At heart of every watch, you’ll find a movement. While there are several movements out there, ETA’s movements are of the most important watch movements and have had a major influence on how the watchmaking industry is today. However, as important as ETA movements are, most people have never heard of ETA watch movements.
Without ETA, the Swiss watchmaking industry wouldn’t be what it is today. This article will hopefully shed some light on ETA and help people get a better understanding of the company and movements that are powering their luxury timepieces.
What is ETA?
ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse, or more commonly known as, ETA, is Swiss watch designer and manufacturer of quartz and automatic watches, watch movements and watch ébauches (basic movement parts). The headquarters of ETA is in Grenchen, Switzerland and it is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Swatch Group.
The company specializes in producing ébauche movements for the watches of subsidiary brands of The Swatch Group and for the watches of competitor brands as well. Because ETA has vertical control over manufacturing all of the components required to create a watch movement, it is considered to be a true watchmaking manufacturer.
History of ETA
The history of ETA dates back to almost two centuries ago to 1856. In 1856, two men in Grenchen, Switzerland by the names of, Urs Schild, and, Dr. Joseph Girard, founded a watch movement manufacturer. In 1896, this watch movement manufacturer that they founded would become Eterna.
However, going back a little further, the ETA line can be traced back to 1793 with the creation of Fabriques d’Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF). FHF was founded by Isaac and David Benguerel together with Julien and Francois Humbert-Droz. It is the oldest ébauche movement manufacturer in the world. In 1816, FHF began mass-producing watch movements in its first factory. This move would later become the foundation for the ETA.
In 1926, ETA AS, which was the movement branch of Eterna founded in 1896, and FHF created Ébauches Ltd. Years later in 1978, AS and ETA merged and in 1985 ETA officially took on all of the work done before by Ébauches Ltd and FHF.
In the 1970’s the watchmaking industry changed rapidly, largely due to the quartz crisis, also known as the quartz revolution. Japanese watchmakers began mass-producing quartz watches, which were much cheaper and easier to produce than the mechanical watches that the world was used to. Because of this, several watch Swiss watch companies were struggling. This led to several mergers between financially troubled watchmaking companies.
In 1930, Omega and Tissot merged to create SSIH (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère). By the late 1970’s the company became insolvent due to the quartz revolution led by Japanese watchmakers. ASUAG, was also formed in the early 1930’s and at the time it was the world’s largest producer of watch movements and parts.
With these two companies being in financial trouble, this led to the forming of The Swatch Group as ASUAG/SSIH in 1983. It was taken private in 1985 by Nicolas Hayek and renamed SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie) in 1986. Finally, it was renamed The Swatch Group Ltd in 1998.
Led by Ernst Thomke, who was the CEO of ETA SA at the time, and his team of engineers, the company released its new Swatch brand watch in 1983. It was a quartz watch that was redesigned for manufacturing efficiency and had fewer parts. The combination of marketing and manufacturing expertise helped to restore Switzerland as a top watchmaking contributor in the world.
The ETA 2824-2 is one of the first movements that anyone interested in watches should know about or get to know about. Considered the workhorse of the ETA mechanical line, it is an automatic movement used in an assortment of timepieces. It is available in four different grades: Standard, Elaborated, Top and Chronometer.
The cost of each increases starting from Standard and all feature a 25-jewel movement. The key difference starts between the Elaborated and Top grade components. The barrel spring, shock protection system, balance wheel & hairspring, pallet stones, and the regulator mechanism increase in quality, which explains why it costs more for each grade starting from Standard.
Standard grade movements are adjusted in two positions with an average rate of +/-12 seconds per day and a maximum variation of +/-30 seconds per day. Watches that feature Standard grade movements are those that are great for daily wear or inexpensive watches.
The next grade up, Elaborated, is adjusted in three positions with an average rate of +/-7 seconds per day with a max daily variation of +/-20 seconds. The Top grade is adjusted in five positions with an average rate of +/-4 seconds per day with a maximum daily variation of +/-15 seconds.
The Chronometer grade has to meet the standards set by the COSC and are required to have a serial number. This movement is ideal for people who need to rely heavily on its accuracy and quality in various elements. However, this also makes it the most expensive of the four grades.
The ETA 2892 is another movement that watch enthusiasts should get familiar with. It is an automatic winding, 21 jewel movement, and comes in three different grades: Elaborated, Top and Chronometer. Elaborated and Top is where the difference starts to happen. The key components that differ are the pallet stones, balance wheel & hairspring, and the regulator mechanism; also, the degree of decoration increases with the grade as well.
The Elaborated grade is adjusted in four positions with average daily rate of +/-5 seconds and a maximum daily variation of +/-20 seconds. The Top grade is adjusted in five positions, average daily rate of +/-4 seconds and a max daily variation of +/15 seconds. Lastly, the Chronometer must, once again, meet the standards of the COSC, which includes an average rate of -4/+6 seconds per day with a max daily variation of +/-5 seconds and the movements must also be serial numbered.
The ETA 2892.A2 is a new design dating to the 1970’s and is typically found in the most expensive and prestigious watch brands. It has a relatively slim height of 3.60mm and is the favorite for watch brands that feature complicated movements. Breitling is one watchmaker that features this movement in its trademark chronograph.
It’s worth noting that Omega’s Seamaster line of watches used an embellished version of the ETA 2892.A2 and was rebranded as the Omega 1120. Later versions of the Seamaster used a proprietary coaxial escapement, known as the Omega 2500, that was heavily derived from the ETA 2892.
Another extremely popular movement of ETA is the Valjoux 7750, also known as ETA 7750. It is used in the majority of today’s mechanical chronograph watches. Rather than using the column wheel, which is a traditional chronograph mechanism, the movement uses a three-plane cam system called the coulisse-lever escapement.
It consists of a mainplate, a calendar plate, and a chronograph top plate. A cam is pushed back and forth by levers, thus driving the stopwatch mechanism of the ETA 7750. Companies began using this movement in the 1980’s due to how easy it was to mass-produce and distribute in high-volume.
It is an automatic winding, twenty-five jewel movement and can be equipped with several complications such as the triple date and it is available in three different grades starting from Elaborated to Top and finally Chronometer. They begin to differ in component quality between Elaborated and Top. The pallet stones, balance wheel & hairspring and the regulator mechanism increase in quality from the Top grade.
The Elaborated grade is adjusted in three positions, has an average rate of +/-5 seconds per day and a max daily variation of +/- 15 seconds. The Top grade is adjusted in five positions, has an average rate of +/-4 seconds per day and a max daily variation of +/-15 seconds. Lastly, the Chronometer must meet the standards of the COSC which is an average rate of -4/+6 seconds per day and a max daily variation of +/-5 seconds.
Let’s Play Monopoly
Due to the Quartz Revolution, many of the initial competitors of ETA have gone out of business, however, this isn’t the case for ETA. ETA was able to remain successful and eventually dominate due to acquiring competing and struggling ébauche manufacturers.
This, however, has led to the company having a monopoly in the industry and for the luxury watches that are not powered by in house movements, they are likely using an ETA movement.
In 2003 the Swiss Competition Commission (SCC) initiated an investigation into ETA SA due to an announcement made by Nicholas Hayek, who was the then chairman of ETA parent The Swatch Group Ltd. In 2002, he announced that ETA would stop supplying ébauches to competing companies, which spurned complaints that this would effectively put them out of business.
While the investigation was in progress, ETA was ordered by the SCC to continue supplying to competing companies. The investigation came to a conclusion in 2005 and ETA was ordered to continue delivering ébauches and parts to competing companies.
The SCC also found that there were no real alternatives for ébauches that fell in the price range of up to $250 (US dollars), if ETA were to stop supplying outside companies, it would have been a breach of Swiss laws pertaining to cartels.
Although they are still required to outsource their movements to competing brands, the investigation did lead to watchmakers investing in their own personnel and equipment necessary to produce movements in-house. However, reliance on ETA is still heavy, even in this current day, but the company hopes to eventually get to a market position in which they can choose who to supply or not supply based on their own discretion.
So, what do you think about ETA and their movements? Do you own a watch that features one? Feel free to let us know in the comment box below!