All crises are revelatory and speed up or crystallise – in the chemical meaning of the term – an embryonic situation. This is particularly true of the key sector of mechanical movements. The current watchmaking crisis – which we believe is not only situational but systemic – starkly reveals a serious issue: the current overcapacity in movement production. How did it come to this and who are the major players in this sector? What trends are to be expected? Europa Star has investigated.
ETA owes its name to… Eterna. ETA is the legacy of the first genuine ébauche manufacture founded in 1856, which, in 1906, became Eterna Werke, Gebrüder Schild & Co, a company that sold watches under the name of Eterna and movements under the name of Eta. In 1924, the company was legally divided into Eterna SA and Eta SA, which became a subsidiary of Ebauches SA where it rapidly played a crucial role. From 1978, all the different subsidiaries of Ebauches SA were grouped together under the same name, which became ETA SA in 1985 following the formation, in 1983, by Nicolas Hayek, of the SMH group, the initial name of what would become the hegemonic Swatch Group. In a context where no one any longer believed in the future of mechanical watches, ETA, without neglecting quartz, continued a strong R&D, industrial and automation policy which led it to occupy a substantially dominant position in the sector.
The firm issues no figures, but it is estimated that its annual production of mechanical movements is as high as 5 to 6 million units. Its sister company, Nivarox (Nivarox-FAR), manufacturer of the famous balance springs, enjoys a practical monopoly. It is only recently that some competitors have started to emerge but without really being able to compete in terms of quantity and consistent supply. The main star calibres proposed by ETA, made in tens and even hundreds of thousands of units for many years now, are considered as essential standards: precise, reliable, tried and tested, repairable worldwide by tens of thousands of watchmakers who often know them by heart, they offer practically unbeatable value for money. They have thus supported, and even been essential to, the rise of mechanical watchmaking, in Switzerland and elsewhere.
- Exploded view of a 2824-2 for Tissot
The most commonly found ETA calibre is the famous 2824-2, a so-called “basic” automatic movement with hour, minutes, and seconds at the centre of the Mecaline line. It can be modified, decorated or customised to work in an incalculable number of watches from all brands.
Another “star” that has contributed to the success of chronograph watches is the Valjoux 7750 which, with its 240 components (i.e. 10% fewer than its competitor at the time, Zenith’s El Primero) paved the way to the “democratisation” of the chronograph. This modifiable “engine” is the base on which top-end chronographs, with column wheel, are built. During our investigation on the current situation in the mechanical movement sector, the Swatch Group, the owner of ETA, declined to respond to our many requests.
- Erich Mosset (left) - Mecano R150 (right)
Interview with Erich Mosset, CEO Ronda Group
Founded in 1946 by William Mosset, father of current CEO, Erich Mosset, Ronda was originally dedicated to the production of spare parts for mechanical calibres. Then, as of 1952, they started to produce calibres under licence to the movement manufacturer PRAC (which has since ceased operations) before receiving the authorisation, then indispensable, to make its own mechanical calibres as of 1961 (initially Roskopf movements then Swiss pallet movements). In 1974, Ronda was one of the first to launch a Swiss quartz movement, then gradually abandoned mechanical movements to focus exclusively on quartz movements, of which it became the largest independent Swiss manufacturer, known for the quality of its products. Nowadays, the Ronda group, established in Switzerland and Thailand, employing 1,800 people (including 700 in Switzerland), makes 20 million quartz movements a year, broken down between Swiss made movements and Swiss parts movements made in Thailand (Ronda does not disclose the respective proportion of these two productions).
At Baselworld 2016, Ronda caused a sensation by declaring it was to tackle the mechanical segment with the launch of a new basic movement, the Mecano R150. This announcement precisely coincided with a seemingly saturated market. Bad timing?
Erich Mosset: "Yes, things are difficult, there’s no use denying it, but our strategy, defined in 2011, is long term and cannot be linked to an exceptional situation, whether positive, like during the great Chinese bubble, or negative, like today. We are very confident about the current situation as our strategy and plans are based on a normal market, an ’average’ market, which will resume sooner or later. We are also relaxed because we live, and we have lived well, for more than 30 years, on quartz, because we have a unique position in this sector which has allowed us to invest 25 million Swiss francs of equity in the development of the Mecano project. We do not expect a rapid return on investment and are free to develop our mechanical offer at our own pace. We consider it as an additional market. We depend on no one, not at all on the Swatch Group, and we produce most of the Mecano’s components ourselves, including certain parts of the assortments, with the exception of the balance spring. We manufacture the large majority of these components in Switzerland, a minimal proportion in Thailand and assemble our movements in Switzerland. Mecano is only available in Swiss made, and the new Swissness law coming in in 2017 suits us perfectly. Our total independence allows us to listen to and exclusively serve our customers, guaranteeing continuous and safe supply. The impulse given to the return to mechanical products came from these mainly independent Swiss and foreign customers. At the height of the Chinese bubble, they told us to be prepared to buy equivalents of the ETA 2824 (an 11 ½’’’ automatic calibre, three hands and a calendar) for 100 Swiss francs. But as I said, our strategy cannot be established on the basis of an exceptional situation which we could already anticipate would rebound. We wanted to offer a price that is absolutely competitive.
Our Mecano R150 is an automatic 11 ½’’’ calibre on ball bearings, with three hands and a calendar. It is priced slightly above 60 Swiss francs (for orders of a few thousand units). Its construction, designed from the outset with a view to its industrialisation, is completely original. There is nothing of an ETA clone about it but it is ETA compatible in terms of its encasement. Our medium-term objectives with this movement are to produce several hundred thousand calibres over the next few years. But, for the time being, our prime objective is quality. We have tested it on many occasions. It is reliable, robust and well finished. We are ready and delivery will start in early 2017. The Ronda Mecano – Cal. R150 illustrates our arrival on the mechanical watch market. It was logical to start with an automatic three-handed calibre. Of course we have ideas on how to develop it, with modules, but also with specific constructions, but we have no intention of rushing things. I repeat, we want to listen to our customers above all as we have a very strong relationship with them. I am personally very confident as to the future of the mechanical watch. It is a ’genuine watch’, an emotional product, which fascinates and will continue to fascinate, and not only in the high-end and luxury ranges. We are positioned in the mid-range, above 1,000 Swiss francs. Moreover, you will observe that above 1,500 Swiss francs to 2,000 Swiss francs, there are very few non-mechanical watches for men."
Interview with Miguel Garcia, director and owner of Sellita Holding sa.
“ Safeguarding achievements” is, in Miguel Garcia’s opinion, the priority in this period of strong slowdown. And the ‘achievements’ of Sellita are many, as the Neuchâtel-based company, with a payroll of 500, is the largest competitor of ETA with around 1.4 million mechanical movements produced each year.
When, in 2002-2003, Swatch Group announced its decision to gradually reduce its deliveries of completed movements and, above all, its assembly kits, Sellita took action and referred the case to COMCO. At the time, most of its business revolved around the assembly and finishing of ETA kits. This decision therefore threatened its long-term survival. Sellita – acting as the spokesperson of many major brands that would not directly take on the all-powerful Swatch Group - therefore took two lines of action: with COMCO to strictly frame this progressive withdrawal by ETA which risked strangling it, and the launch of a programme to develop its own movements. To achieve this, it had to find ways of saving time. This was done, setting 2019 as the cut-off date.
This objective seems to be in the process of being achieved, but then again the ‘crisis’ is hitting and the context is one of oversupply.
Miguel Garcia wanted to reply to our questions but given the scale of the issues, he remained very cautious and laconic in his answers.
Miguel Garcia: “Yes, we are experiencing a complex period and have had a drop in orders from our customers since early 2015.
We set up the necessary measures over a year ago and adapted our industrial tools to deal with the situation. The supply of movements currently exceeds demand. We are taking advantage of this time to strengthen our structures and our position in order to be ready to satisfy demand when the recovery arrives, because, sooner or later, it will be here.
We now offer a wide range of high quality mechanical movements at very competitive prices and we have a dynamic production capability.”
Interview with Frédéric Wenger, Director of La Joux-Perret
Established in La Chaux-de-Fonds, La Joux-Perret (taken over in 2012 by the Japanese Citizen group, also the owner of the Miyota movement manufacturer and which has just bought out Frédérique Constant – read more in the article by Joe Thompson in this issue) is one of the key players in the Swiss mechanical movement market. The firm does not disclose its production figures, but it is estimated at slightly fewer than 50,000 movements and modules. But La Joux-Perret also offers one of the largest and most extensive ranges on the market. Characterised by the flexibility of its production facilities, La Joux-Perret therefore offers simple movements transformed on the basis of the ETA 2892, for example, but also offers much more complex and genuinely alternative transformations. Its range of simple or more complex chronographs, with split seconds, or coupled with other complications, is one of its major specialities. But the firm also offers, in the form of modules or built-in movements, power reserves, grandes dates, its own tourbillons, and even very specific specialities such as rare jumping seconds hands. Its prices therefore range from the basic module at 100 Swiss francs to the top of the range, or even very top-ofthe- range (a tourbillon on sapphire at 30,000 Swiss francs) or unique pieces. Moreover, La Joux-Perret also owns the high-end brand, Arnold & Son, which has just relaunched Angélus.
The firm produces just about everything related to movements in-house, with the exception of assortments and balance springs (except in the case of very top-ofthe- range products where they manufacture all the components). La Joux-Perret in fact produces a large number of components for third parties.
Alongside Sellita, La Joux-Perret was also very active in the negotiations conducted by COMCO. Frédéric Wenger agreed to answer our questions but also remained concise.
Frédéric Wenger: “Yes, today supply exceeds demand and that is the case for all types of movement but above all base movements. You just need to take a look at the latest export figures for July 2016 to realise the seriousness of the situation (Editor’s note: once again down 14.2% on July 2015. Hong Kong, which was the leading market for Swiss watchmaking, is down 33%, i.e. a 53% reduction in two years).
The situation is therefore very complicated and many customers, which are independent, small or medium-sized, are suffering. Everyone has stock. I have to admit that we had to impose technical redundancies and proceed with a certain but limited number of lay-offs. However, the quality, variety and extent of our range, the flexibility of our production facilities and the high level of skills of our staff will get us through. And being linked to Citizen, a major, ambitious and solid watchmaking group, will also help us."
Interview with Laurent Besse, Managing Director, Swiss Festina Group
The specificity of Soprod, which belongs to the Festina group, is to produce mechanical movements and quartz movements at the same time as rapidly becoming a Swiss leader in connected watches. [On this subject, see the feature on Connected Watches in our next issue 6/16.] As far as mechanical movements are concerned, Soprod makes 50,000 to 60,000 units from ETA components and about 150,000 of its own movements. Another major advantage is that Soprod controls its own production of balance springs, which makes it completely independent.
Laurent Besse: “There are many players in the Swiss movement market today. You therefore have to stand out in terms of product range. We do not produce ETA clones with our own movements and we dedicate a lot of investment to that. Unfortunately, these considerations are taking a back seat as price becomes the predominant factor. Yet innovation has a cost and we have enormously invested in R&D in the past two years: an 8 ¾’’’ ladies’ movement, specific developments for the group’s brands (Editor’s note: Perrelet and Leroy), an 11 ½’’’ mechanical calibre, connected products, quartz, etc. Theoretically we can deliver small series starting from 200 movements. We delivered 150,000 movements last year but the figures have slumped this year for everyone. Stocks are massive as the brands have taken their quotas from ETA as a precaution. For us, diversification is therefore very important and a new world is dawning with connected watches. Our modules for connected watches offer strong potential. All functions are possible and we have developed our own software with HES-SO Valais in Sion. We offer an original solution, because depending on a giant raises issues, as illustrated with the problems TAG Heuer suffered with Intel. But for us, although mechanical movements remain the priority in terms of value, connected systems are already the leader in terms of quantity with hundreds of thousands of modules. Quartz is our third activity. But I fear a downward levelling-off in Swiss made mechanical calibres in terms of pricing, similar to what happened with quartz.”
Interview with Valérien Jaquet, Co-founder and Director, Concepto Watch Factory
Founded by a precocious genius in the watchmaking industry, Valérien Jaquet, Concepto very rapidly grew and now employs a hundred or so staff in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Concepto, which offers its own range of six movements, brings together all watchmaking trades and manufactures between 50,000 and 60,000 mechanical movements each year. The company makes its own movement assortments. It now includes some forty or so customer brands including RJ-Romain Jerome, Hublot and Louis Moinet.
Valérien Jaquet: “In 2006, when the company was set up, we did the assembling, but, as we progressed, the market asked us for much more than our suppliers could deliver in time. We were not well supplied and so we internalised the entire production of our components, except for barrel springs and rubies! We can assemble the movement from A to Z, proceed from the prototype through to the approved product and offer single pieces through to tens of thousands of calibres. We have delivered around 60,000 movements for one single reference. We propose complications and even offer a tourbillon and minute repeater. We now deliver 90% movements and 10% components. Our growth was very strong until 2008. But today, the market will not start to recover before another full year. But within a year or so, the market will include too many manufacturers of entry level calibres priced between 50 and 300 francs. ETA has resumed deliveries of movements and turned on the tap again with very competitive prices. We offer a simple calibre at 250 Swiss francs but customisation, on models worth tens of thousands of Swiss francs, has greater potential. We have therefore reacted by offering tailor-made products, small series with flexibility and speed. For example, it is possible to order four tourbillons from us."
Interview with Sébastien Gigon, Sales Director, Technotime
A senior manager at Technotime, Sébastien Gigon is the man who openly expresses his anger at ETA, whom he accuses of jeopardising the whole independent industrial fabric by making a U-turn and re-opening the floodgates. He finds this “leverage” used to deal with the crisis hard to swallow, and believes he and many others are paying the price. [Read above his rant about ETA].
But over and above all that, what does Technotime , whose broad and high quality catalogue ranges from the ‘basic’ calibre to the tourbillon, not forgetting balance springs, offer today?
Sébastien Gigon: “We wanted to join forces with another large producer of mechanical movements as we have invested millions in the production of balance springs, but its manager refused. It would have made sense, though, as, with Soprod, Atokalpa and Precision Engineering, we are one of the rare alternatives to Nivarox-FAR [Swatch Group]. This year, we delivered more than 100,000 balance springs to 14 customers. “We offer three families of calibre: modules at 200 Swiss francs, manufacture movements from 500 to 1,000 Swiss francs and tourbillons from 7,500 to 9,000 Swiss francs. It’s therefore a broad range.
We started to feel the slowdown in 2015. This year, the brakes are full on. There is no visibility whatsoever. What will it be like next year? Last year we made between 12,000 and 15,000 calibres. This year we will target 25,000, especially modules. There will be an increase in quantity, but a drop in sales of tourbillons. Thus a fall in profitability. We arrived on the market with a beautiful tourbillon at 8,000 francs. Just afterwards, Biver launched its tourbillon at 15,000 Swiss francs in a completed watch. Investing takes time and it is also necessary to arrive at the right time, after all that effort. I won’t deny that my colleagues and I are very worried about the first part of 2017.
Our customers are mainly independent watchmakers. We are willing to join forces to face future threats.”
Interview with Jean-Daniel Dubois, Director, Vaucher Manufacture
Industrialisation once again became the Holy Grail. Starting in1996, Pierre Landolt, at the head of the Sandoz Family Foundation, outlined the independent industrial entity he wished to build. And he built it. Based around the Parmigiani brand, a complete industrial manufacturing network now controls full verticality of production. Right down to the hides entrusted by Hermès, which produces its own movements with Vaucher, as it has a 25% stake in the Manufacture.
Jean-Daniel Dubois: “Our strength lies in the fact that we can design 98% of components in the different divisions of our group, for very creative brands that can thus focus on marketing watches. But today, we face a systemic problem. Our production capabilities are greater than the market’s absorption possibilities.
By offering five main calibres, in prices starting from 800 Swiss francs, we are on a different level than other calibre manufacturers. We offer lower quantities and exclusivity. The difficulty lies in getting customers to understand why our three-handed movements are four times the price of those of our competitors. But that’s like having a choice between a Rolls Royce and a Fiat. We can never compete in terms of quantity and price with ETA, or, now, Ronda . Through flexibility, customisation, tailor-made and small series, we need to go even further and develop exceptional and ultra-flat movements, tourbillons, etc.
We manufactured 20,000 movements in 2015 and are targeting 12,000 to 18,000 movements this year. We are returning to the very top of the range, the core being located at 1,000 to 1,500 Swiss francs and aim to get back into the black by 2019.
Sales are the most critical point today. Achieving ‘liberation’ from the industrial part! But the supply of movements on the market is too high, it’s becoming a real problem. Ronda corresponds to the entry level of Sellita and ETA and has strong DNA in movements. We do not target the same volumes. We are perhaps complementary in the originality of our approaches, upstream and downstream from ETA. We need to stand out at all costs. We need to adapt our structures to a niche market, without price competition. All of of Asia is launching 60% Swiss made watches! We need to be wary of downward levelling. We saw what happened with quartz movements that now cost 2 Swiss francs.
A partner like Richard Mille effectively matches our current ambitions. We strive for originality. Regarding Parmigiani Fleurier , a project like the Senfine has come just at the right time and is worth a mention.”
Interview with Samir Merdanovic, Director, Eterna Movement Company (EMC)
After 155 years as a Swiss entity, Eterna was taken over in 2011 by the powerful China Haidian group (since renamed Citychamp, it is both a manufacturer, with the Ebohr and Rossini brands worth more than 40% of the Chinese domestic market, and a top ranking distributor). Symbolically this takeover was important as Eterna is a historic player in mechanical movements. Since then, a specific entity, Eterna Movement, has been founded to deliver to third parties, even though Citychamp absorbs around 40% of production for its Swiss made brands Eterna and Corum.
Samir Merdanovic: "We do not compare ourselves with either ETA or Sellita . In terms of range, we would position ourselves between ETA and Vaucher Manufacture. We do not opt for volume but offer good quality at a good price.
Finishing is standard but we are not an ETA clone, copy or even compatible with ETA.
Our range starts with a manual three-handed movement at 200 Swiss francs, automatic at 250 Swiss francs, supplemented by GMT or moon phase modules at 250 to 300 Swiss francs. Or an automatic flyback chrono with date and 60-hour power reserve at 500 Swiss francs. For example, we supply Corum with skeleton chronos. What is still missing are ladies’ movements but we do have ongoing projects.
Last year we delivered between 4,000 and 5,000 pieces and this year we will again double our production or produce even more. Our best-seller is the 3914 calibre with GMT at 6 o’clock.
"I would like to say that if the Chinese had not invested in Switzerland, it is probable that Eterna would no longer be up and running today! They also invested heavily in the development of EMC. We can thank them as they currently support a proportion of Swiss brands…
Admittedly, we are not yet profitable, but we are hoping to break even within the next eighteen months. In 2015, we had a negative balance of 1.8 million Swiss francs. We are in a controlled investment phase. The process takes time!
Our payroll is back up to 40 people and we offer updated, newly developed movements produced with modern methods and machinery. For example, five or six of our different movements can be inserted in the same case because they are all based on the same basic Caliber 39. It’s a very important factor for after-sales service, and an advantage for the brand, to offer different functions in the same product line.
We know that the watchmaking industry is facing hard times. But now is the best time to invest and win new customers. We are going ahead with our plan.”
Interview with Miro Bapic, Director, Felsa-Leschot
Felsa is one of the ‘small’ players in Swiss mechanical movements. It mainly makes two types of basic calibre, automatic 8 2/4’’’ and 11 ½’’’, with a few additional complications like the 24-hour disc, moon phase, big date, etc.
Miro Bapic: “We delivered 60,000 calibres in 2015, but our schedule, drawn up through to 2022, forecasts a progressive increase in quantity to reach 150 to 200,000 calibres. This having been said, we already have the theoretical capacity to produce 500,000. These calibres are ETA-compatible, in particular with the 2814 and 2892, the most commonly found ones. Their average price ranges from 95 Swiss francs to 165 Swiss francs, depending on their complexity. But the situation is tricky and is getting tougher. People complain, pay late but want their parts at all costs. Orders are nevertheless down and those who say theirs are not are lying. ETA has reopened the floodgates. This affects all our competitors and creates massive confusion. One day we deliver, another day we don’t… Customers are never guaranteed a reliable source of supply. Another issue: the arrival of Ronda in the mechanical movement market could upset the whole situation. They are very serious players who have upgraded their quality through their expertise in quartz. We’ll see how they get on in mechanical movements. But they are launching a three-handed calibre and calendar, a model we are wiling to abandon. Therefore, I do not really consider them as direct competitors.
Despite the tricky situation, we have, however, got through difficult times and we have been fully focused on the development of a specific product for a customer. As we often are, in fact. Our customers want Swiss Made, which we are – our external suppliers are Swiss, all our operations are in-house – but most of our customers are not Swiss. This being said, although the new Swissness law is not a problem for us, I don’t think it’s a good idea. The Japanese are more cunning and label their products ‘Japan’ and not ‘Made in…’. It gives more freedom and, in the current context, that freedom is key.”
Interview with Bruno Karbiche, R&D Manager, IMH
Established in Le Locle, Innovations Manufactures Horlogères (IMH) develops and manufactures watches, movements, components and cases. This manufacture, linked to the Julien Coudray brand, was taken over by the Belgian industrialist Joris Ide, also the owner of Lebeau-Courally. It specialises in small series.
Bruno Karbiche: “We make movements in the 300 to 15,000 Swiss franc price range, including tourbillons. We belong to the same group as Lebeau-Courally (7,000 – 20,000 Swiss francs) and Julien Coudray (starting at 70,000 Swiss francs), who are our customers. IMH has its own life. We work for the three major groups. We supply small components but also provide artistic work for them.
We aim to be stronger in movements in small and medium series, ranging from 1 to 500 units. That’s our segment. We employ only 25 people and one of our specialities is grand-feu enamelling. The market is admittedly very quiet at the moment but many independent manufactures come to us for small series, ranging from 1 to 50 movements. We were founded in 2007 and were taken over by the Belgian Ide family in 2015. We strive to satisfy requirements in a way that cannot be found by our customers elsewhere. We also offer flexibility and customisation.”
See the article: SPECIAL REPORT - Mechanical Movements : Stormy weather for movements