Anton Bally was born in 1946, the descendant of a line of watchmakers tracing its history in Grenchen to the 19th century. His grandfather, Ernst Bally, practiced the trade there, and his father, Willy Bally, worked at Felsa, which became part of ETA in 1969. Anton Bally began his career in horology at ETA as an apprentice watchmaker in 1962 under Heinrich Stamm. He returned to school in 1964, studying at the technical college in Bienne and graduating with a degree in microtechnology in 1968. He then studied for a master's degree at the University of Neuchâtel.
ETA's chief movement designer Urs Giger saw great promise in the young apprentice and pressured him to return to ETA. Bally soon left his studies and re-joined the company in 1971. His first task was to redesign the Eterna 3000 movement for mass production. The result was the ETA 2892 family, a thin automatic movement with central seconds and quick date correction. building on the Eterna design, Bally dramatically redesigned and modernized the movement, which was just 3.66 mm thick and 28.00 mm diameter. Launched in 1975, the 2892 is still ETA's higher-end workhorse movement, though redesigned to be 25.60 mm diameter now.
Bally's next task in 1976 under ETA director Fritz Scholl was to bring the mechanical aspects of this movement to the new quartz technology created by ETA subsidiary EEM and the CEH in Neuchâtel. He created the first ETA movement with a Lavet stepper motor, ETA 9362, based on the ETA 2872 design. This used a 32 KHz quartz module imported from Japan, a Swiss stepper motor based on a patent from the French firm Léon Hatot, and an integrated circuit from Faselec.
Next, Bally returned to the ETA 2892 design and created the quartz ETA 940 in 1976, which was closely related apart from the quartz regulator. This would be the basis for ETA's Flatline series, which was widely used in the 1970s. It was a direct replacement for the ETA 2824 and similar movements, and measured 3.66 mm thick like the ETA 2892. The related Gabarit ("template") movements would become a standard size offering for ETA-based watches in the 1980s in standard heights of 2.5, 2.0, and 1.5 mm.
In 1977, Bally designed a compact quartz movement for ladies, ETA 950. Measuring just 3.1 mm thick, it was based on the mechanical ETA 2512. Most of this work was carried out in remote offices, with Bally working alone, apart from distraction.
Bally's designs were a direct challenge to the compact movements produced by Seiko and Citizen in Japan. ETA Assistant General Manager Andre Beyner was determined to compete with the new sub-3 mm movements coming out of Japan and in July 1978 created a concept for a watch with an overall thickness less than 2 mm. The project was approved by General Manager Ernst Thomke and a team was assembled under Anton Bally to develop the Delirium. The resulting watch was launched on January 12, 1979 and measured just 1.98 mm thick. Bally's team would quickly follow with even thinner models, with the 0.98 mm Delirium IV announced the next year.
Bally was initially in charge of the successor “Delirium Vulgare” project which would become the Swatch, but was sent to Hong Kong in 1981 to open an ETA office there and study the manufacturing capabilities. Management of the Swatch was shifted to Hans Sprecher, who oversaw the 1983 launch. After the creation of the SMH in 1985, Bally returned to Switzerland. He attended the INSTEAD school for executive management and took over all watch movement manufacturing under ETA, replacing Thomke, who was now SMH watch division manager.
Bally would continue to run ETA for decades, overseeing the Swatch creation and production, re-starting production of the ETA 7750, and consolidating operations under the company's Grenchen headquarters. Later developments under Bally include the ETA 2894 chronograph, Autoquartz, quartz chronograph, and stepper motor production.
By 2000, Bally oversaw over 10,000 employees at 20 factories in 6 countries. ETA produced 80% of the movements used in all Swiss watches at that time, and also produced the entire Swatch product range, totaling over 100 million watches and movements per year. Bally was drawn into controversy in 2003 when he sent a letter notifying that the ETA would no longer supply ebauches to companies outside the Swatch Group. Chief among the restricted movements was Cal. 2892, designed by Bally himself over 25 years earlier.
Bally won the Prix Gaïa award for “Business Spirit” in 1994, only the second recipient of this prestigious recognition. He retired from ETA in August of 2004 for health reasons and was succeeded by Thomas Meier.
- ETA's Anton Bally Quartz-Watch Revolutionary, Joe Thompson, Europa Star 234, 1999
- Mister ETA, Lucien F. Trueb, WatchTime 6, 2002
- Confirming the ETA 2892 Timeline, Grail Watch