In the summer of 2004, the Swatch Group announced that the President of ETA, Anton Bally, would be retiring from his managerial responsibilities, for health reasons. To fill the position of the man who, for many years, has incarnated the absolute leader of movement producers, the group appointed Thomas Meier.
The new President, aged 45, has the difficult task of following in the footsteps of his predecessor and assuring the continuity of his leadership in an environment where many factors are in play to try and upset the crushing dominance that ETA has in supplying the Swiss watch sector. Europa Star talked with Thomas Meier at the recent BaselWorld show.
Valgranges A07.111, AO7.161 and AO7.211
An atypical journey
German by origin, Thomas Meier has travelled a fairly atypical road. In fact, after university studies in economics, he launches out, not in the career that opened before him, but begins instead an apprenticeship in watchmaking in Pforzheim. Passionate about watch technology and desirous of becoming a ‘constructor’, he realizes that the apprenticeship is not enough. He then returns to the halls of the university, but this time takes up the study of engineering, with a specialization in micro-electronics and micro-mechanics.
After a stint at Junghans, where he familiarizes himself with radio-controlled watches, one of the grand specialties of the German firm, he joins the Swatch Group, where he has been ever since.
His first position led him to develop the Bodyguard watch (which as its name indicates, is able to broadcast a strident alarm) at Mido; he then moves over to Swatch where he oversees the Access watches.
After a pause of fifteen months, he returns to Swatch to develop the interactions between the watch and the Internet. But, an abrupt turning point takes him far from the electronic side and right into the heart of the most traditional and sophisticated world of mechanics. Nicolas Hayek names him as product chief at Breguet, a position that he will hold for two years, until appointed to head up ETA.
One can easily imagine that the wealth of experience acquired during his journey was a determinant factor in his nomination to the presidency of ETA and his entrance into the larger management spheres of the group, which should allow him to directly work with all the brands. In this regard, ETA, with its 8,000 employees spread out in dozens of production centres, is as active in mechanical movements as it is in quartz and ultra-technical movements.
"When Anton Bally transferred ETA’s management responsibilities to me, and I visited all of our production sites,” explains Thomas Meier, “I was truly stupefied by our technical level, but,” he quickly adds, “even if we have reached an exceptional degree of quality and reliability, we are going to continue to improve and refine our offer even more, both in the mechanical sector as well as with quartz.”
When one tries to ask more precise questions on this point – innovations under study – Thomas Meier becomes immediately more guarded, in keeping with the policies of the Swatch Group. Asked about the latest advances in mechanical movements, whether in research or in materials, such as the recent silicon wheels and escapements developed by Patek Philippe and Ulysse Nardin, or either in the domain of ‘hybrid’ movements as exemplified by the recent Spring Drive from Seiko, Thomas Meier becomes more circumspect. “We are thinking about it; we are not ignoring it. Some ideas are interesting, but it will be up to the consumer to determine their future. In the case of hybrid and other movements, I personally think that the consumer will continue to prefer the mechanical movement. In 100 years from now, the mechanical movement will still be repairable.”
Birth of the Valgranges
More precisely, in the domain of the mechanical calibre, ETA is launching a new range of movements, the Valgranges family (derived from the contraction of the names Valjoux and Granges, which is the name of the production site).
“I think that this range will have a great future and will become a standard reference, like Valjoux, on which it is based,” insists Meier, “because this movement has a soul.”
Positioned at the top end of the ETA offer, this large-sized calibre of 16'''1/2 (16 and a half lines, or 37.22 mm in diameter) is designed to meet the current trend for big watches. These larger sizes also create ample space for decora-ting the piece, giving it a certain ‘added value’ that is becoming increasingly more widespread. With its 46-hour power reserve, this ‘big brother’ of the Valjoux calibre is today available in versions featuring hour, minute, seconds and date (Valgranges A07.111), with an additional power reserve display (AO7.161), or in a chronographic version (AO7.211). Starting in the autumn of 2005, a model equipped with a 24-hour time zone readout will arrive on the market (AO7.171). It should be mentioned that all these versions, with the same diameter and same thickness, have identical overall dimensions.
Innovations in quartz
In the domain of its economic quartz movements, ETA is launching a very large date in its Trendline collection. One particularity of this very large date is that two date discs are used, the first numbered from 1 to 15 and the second from 16 to 31, which thus allows for a direct jump from 31 to 1. A decisive stylistic advantage is that the design of this new calibre (11'''1/2 reference F06.161) opens opportunities for designers to choose from among many options for positioning the window (2, 3, 4, 6, 9 or 12 o’clock) which is also large (3.70 mm x 2.80 mm).
Asked about the watch he personally favours, Thomas Meier admits his weakness for the Swatch. “I have always admired this watch,” he confesses, “since the day I understood the thought behind its creation: decrease the number of component parts in order to obtain better quality. In my mind’s eye, Swatch also has a soul. It has remained youthful even up to now, and we are continuing to develop many interesting things. You only have to see the Paparazzi or look at the latest developments in relation to the Internet to understand that its potential for development remains enormous.”
Source: June -July 2005 Issue
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