ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse (commonly called ETA) is the best-known Swiss ebauche movement manufacturer. Part of the Swatch Group, ETA traces its lineage to 1793, though the name dates only to 1932.
ETA emerged as a holding company for the majority of Swiss watch movement production in the 20th century. As such, it can trace its roots to some of the earliest factories in Switzerland. In 1793, Isaac and David Benguerel, Julien and Francois Humbert-Droz founded the first factory for ebauche movements, Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF), in Fontainemelon, Canton of Neuchâtel. FHF began industrial production of watch movements in 1816, and this date is another appropriate beginning point for ETA, since FHF was absorbed into the company in 1982.
The true beginning of ETA is 1856, when Urs Schild and Dr. Joseph Girard founded an ebauche factory in Grenchen. This company would become Eterna, which was split 76 years later to become ETA. Also in Grenchen, in 1896, Adolf Schild founds the ebauche company A. Schild (AS), where the first cylinder and pin lever movements are produced.
On 27 December 1926, A. Schild AG (AS or ASSA) and Adolphe Michel SA (AMSA) of Grenchen and Fabrique d' Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF) of Fontainemelon join together to form Ebauches SA. This holding company is intended to bring order to the chaotic watch movement manufacturing industry, and it expands rapidly. Soon, Ebauches SA is the largest producer of watch movement blanks in Switzerland.
ETA, ASUAG, and Ebauches SA
In 1931, Ebauches SA joins with many other Swiss companies to create ASUAG, a larger holding company. Eterna joins this conglomerate in 1932, but is split in two to match the overall organizational structure of ASUAG:
- Eterna SA manufactures whole watches
- ETA SA Fabriques d'Ebauches manufactures watch ebauche movements
This is the true birth of ETA, with the name and purpose firmly established. Over the following years, many other companies are absorbed into ASUAG/Ebauches SA and the cartel dictates which are allowed to produce each type of movement. Thanks to their research into automatic movements with Eterna, ETA is one of the few companies within this group to be allowed to produce automatic movements in the 1950's. Along with A. Schild and Felsa, ETA is considered a high-end movement maker and supplies many of the companies that exist even today.
The quartz crisis causes another contraction in the industry in the 1970's and, in 1979, A. Schild is merged into ETA to become the largest ebauche movement manufacturer in the world. Three years later, FHF (owner of Landeron) is brought into ETA along with other ebauche makers. Finally, in 1983, Ebauches SA is dissolved and most of the remaining companies, including Unitas, Peseux, and Valjoux (successor of Venus), join ETA.
ETA as part of the Swatch Group
ETA remained as the primary provider of individual movement parts, tools, kits and complete watch movements within and outside the Swatch Group. The kits are still processed, refined and sometimes provided with additional features by some manufacturers. ETA is also the primary source for balance springs, assortments, and other critical components to the Swiss watch industry.
Over the following decades, management has wanted to restrict sales of ETA movements outside the Swatch Group. The explosion of new and re-born Swiss watch companies in the 2000's is built primarily on ETA movement production and expertise, and this impacts sales of Swatch Group companies. Additionally, it is unhealthy for the industry to have a single source for critical components. Over the years, Swatch Group and COMCO have worked to restrict sales of movements and ebauches and force outside companies to look for other suppliers.
As of 2016, this process is ongoing, with companies like Sellita and Soprod increasing production to supply the industry with complete movements and luxury makers increasingly producing their own parts and movements.
ETA is well-known as a producer of many watch movements, but the following are particularly popular today:
- 2800 family (based on ETA/Eterna technology)
- 2900 family
- ETA 2892-A2 - 21 jewel automatic movement
- Valjoux family (including Venus technology)
- Unitas family
- Peseux family
For more information, please see ETA calibres
- Eterna, predecessor of ETA
- Ebauches SA, which ETA inherited
- ASUAG, predecessor of Swatch Group
- Swatch Group, owner of ETA today
- Das große Uhren-ABC, Band 1, Firmen, Geschichte, Uhrwerke, Uhren-Lexikon, Technik; Authors: Gerhard Claußen , Karl-Hermann Ströde; ISBN 3980367509
- Das große Uhren-ABC, Band 2, Firmen, Uhrwerke, Technik; Authors: Gerhard Seelen, Karl-Hermann Ströde, Edda Gräfje; ISBN 3980367517
- ETA SA, official website
- ETA Winding
- A Brief History of ETA: THE Swiss Watch Movement Maker