The massive debate about whether in-house calibres are considered “supreme” over industrialized movements has plagued the watch industry for years. These heated dragged-out discussions have divided the watch community and drew attention away from the passion avid watch enthusiasts share, robbing them of the immense enjoyment and exhilaration in collecting watches.
However, as we pondered on this debate, we discovered that we may have actually been taking the wrong approach to this discourse and the question we should be asking is, how and why do manufacturers seek to adopt the modus operandi of the Swiss manufacturer ETA? In this article, we will be focussing on the saviours of the watch industry both in the past and present, paying particular attention to the Swiss movement-maker Sellita and its contributions to horology.
Revolutionising the watch industry, both ETA and Sellita movements, specifically the ETA 2824-2 and the SW200-1, are the leading industrialized calibres in the field. Instead of pitting these iconic movements against each other, we take an apprenticeship approach by exploring the backgrounds of the two giants, in the same manner of the well-known British horologists Roger Smith and George Daniels. Following in the footsteps of his mentor who was one of the best watchmakers of all time, Smith made a name for himself with many unique skills and techniques gleaned from his mentor, thereby living out the legacy Daniels left behind. Similarly, Sellita has succeeded in being the crème de la crème in watch movement production and has been projected to overtake and even replace the current void left by ETA. This article will explore the contributions of these two manufacturers and their workhorse movements that seek to supply enduring engines for many prized timepieces in the market today.
Were you gobsmacked when ETA announced that they will be halting supplies of ETA movements to Swiss brands other than the ones within its own Swatch Group? Fret not! This shocking news may have caused great trepidation that might just be unfounded! Journey with us as we travel down Sellita’s path to success. Along with other movement manufacturers, Sellita took up the challenge to fill the void that ETA left in the watch industry. With its mastering of ETA’s production techniques and procedures that have proven to be reliable over the years, Sellita has hence been able to manufacture robust movements in bulk, even adding various enhancements along the way.
Through turmoil came the Swiss Giant ETA
Before we examine these two movements in detail, let us go back to the rich history behind the ETA, starting with its pioneer, the ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse. Here is a brief historical outline of this company:
- Founded in Grenchen 1856 by J. Girard and U. Schild, known as Eterna.
- Originally a watch manufacturer and did not specialise in building movements.
- In 1932, Eterna created ETA SA which manufactured its own Ébauche and separated from Eterna SA (watchmaker).
- In 1973, ETA SA merged with the ASUAG (Swiss manufacturer’s association).
- In the midst of the crises in the 70s, the ASUAG was bought over by Hayek Engineering in 1983 and was later renamed Swatch Group.
- Over the years, ETA has successfully bought over several Swiss movement makers including Valjoux, Lemania.
Known by its acronym, ETA stands for “Elegance, Technology, Accuracy” (in French, élégance, technologie et précision). What’s impressive is that this movement manufacturer was heralded as the undisputed leader of the watch industry during the mid-20th century.
The ETA SA Manufacture Horlogerie Suisse is based in Grenchen, Switzerland which is far from most famous Swiss watchmakers which are usually located in cities like Geneva and La Chaux-de-Fonds.
In the 1930s, Eterna SA shifted from the complete manufacturing and assembling of whole watches to specialising in Ébauche (movement blanks). Due to various economic crises that hit the Swiss industry such as the Great Depression in the 1920s and the Quartz crisis caused by the East in the 1980s, ETA SA monopolised the entire watch industry, forcing many surviving firms to form an alliance (ASUAG) with them. As a result, ETA SA was appointed as the single central movement manufacturer that solely assembled and produced movements for the entire Swiss watch industry. Hence, with production centralised in ETA, this allowed for better control in manufacturing procedures, leading to higher efficiency and lower costs of production.
In the 50s, ETA launched their own watchmaking school and expanded their movement-making capacity, enabling them to create some of the most iconic Swiss mechanical movements of today. These legendary movements include the first-ever Swiss automatic mechanical movement known as the Eterna-Matic cal. 1237 launched in the late 40s, which then evolved into the industrialized and robustly built all-rounder ETA 2824 released in 1982 and finally not forgetting the “premium” brethren ETA 2892 made in the 70s.
With monopoly on the Swiss watch industry in the 80s, ETA made a name for itself and its business flourished tremendously as the majority of the industry had no choice but to rely on its movements to power their timepieces. Supplying movements throughout Switzerland and even to companies overseas, ETA is well-known as a reliable movement manufacturer even in the early 21st century. As the only company that supplied Swiss movements, ETA became the pillar on which the watch industry leaned on for Swiss-made movements.
The Birth Of The “Protege,” Sellita
Now that we have gone through the timeline of the top movement manufacturer in Switzerland, let us move on to its notable successor, Sellita Watch Co., starting with a brief historical outlook:
- Founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds 1950 by Pierre Grandjean and became the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
- Started off as a partner of ETA that assembles movements for this large manufacturer since its launch.
- Sellita would obtain ETA 2824 kits from ETA and Nivarox (sole producer of key assortments) and sell them after assembly as 2824-2 movements.
- In 2003, they took up the challenge to develop their own movements based on the ETA calibres that they were so familiar with.
- Since then, they have been investing in cutting-edge in-house machinery and gaining expertise within each specialised division.
- Sellita focuses on creating fully in-house made and decorated movements for its clients, with an annual production of approx. 1 million units.
When ETA announced that it will no longer provide unfinished movement kits which caused panic and uncertainty in many Swiss watch brands, Sellita found itself on the path to leadership in the Swiss watch industry. Despite its own trepidation, Sellita stepped up to tackle the challenge of manufacturing movements. Although it was a huge gamble, for the sake of the Swiss watch industry, Sellita dived headfirst into bulk movement production.
Unlike other Swiss movement manufacturers, the former subcontractor employed by ETA has 50 years of experience assembling ETA movements under its belt. Hence, Sellita sought to specialise in ETA’s 2824 calibre, invented in the 80s, as it has many years of experience in assembling this particular movement. As such, the first movement produced by Sellita was the SW200 which closely resembled the ETA 2824-2. The SW200-1 is one of this manufacturer’s most classic movements to date and widely found in many known watch brands today. Other movements include the SW240 (based on the ETA 2836) and SW500 automatic chronograph (ETA 7750 chronograph).
One critical difference between ETA and Sellita is that Sellita has been fully independent since its launch and did not contract or outsource any movement component to any other external companies or investors. Thus, it is the tenacity and expertise of its own team that led it to its establishment as the 2nd largest movement manufacturer in Switzerland after ETA, producing movements for companies all around the globe.
Furthermore, Sellita SA not only manufactures movements based on what they have learned from ETA, but it also displays the ability to forge its own high precision machinery and attain in-house cutting-edge expertise. Over the years, this company has organised teams consisting of dedicated engineers and watchmaking experts, each with their own specialised roles based on their expertise. Hence, each department contributes to the movement production processes and ensures that they run smoothly.
Going the extra mile to improve on ETA’s movements with its innovation and development of a completely new generation of calibres, Sellita boasts an impressive selection of 83 calibres sorted into 11 categories suitable for different types of watches, each with its own distinguishing functions and complications.
The Importance of Alternatives
We are in a ridiculous situation that would be like having BMW supplyall the engines for Audi and Mercedes. In no other industry do you haveone company supply all the critical parts to the people who then competedirectly with it.Nick Hayek, CEO of Swatch Group, mentioned from the New York Times 2011
After ETA declared its reduction and eventual stoppage of movement supplies to the entire Swiss watch industry outside Swatch Group (since back in the early 2000s), the need for another equally robust and accurate industrialized movement was clearly established.
In the fight to save the Swiss watch industry, the once dependent Swiss watchmakers had to set out to find movement alternatives and even strive to make their own in-house movements so as to meet the demand for calibres to power their timepieces.
Moreover, even though there are other alternatives that offer reliable watch movements in the East such as Japan, Swiss-made calibres are what set the Swiss watch market apart from its competitors. Therefore, switching to Japanese movements will undeniably have a negative effect and worsen the already hurting Swiss market.
Indeed, throughout the early 21st century, many companies have attempted to produce their own movements and those who were not successful due to finance or expertise were forced to rely on alternatives. As a result, these companies had to source for movements from other reliable suppliers such as Soprod, Vaucher, STP and of course, Sellita. Furthermore, as many watch companies do not have sufficient funds and expertise to invest and develop movements, several watch brands have joined forces to build their own calibres together. Thus, they aim to produce movements for their own groups or sell these in-house calibres at high prices due to small production scales. However, these companies made up the minority in the Swiss watch industry and the industry still needed dependable industrialized engines produced in large quantities. Fortunately, unlike other small suppliers, Sellita has achieved success in the mass-production of tested and proven ETA-equivalent engines for the Swiss watch industry. Hence, Sellita is one of the rare manufacturers that adheres to ETA movement standards with large quantity productions. As such, it is deemed to be one of the horological pillars in movement production till date.
Only a small number of companies around the world can manufacture or assemble mechanical movements, and still fewer can design them from nearly the ground up.
As many of the ETA movement patents had recently expired, Sellita took the opportunity to fabricate their own versions of these movements, in particular the 2824-2 calibre, known as SW200-1. Interestingly, ETA initially encouraged Sellita’s exact recreation of its workhorse. Consequently, with its investments in the development of the SW200, coupled with its expertise gathered over the years, Sellita has been successful in modelling after ETA’s proven engine. Till date, this company continues to play a critical role in many beloved Swiss brands and it is because of its reliable calibres such as the SW200-1 that brands like Oris, IWC, Stowa and many others are still here today. As a result, the watch community can continue to enjoy the reliability and excellent value for money of Swiss Made watches.
Next, we delve into the fundamentals of watch movements. The first thing that users usually consider is the functionality of a timepiece, which is based on how efficiently it performs each task. Prioritising the reliability and precision of time display, Sellita manufactures movements that serve the watch industry with great efficiency at minimal cost. It is difficult for companies with the exception of Sellita and a few others to provide calibres with the level of quality and reasonable pricings that ETA movements are known for.
To Emulate The Best
After uncovering the backstories of ETA and Sellita, we go on to examine the similarities between the movements of these two top Swiss manufacturers. As the movement varieties of Sellita and ETA calibres are simply too extensive to cover in this article, we will be focussing on the ETA 2824-2 and the Sellita SW200-1 which power most of the timepieces on the market today.
Looking at several macro shots of the ETA 2824-2 and SW200-1, we can observe Sellita’s prowess as its movement slightly outdoes the original ETA. But, why are Sellita movements so closely modelled after ETA calibres? Well, this is because mechanical watch movements are miniature yet complex systems made up of several components that have to operate flawlessly for an almost infinite period and have to be produced in enormous volumes to meet the high demand.
Hence, as the crafting of these movements are extremely challenging, Sellita copies the ETA 2824-2 because this calibre has been the best in the field, proven to be reliable for at least a couple of decades (since 1982), to ensure that its movements are as robust as this ETA calibre. Indeed, there is no need for much changes in the layout of Sellita’s movements as it emulates the original ETA 2824-2 which already has a solid foundation.
Since the launch of the ETA 2824-2, a remarkable industrial-styled, all-rounder mechanical movement, Sellita was contracted to assist in its production, thereby allowing them to gain experience and subsequently master the assembly of this particular calibre. Hence, leveraging on their expertise, Sellita rose from ETA’s shadow with its own movements, namely the SW200-1. Nonetheless, both the ETA 2824-2 and SW200-1 have to stand the test of time and live up to the expectations of the watch community so as to be recognised for their excellent reliability and quality.
Now, let us compare both movements closely. On one hand, the ETA 2824-2 is 4.6mm thick, 25.6mm in diameter and usually comes with 25 jewels. It also has an Incabloc Novodiac shock protection along with a proprietary ETACHRON regulator system. Moreover, it is self-winding (automatic) and the oscillating weight of its balance wheel spins with a 40-hour power reserve. Finally, this movement runs at 28,800bph (4Hertz), is fitted with movement hacking for precise time-setting and sports a central date display.
The ETA 2824-2 comes in four grades, standard, elabore, top and chronometer. Their differences are mainly in the regulation levels with varying shock system qualities of the hairspring:
- Standard grade is regulated in 2 positions at an average rate of +/-12 seconds per day, with a maximum daily variation of not more than +/-30 seconds.
- Elaborated (Elabore) grade is adjusted with an additional position that allows an average rate of +/-7 seconds, with a maximum daily variation of +/-20 seconds.
- Top grade ones are done in 5 positions with an average rate of +/-4 seconds per day, with a maximum deviation of +/-15 seconds daily.
- And lastly, the Chronometer grade must meet the most stringent criteria prescribed by the official Swiss chronometer testing institute – the Contrôle Official Suisse des Chronomètres (a.k.a. COSC). This range comes with its own serial as per the requirements of the certification authority.
On the other hand, the SW200-1, derived as the second variation of the SW200 with upgrades on its axis reduction wheel, axis wheel of ratchet wheel driving wheel and its ratchet wheel, features slight differences from the ETA 2824-2. With its bulk production to date, let us look into its specs that have many similarities with the ETA including identical dimensions and thickness due to the design of its gear-works and movement plates.
The differences between both movements are illustrated in the photos below, with their main difference being an additional jewel (26 in total) right beneath the mainspring barrel for better shock-resistance in the SW200-1. The Sellita calibre has the same beat-rate of 28,800bph (4Hertz) and hacking for time-setting. It also has a central date display but with slight variations in fonts used. In addition, its self-winding rotor sports the same look and has the same functions as the ETA 2824, with approximately the same power reserve of 40 hours.
Akin to the ETA 2824-2, the SW200-1 comes in four different grades:
- Standard grade is regulated in 2 positions with an average rate of +/-12 seconds per day, with a maximum daily variation of not more than +/-30 seconds.
- Special (Elabore) grade is adjusted with an additional position that allows an average rate of +/-7 seconds, with a maximum daily variation of +/-20 seconds.
- Premium grade ones are done in 5 positions with an average rate of +/-4 seconds per day, with a maximum deviation of +/-15 seconds daily.
- And lastly, the same as ETA, the Chronometer grade must meet the most stringent criteria prescribed by the official Swiss chronometer testing institute – the Contrôle Official Suisse des Chronométres (a.k.a.COSC). This range comes with its own serial due to the requirements of the certification authority.
All four grades also have different balance wheel’s material and shock-resistance devices. For instance, both the Standard and Special movement grades have the Novodiac shock system while the Premium and COSC variants use the Incabloc system.
Going into greater detail, we compare both ETA’s and Sellita’s Elabore grade movements.
Looking at the dial side of the SW200-1 where the pinion and date-wheel are, the design of this movement comes close to its ETA predecessor. Do note the slight difference in date fonts that make it seem more contemporary than the ETA 2824.
Flipping both movements over, their bridges and gear-works are almost identical at a glance, but upon close scrutiny of both rotors, we spotted specific differences and improvements built into the Sellita calibre.
The SW200-1 rotor has a recessed bevelling at the bridge which holds its winding gears while the ETA variant does not.
Another difference can be spotted near the winding stem and the keyless work in both movements. The escapement bridge on the SW200-1 has two holes that allow it to be held firmly on top of its main plate. In contrast, there are no signs of any additional holes in the ETA 2824-2 at first glance because it implements a reverse method where the feeders underneath its escapement plate fit on top of its main-plate.
Furthermore, removing the barrel bridges of both movements, their main difference of the additional jewel count on the SW200-1 is evident in comparison to the ETA 2824-2.
The additional jewel of the SW200-1 acts and functions as an additional shock absorber for its mainspring barrel which allows for higher efficiency in its power reserve output.
Comparing the heart of both movements with the removal of their escapement bridges, both Elabore grade calibres use the same materials and have the same design.
Firstly, the ETA 2824-2 Elabore uses an Etachoc system which is virtually the same as the Novodiac in the SW200-1.
Moreover, Sellita has mastered the production of its SW200-1 components independently using their own machinery and R&D teams as of 2014. These components include:
- Hairspring with the same coiling pattern as the ETA 2824-2
- Balance wheel
- Pallet system
With capabilities to make its own escapement parts, Sellita offers completely in-house fabricated movements to the Swiss watch industry. Furthermore, we resolve the debate online on whether the hairspring of the SW200-1 is thicker than that of the ETA 2824-2 as seen in the pictures above. As there are no significant differences observed between the hairsprings of both movements, even down to the shape of their coiling, the hairspring of the Sellita movement is not thicker than that of its ETA counterpart.
Therefore, as the differences between the SW200 and ETA 2824 are minor, it is apparent that the goals of Sellita and ETA are similar in which they both aim to design functional movements for the Swiss watch industry. Moreover, the installing processes of both movements are straightforward and they have proved to be the best workhorses in their field as they serve customers, both watch brands and end-consumers, well with their great reliability and accuracy.
The price is everything. If you achieve it technically, but it costs CHF300-400 you’re dead, nobody wants your movement. So, you have the technical issue, the price, and the time pressure. I wasn’t here at the time, but the industry thought they would never make it.Sebastien Chaulmontet, Sellita’s innovation and marketing
Sellita has risen to the challenge of recreating ETA’s automatic movements and achieved great success. But if companies like Sellita had failed in their mission to provide guaranteed working, mechanical movement, we can only assume that many of our favourite brands, from the renowned to the micro-brands, would have to cease operations. Even if watchmakers had managed to incorporate expensive movements sourced from other manufacturers or their own in-house calibres, the poor value for money of their timepieces will be unsustainable in the long run. Imagine purchasing a Steinhart Ocean One at 3000 to 4000USD due to the installation of costly in-house movements. To add to this horrific scenario, think about what will become of the brands that are unable to fabricate their own movements!
Today, the Swiss watch industry is dependent on companies like Sellita to a certain extent for large quantities of reliable and proven movements. Hence, as long as these companies continue to industrialise robust movements in large volumes, the watch industry will be able to flourish and expand with new companies taking root and more varieties of timepieces that will fuel the passion of the watch community.
Furthermore, even though Sellita has achieved what it had set out to accomplish with its release of the SW200-1, it did not become complacent. Rather, Sellita continued to release many more proven calibres to fill the gaps of other complications left by ETA’s stoppage of not only its 2824-2 calibre, but its other movements as well. For instance, in 2010, Sellita launched the SW300 which is based on the ETA 2892-2 (a more premium version of the 2824) as well as the SW500 based on the Valjoux 7750 chronograph. Thus, these calibres allowed Swiss watch brands to purchase movements suitable for the specific functionality of each of their timepieces.
We have a stronger and stronger position for the future… And our customers will support us after 2020. I hope. For them, Sellita must continue to exist. We don’t have the arrogance nor the wish to completely replace ETA, but we have a responsibility to be ready if they stop delivering.Miguel Garcia, Sellita’s CEO
Lastly, we would like to highlight that Sellita does not simply replicate calibres launched in the 20th century, rather this company has been taking steps to develop a new series of original high-performance movements that caters to modern audiences, thereby distinguishing itself from its competitors. Hence, in our opinion, Sellita truly is a breath of fresh air and has almost singlehandedly saved the Swiss watch industry!
Through this article, we hope to emphasise the importance of the existence of successful movement manufacturers that have been providing always-available, robust, and easily serviceable movements for many beloved watch brands. Hence, one should never undermine the value of companies who seek to produce enduring and high-quality Swiss calibres such as Sellita.
Furthermore, although the ETA 2824-2 and SW200-1 may not be aesthetically equivalent to expensive in-house decorated movements made by other watch companies, they still elevate the elegance and charm of classic Oris watches and athletic Hamilton timepieces which appeal to users with their timeless designs and excellent value for money.
For many centuries, it has been the dream of horologists to manufacture reliable and accurate movements in large volumes, but it is only during recent times that this idea finally came to fruition with the SW200-1, an industrialized and mass-produced calibre which is also an excellent piece of precision-engineering. Despite being a simple mechanical movement, history has proven that this classic Sellita calibre is extremely effective and used in many Swiss timepieces.
As Sellita and other movement manufacturers continue to enhance and update their calibre production, we can look forward to greater things in store for the Swiss watch industry. Imagine a sleek new Ocean 39 timepiece powered by a SW calibre with an impressive 3-day power reserve and silicon escapement gracing your wrist. Be empowered by the rise of these new engines that mark the dawn of a new era in Swiss horology.