A quantum leap by Eterna SA

December 2004

Founded 148 years ago, Eterna is an integral part of Switzerland’s watchmaking history. Through the perturbations caused by economic turbulence, two World Wars, amalgamations, industry takeovers, sell-outs, buy outs and bankruptcies, the brand managed to maintain production without a break. Today, under the astute direction of Ernst F. Seyr, the brand is once again moving into the limelight.

Ernst Seyr joined Eterna in CEO in November of 2000 after working for five years in the American Information Technology (IT) industry and prior to that having his own company in the aviation industry.
The change of industries didn’t come too hard for him since he believes there are similar demands within the aviation and watch industries. As he explains, “… performance, reliability, first class craftsmanship and outstanding design to name just a few. Expensive toys for big boys if you want. Always having been deeply involved in the technical part of the airplane business and having a sound background in mechanical engineering it was not very difficult to get to understand the basics of mechanical watches. Of course the development of the Indicator brought a quantum leap to my understanding for complicated watches. However, I had to learn a thing or two about the unique way the watch industry works with regards to production and marketing and distribution.”


Porsche Design Indicator


Kontiki Chrono cuir and KonTiki 4 Hands

Europa Star: What was the state of Eterna when you took overı

Ernst Seyr: I can’t disclose exact figures, but its safe to say that Eterna never was a mass product, hovering between 50,000 and 100,000 watches a year. Even in the heyday of Swiss watches in the 50s and 60s, Eterna produced fewer watches than its competitors, brands such as Longines, Omega or Rolex. Eterna was never a brand with a truly worldwide distribution. However, it's production spin-off (ETA) was making big money with basic movements sold on a worldwide basis. It’s fair to say Eterna was the hobby of the famous Schild family and they kept it low key so as not to get in conflict with it's ETA customers. On the other hand, in the 30s there was a regulation in place that prohibited companies with a branded watch to have a business as movement suppliers to other companies.
Eterna had a reputation for being the best quality watch sold at a very reasonable price and it was always operative even when some other famous companies where dead and buried! So when I took over in 2000 we were well within the historic figures of the last 15 to 20 years, which included the number of employees.
The situation today is that our production has dropped by about 50% and we have concentrated on R & D and the design of new products. Also we have pulled out of Asia, Italy and the USA where we had very poor representation. The rest of the world, mainly Europe is currently under reconstruction except in Germany where we have our own distribution set up.
Over the last 3 years we have started to very carefully reposition Eterna by means of streamlining the collection and cranking up the requirements for a quality distribution. Of course this is a process that will take considerable time and has to go hand in hand with an important investment into the product as well. Initially, that means a reduction in the quantity we produce over, say, the next two to three years. But we have the patience and the stamina to pull that through!
We’ve invested in our own mechanical movements deep into the double-digit in the millions [Swiss francs] over the last 2 years, now we are carefully entering new markets and are aiming for a genuine worldwide distribution in the next 3 to 5 years.”

Europa Star: With the acquisition of Porsche Design, Eterna SA has two very different products and obviously two very different approaches. Can you explain the difference in your strategies for these brandsı

Ernst Seyr: The strategy for Eterna is to highlight the historic values such as innovation, reliability and timeless style combined with true manufacturing craftsmanship and watchmaking spirit. Comparatively low production - a real niche product with a great history trying to appeal to those who care about the ‘true values’, the quiet power of tradition and dedication.
With Porsche Design the strategy is almost the opposite - all we need now is tremendous speed. The development of the last two years has clearly shown that the potential of the brand is almost unlimited - provided the product is exactly right. There is a very special expectation out there in the market as to what a Porsche Design watch has to represent. If this expectation is met, the product is a fast mover. Naturally it needs considerable investment in pro-
duct development to create a technically outstanding and innovative watch - and even more resources to go out and tell everybody!
With the Indicator, we at Eterna have shown that we can compete with the best in the industry when it comes to product creation, engineering and watch making resourcefulness. For the last two and a half years, we have had 12 people just in product development and design and that doesn’t include the outside consultants such as Paul Gerber and several designers we use. This is a good size development crew for a company of 50 people.
However, the results we achieved with this crew are absolutely outstanding and they can be held up to projects developed by other brands that have many times our budget and manpower. Now we are into the second stage of development and we are building up our capacity for the production of the Indicator and the new mechanical movements. The space for it is there and we have already invested in the latest state of the art production and quality control equipment.

Europa Star: Does manufacturing the Porsche Design watches make more profit for Eterna SA than the manufacturing of the Eterna watches and where do you see the greatest potential for the two brandsı

Ernst Seyr: There is no excessive profit in the Porsche Design products as we have to pay a considerable license fee to produce it and it is expensive to market it. However, part of that goes into the global marketing of the brand and creates volume. So we hope that Porsche Design will be making a good profit for us in the future. As you can imagine, to maintain a costly development department such as the one we now have, we need additional activities to justify this technical overkill. Porsche Design with its high demand on ‘thinking outside the watchmaking box’ is just the right brand to make use of our resources.
With Eterna, naturally the greatest potential is in the countries that recall the historic summits the brand attained. Besides the German speaking part of Europe, there is also Italy for example, but during the last 20 years we have not been very successful there, however the brand has good potential as the market is void of our products and with the right approach we see excellent possibilities there.
China is another potentially good market for Eterna since we had a special deal with the Mao regime in the 60s whereby gold watches were given to senior government officials, which brought recognition and respect to the brand. Japan is potentially good also because we had a reputation for being a reliable mechanical gold watch.
The potential with Porsche Design is worldwide, maybe with the exemption of China, where neither the watch nor the car has a comparable image. We have great expectations in the USA, where we are making a market entry through the Porsche Design (PLH) owned distribution company.
For the immediate future our plans for re-entering the Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan markets are solely for Porsche Design. Our strategy is to go with one or two main distributors and we are only days short of signing up an agreement so you can understand that I cannot elaborate on this issue at this time.

Europa Star: You mentioned some time ago that “Mechanical watches don’t make sense if you don’t take the best 3-hand automatic movement.” Do you see the three hand movements as Eterna’s present and future or will you be moving into complications - other than your Kon Tiki chronographı

Ernst Seyr: What I wanted to say is, if you go into complications you have to start with the best basic movement such as our 3030, based on one of the best 3 hands movement in the history of mechanical watches i.e. the 1504 Eterna movement developed in the 60s. This movement was the basis for the famous 2892 ETA movement. And yes, of course we will move into complications, in fact we have two under development right now.

Europa Star: Do you see Eterna ever getting back to the sort of production figures of the 1940s – between 50,000 and 100,000ı

Ernst Seyr: Production was around 100,000 in the 1940s and yes, we are aiming to hit 50,000 within three to four years from now. And they will be mostly mechanical.

Eterna Milestones

1856November 7, Dr. Josef Girard and schoolteacher Urs Schild create the company that
later became known as Eterna.

1906The founding of Fabrique Eterna, Schild Frères & Co. The Eterna name, used previously on the dials, becomes part of the company name.

1914Eterna presents the first wristwatch with an alarm at the Swiss national Exhibition.

1926The first watch-cigarette lighter. Each time the flame was ignited, the watch was wound up.

1930The smallest volume-production Baguette wristwatch with its ‘baguette’ movement is launched and enjoys great popularity with the ladies.

1931The manufacture of the first alarm clock with an 8-day movement.

1932Theodor Schild divides Eterna into two distinct companies:
1. Eterna SA for the manufacture of precision watches.
2. ETA SA for the production of movement blanks.

1947One of the first sports watches, the Eterna Kon Tiki, is used by the crew of Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa boat Kon Tiki, in the 97 day 7,600 kilometre Pacific crossing.

1948Creation of the Eterna-Matic. For the first time ball bearings were used to mount
the rotor onto a movement with automatic winding. The five ball bearings of the Eterna-Matic becomes the symbolic trademark for Eterna.

1956In celebration of the brand’s 100th anniversary, the highly successful ‘extra slim’ Centenaire wristwatch collection is introduced.

1958The first volume-produced Eterna-Matic Kon Tiki sports watch is launched.

1962The Eterna-Matic 3000 at 3.4 mm thick becomes the slimmest automatic wristwatch.

1970The introduction of the Eterna Sonic, the brand’s first electronic wristwatch.

1976The Eterna Royal Quartz Kon Tiki, with date and water-resistance to 100 metres,becomes the slimmest quartz watch in the world.

1979The Eterna Linea Quartz Squelette at 1.5 mm is the slimmest quartz watch
ever produced.

1980ETA and Eterna set the absolute record with the Eterna Linea Museum at just
0.98 mm thick. Eterna awarded the Grand Prix de l’Excellence Européenne.

1981Launch of the Eterna CXXV

1984The PCW group takes over Eterna SA.

1986With the Eterna Galaxis – ‘Poetry in blue’ – the brand penetrates the luxury watch segment.

1994The renaissance of the classic Kon Tiki sports watch.

1995F.A. Porsche takes over Eterna SA.
The new Pininfarina models from Eterna are introduced. 1935 and Art Deco models.

2004The revolutionary Porsche Design Indicator, a chronograph with combined mechanical-digital chronometer display, is launched at BaselWorld.

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