n 2007 Raffaello Radicchi, an entrepreneur in La Chaux-de-Fonds, became the new owner of Schwarz Etienne, established in 1902.
Schwarz Etienne watches were worn by numerous celebrities in the 1960s, including Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet, and over the pond, Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield, who wore a Venus, at that time the company’s best-selling brand. Having stumbled through the 1970s and 1980s, and survived the quartz crisis, in 1985 Schwarz Etienne returned to its original expertise: making watch movements. It supplied such prestigious names as Chanel, Dunhill and Mauboussin, building its own brand at the same time.
- Europa Star, 1964
A new dimension
The real turnaround came in 2007 when Schwarz Etienne was bought by Rafaello Radicchi. The son of Italian smallholders, Radicchi found his first job in Switzerland as a formworker on the Gothard Road Tunnel. Forty years later, he presides over the largest privately-owned real-estate portfolio in the Canton of Neuchâtel. In addition to his 150-plus properties, he is head of Insulae, a holding company that owns a building contractor and architectural practice, plus businesses specialising in masonry and structural works, plastering, painting and joinery, as well as management and brokerage services.
- The new Schwarz Etienne headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds
More to the point, Rafaello Radicchi owns RSM, a manufacturer of gold and steel components for the watch industry. These range from movement bridges, plates and gears to every part of the case, the different components of the bracelet, and external parts such as crowns and pushers. RSM is in the process of relocating its impressive fleet of machinery to the same premises as sister company E20 Innovations, which develops and produces balance springs, balance wheels, pallet levers and escape wheels, from one-off pieces to production runs of several thousand, from standard ranges to ultra high-end. Together they form a solid industrial base that has been largely integrated into Schwarz Etienne.
La Division du Temps
Schwarz Etienne first took the decision to design and produce its own calibre in 2013-2014, and hired an experienced movement constructor for that purpose. By supplying movements to third parties, it was able to increase volumes and thereby reduce costs. La Division du Temps was set up to manage this private label activity, which covers everything from the movement to the complete watch.
Movements by La Division du Temps are derived from calibres developed for Schwarz Etienne’s own use, but with significant differences.
- ASE 100.00 Movement (Automatic Schwarz Etienne): automatic movement with off-centre micro-rotor, secured by self-blocking key. Power reserve of at least 4 days. Stop seconds. Central hours and minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock (optional). Second time zone indication (GMT) in the centre (optional), adjusted by the crown. Designed to accept complications.
One thing they do have in common is that the automatics are all wound by a micro-rotor. “It’s a modern solution that opens up multiple possibilities within the same movement height,” we are told. “Because it’s modular, we can play around with it, with the additional advantage that it hides nothing of the movement.” In the manual-winding version, the micro-rotor is replaced by twin parallel-mounted barrels for 96 hours of power reserve.
This base movement, with indications of hours, minutes and small seconds, can also incorporate a GMT function (in the automatic version) or a power-reserve indicator at 10 o’clock, in the same 13.4 millimetres by 5.35 millimetres (6.3 millimetres for the ISE version which positions the micro-rotor on the dial side).
- MSE 100.00 Movement (Manual Schwarz Etienne): manual movement with two parallel-mounted barrels. Power reserve of 4 days. Stop seconds. Modular construction on the same base. Central hours and minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock (optional). Power reserve indication at 9 o’clock or between 1 and 2 o’clock (optional). Second time zone indication (GMT) in the centre (optional), adjusted by the crown. Designed to accept complications.
The same base movement is also offered with an inverted flying tourbillon, rotating anti-clockwise (because of the inverted construction) alongside to the micro-rotor. In another configuration – which they are keeping for themselves – the tourbillon is paired with an innovative retrograde small seconds.
All the movements share virtually the same construction and deliver the same performance. However, versions with six bridges, a more sophisticated architecture, are reserved for Schwarz Etienne watches. Movements with three bridges are for third parties, with options such as skeletonisation, different surface treatments and colours, or more complex operations.
- TSE 121.00 Movement (Tourbillon Schwarz Etienne): fourth evolution of the Schwarz Etienne modular concept. Inverted construction with micro-rotor and flying or conventional tourbillon on the dial side. The TSE122.0 incorporates an original retrograde seconds, connected directly to the tourbillon. Power reserve of 70 hours.
Schwarz Etienne also develops movements to customer specifications, using one of its micro-rotor automatic or manual-winding calibres as a base. It says it is “especially interested in newly created or relaunched brands” – presumably ones that are not looking for an ETA clone, with prices starting from around CHF 1,000. “Our movements are for customers seeking quality and differentiation, with no volume limitations. Orders can range from five watches, although this will imply a higher cost, to several hundred.”
Schwarz Etienne is ready for the next stage in its development. It recently moved into a new head office: a superb villa on the edge of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which has been fully refurbished to house the design office, project management, marketing, logistics, inventory, quality control, as well as movement and watch assembly. Twenty-five people are employed there.
- ISE 100.00 Movement (Inverted Schwarz Etienne): inverted automatic movement base on the ASE calibre. Inverted construction with off-centre micro-rotor and regulating organ on the dial side. Power reserve of at least 86 hours. Hours, minutes, small seconds at 11 o’clock.
At the same time, the company is reorganising its industrial wing, RSM and E20 Innovations, into a single building. This vertical integration brings clear advantages, given the lengthy wait times for outsourced components (for Schwarz Etienne, this means screws, jewels, mainsprings, barrels and pins).
“We know to expect at least a six-month wait,” says one manager with a smile. “Possibly twelve months, even two years… until the next crisis comes along!”
Changes are also taking place at executive level with the appointment, effective forthwith, of two industry veterans, Ronald Ledermann and Walter Ribaga. And with several new developments in the pipeline, Schwarz Etienne can truly say it has grand ambitions.