. Swarovski Optik deals in the manufacturing of riflescopes, binoculars, and rangefinders, Swarovski Crystals produces crystal glass and jewelry products, and Tyrolit manufactures grinding and drilling tools. Apart from these businesses, the company has several smaller businesses, such as Atelier Swarovski and Swarovski Kristallwelten.
The main production site for Swarovski Optik is located in Absam, Wattens on the outskirts of Tyrol, Austria. The company is managed by the Swarovski family members and employs over 960 hard-working people at the Absam factory. Swarovski is one of the few remaining optics manufacturers in Europe that have not outsourced any of its products outside the country. This makes it an ultra-reliable brand in the eyes of expert hunters and outdoorsmen. From the Tyrolean factory, optics products are supplied all over the world to more than 85 countries. The factory in Tyrol also incorporates a top-notch research and development section, training school, and product showroom.
Following series of binoculars are currently in production at Swarovski Optik:
CL Pocket series
CL Pocket binoculars pack brilliant optics with a double-hinge construction that allows these binoculars to be folded to half of their size when not in use. As a result, they can be stored in jacket pockets for camping and hiking trips. Pocket series is available in 8×25 and 10×25 configurations.
CL Companion series
The CL Companion models are designed to be compact and light in weight while providing a mid-range viewing experience with their 30 mm objective size. Unlike other brands, the reduction in overall size does not affect the optical performance in any way. This is why they are ultra-popular with users who like to carry their binoculars everywhere. The CL Companion and CL Companion Nomad are available in 8x and 10x magnifications.
The SLC series are designed to last a lifetime and feature premium optics, rugged construction, and a sturdy focus mechanism. This durable set of binoculars is manufactured in such a way that it works in all climatic and lighting conditions so that you do not have to worry about buying different binoculars for different situations. The solid construction protects the internals from all kinds of unwanted incidents, so you are free to take them anywhere. The SLC series is available in 42 and 56 objective sizes.
The EL series is the definition of premium optics technology combined with exceptional multi-coatings and a beautifully crafted exterior. Premium features, such as high-quality fluoride-ion glasses, nano-coatings, and the patented wrap-around design, make these binoculars the perfect choice for all occasions regardless of the terrain, weather, or lighting conditions. These binoculars are available in several configurations so that users from all backgrounds can benefit from the intriguing features of the EL series from Swarovski.
EL Range series
As the name suggests, the EL Range series have the Swarovski’s feature-filled rangefinder system. The rangefinder is capable of providing accurate distance and angle measurements for distant targets, therefore, it is best suited for hunting and tactical missions. As of now, the range series is available in the standard 42mm objective size with a power of 8x or 10x.
NL Pure series
The newest addition to the Swarovski line of binoculars is the NL series. These binoculars feature the latest innovations in optical technology, such as an improved field of view, fluoride-ion glass components, ergonomic handling, and a compact size, which is rarely available in the standard-sized 42mm objectives. Additionally, this series feature signature nano-coatings from Swarovski, such as the SWAROTOP, SWAROBRIGHT, SWAROCLEAN, and SWARODUR. These binoculars are available in 8, 10, and 12 power.
Unlike Swarovski Optik, KAHLES started as a producer of sport optics, such as riflescopes, binoculars, red dot sights, and rangefinders.
The company resulted from the merger of two Viennese Optics workshops, namely the optomechanical workshop of Karl Fritsch and the Simon Plossl Company in 1898. These small factories mainly produced telescopes and microscopes before the merger, but Karl Robert Kahles modified the line of products to include TELORAR riflescopes and binoculars, which they sold in large numbers to the Austro-Hungarian armed forces during WW1. Following a defeat, the Austro-Hungarian kingdom dissolved and several countries were established.
Success of Riflescopes
Under the leadership of Ernst and Karl Kahles, the company gradually regained its pre-war market position and unveiled the ultra-popular Helia-series riflescopes in 1926. With minimum competition, KAHLES succeeded in capturing a large portion of the riflescope market before WW2. This success overshadowed the production of binoculars and KAHLES instead kept its focus on riflescopes until the beginning of the 21st century. The company did try to produce binoculars from time to time, but it never really saw the success of KAHLES riflescopes.
Outsourcing business model
KAHLES’s main manufacturing facility is located in Vienna, Hungary where the business has existed since its inception in the 1890s. Since the 2000s, the company has re-entered the binoculars market with premium products aimed at consumers looking for quality binoculars. Since 2017, they have followed the footsteps of many of their German counterparts and have outsourced the manufacturing of both Helia and Helia RF binoculars outside of Europe to factories in China and Japan. Cheap labor and manufacturing costs are usually the main reasons for outsourcing production. However, KAHLES has kept the manufacturing operations of all of their riflescopes to their Vienna-based factory.
Acquisition by Swarovski Optik
KAHLES was acquired by the Swarovski Group in 1974 but has continued to market products under its brand due to its popularity among the masses across Europe. The acquisition was aimed to strengthen the sports optics business at Swarovski which only entered the optics industry in 1949, especially the KAHLES riflescope technology. After 46 years the market leadership of the Swarovski Optik brand is before our eyes, which was not possible without the involvement of KAHLES.
At Optics Trade, we agree that some of the best binoculars in the world are produced in Austria. This is because the company has carried out the manufacturing operations of all of its line of products at the Absam factory. This has enabled Swarovski Optik to monitor the quality of raw materials and manufacturing procedures. While this means increased prices for even the most affordable models, the company aims to sell and market its products to serious customers who look for quality products instead of cheap models.
After the acquisition of KAHLES, the Swarovski Group is the only sports manufacture to produce one of the best binoculars in Austria, which are second to none. The KAHLES binoculars offer similar features as that of Swarovski Optik binos at a much lesser price point, which makes them the perfect choice for people looking for premium products at mid-range prices.
is an experienced author from the field of sports optics. He writes articles and reviews about binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, long range shooting and other topics for magazines like Lovec and Optics-Info.com blog. Currently, he is a member of Optics Trade team.