Ebauches SA

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See Also: ASUAG

Ebauches SA (often called ESA) was a holding company for Swiss watch movement manufacturers from 1926, becoming the main movement unit of ASUAG in 1931 until it was merged to become the modern ETA between 1979 and 1985.

Narrative

In December 1926, amid a period marked by overproduction, sales slumps, and unemployment, three of Switzerland's most prominent movement blank manufacturers (A. Schild in Grenchen, the Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon in Fontainemelon, and Ad. Michel in Grenchen) decided to merge their financial and industrial capabilities under the name Ebauches SA. This newly-formed entity aimed to achieve several key objectives: stabilize the prices and sales conditions of movement blanks, bring template production under control, establish connections with watchmaking associations and other industrial producers, prevent the establishment of foreign subsidiaries, and promote product quality while standardizing movement parts.

Created during a unique economic climate, the company immediately set ambitious goals to tackle the widespread issues facing the Swiss watchmaking industry at the time. Its significant role, further solidified by later acquiring almost all other movement blank manufacturers, naturally positioned Ebauches SA as a leader not only in Switzerland but globally. Throughout its history, during both crises and boom periods, Ebauches SA has played a pivotal regulatory and driving role for the entire watchmaking sector, serving as the primary supplier to the Swiss watch industry and becoming the world's leading producer of essential watch components. The company quickly recognized its industrial calling to uphold and advance the Swiss watchmaking industry's leadership worldwide by maintaining a high level of technological development in its products, offering a wide range of calibers in industrial quantities, and ensuring specialized service both to watchmaking manufacturers and consumers through trade channels.

Ebauches SA consistently strived to meet the market's needs comprehensively through the diversity and quality of its products. In the 50 years following its formation in 1926, it produced approximately 1.1 billion movement blanks and modules of various types and sizes, ranging from standard quality blanks, standardized templates, large pieces for pocket watches, low-volume or ultra-thin movements, chronographs, anchor or Roskopf movements, mechanical or automatic winding modules, to electronic watch modules of all types and categories, including quartz watch components. This wide range of horological products highlighted Ebauches SA's commitment to covering the market's demands as fully as possible.

To maintain its leadership in horological technology, Ebauches SA prioritized research and development. This commitment has led to the study and development of new products and the qualitative improvement and industrialization of existing ones. Through its laboratories and in collaboration with research institutes, the company has significantly contributed to the technological advancement of the watch. These efforts have extended to related sectors such as primary time and frequency standards and the production of electronic machine controls and switching units, especially in the 1970s with the accelerated development and production of modules for electronic watches. Ebauches SA's expertise in this field enabled it to produce all necessary components for quartz watches, whether solid state or analog, in industrial quantities.

However, Ebauches SA's industrial mission was not limited to mastering technology and product range. These core aspects of its activity and goals would not have been successful without the development of a structured and organized customer service. The technical centers it has established worldwide in collaboration with the Swiss Watch Federation, the highly attended training courses it offered at its Marin center or abroad, the technical documentation it regularly sent to professional schools and watchmakers globally, and its promotional activities across all markets demonstrated its responsibility towards the entire Swiss watchmaking industry. Furthermore, its global supply center, holding over a billion parts of all kinds, facilitated the work of watchmakers and jewelers worldwide.

History

The components of Ebauches SA date from as early as 1793, when the factory that would become FHF is founded in Fontainemelon. ETA, the eventual successor to Ebauches SA, traces its history to the 1856 founding of Dr. Girard and Schild Ebauches in Grenchen. Another important component, A. Schild, was established in 1896 in Grenchen.

Ebauches SA was created on 27 December 1926 as a holding company with headquarters in Neuchâtel and began operations on January 1, 1927. Initial members were A. Schild AG (AS or ASSA) and Adolphe Michel SA (AMSA) of Grenchen and Fabrique d' Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF) of Fontainemelon. The purpose of this merger was to bring order to the chaotic watch movement manufacturing industry. There were so many movement manufacturers that prices were falling and companies were failing. Many would sell components and ebauches abroad, where they were often used in "junk watches" with the "Swiss made" name.

Ebauches SA quickly expanded, adding a group known as Fabrique d'Ebauches Bernoises of Bienne (a holding company formed on June 7, 1927 and consisting of Aurore of Villeret, Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Sonceboz, and Hora SA of Cortébert), Charles Hahn & Cie of Landeron, among other smaller makers in 1927. The next year, Ebauches SA added 10 more companies, including Felsa SA and Venus SA. 1929 saw 8 more, including Postala and Urania. Also added were Guerrin-Bourquin & Cie and Unitas SA, the movement maker of A. Reymond. By 1928, Ebauches SA had purchased the supplies and tooling of a number of manufactures, thus putting them out of the ebauche manufacturing business; most subsequently failed: E. Champion and Welta of Bienne, Exit and Astor of Lengnau, Suza of Cortébert, Bovet Frères of Fleurier, Optima and Triumph of Grenchen, Russbach-Hänni of Court, and the Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Delémont. Ebauches SA also signed exclusivity agreements with a number of watchmakers, ensuring that they would only use cartel-supplied movements: Buser Frères of Niederdorf, Eterna (Schild Frères) and Kurth Frères of Grenchen, the Fleurier Watch Co, Manzoni Fils of Arogno, and Charles Berner-Sandoz of Peseux.

But even this concentration was not enough, and the value of Swiss watch movements continued to fall as other makers flooded the market. In 1931, Ebauches SA became a founding member of ASUAG and would become the focus for movement makers within that group. This gave them additional power to purchase more companies.

The biggest hold-out was Eterna, which the two cartels took over and split in 1932 with ETA spun out and placed under Ebauches SA. The same split happened with A. Reymond and Ed. Kummer, which saw their movement manufactures (now called Fabrique d'Ebauches Unitas and Fabrique d'Ebauches de Bettlach) join Ebauches SA. Many smaller movement makers would join Ebauches SA that year as well: Fabrique d'Ebauches de Fleurier, Fabrique d'Ebauches Réunies d'Arogno, Wasa in Pieterlen, and finally Fabrique d'Ebauches de Peseux.

But some dissident watchmakers were resistant to Ebauches SA control. The Swiss federal government provided a grant to further consolidation across ASUAG in 1941 and this provided funding to absorb Derby and Nouvelle Fabrique Tavannes that year. The final large addition was Valjoux in 1944. Most of the purchased manufactures were closed down or merged with others into stronger companies such as ETA, AS, FHF, Unitas, Peseux, and Valjoux. The main goal was maintaining long-term economic independence for member companies, reducing competition, coordinating product development, and promoting specialization.

Ebauches SA met its end in the 1980's, with most of the component companies brought into the Swatch Group under ETA. This process began in 1979, as A. Schild is merged into ETA, still technically under Ebauches SA but increasingly strong. This new ETA focuses production and becomes the focal point for Swiss watch movement manufacturing. In 1982, more manufacturers are brought into ETA, including FHF. As ASUAG is merged with SSIH in 1983, Ebauches SA is no longer relevant. It is dissolved as part of the creation of SMH (now Swatch Group), in 1985.

Founding Members

Ebauches SA was registered on December 27, 1926 with the registered office being Faubourg de l'Hôpital 8 in Neuchâtel. The company was simultaneously registered in three languages as Ebauches S.A. (which became the most common name), Ebauches A.G., and Ebauches Ltd. The firm's purpose was "to safeguard the interests of the industry of watch ebauches and watchmaking in general and to contribute to its development by buying all or part of the shares of ebauche factories, by participating in the administration of them, and controlling them both financially and technically." Initial share capital was twelve million francs, divided into 24,000 shares worth 500 each.

The founding board of directors was composed of the following representatives:

The initial management team was selected by the board on February 5, 1927, and consisted of the following:

Company Timeline

Ebauches SA allowed most companies to remain independent but promoted and enforced specialization to reduce competition and sustain higher pricing. Ebauches Bettlach focused on lower-end movements, FHF was the volume maker, Valjoux, Venus, and Landeron produced chronographs, and Felsa, ETA, and A. Schild were allowed to dominate automatic movements once that technology was ready.

Detailed Timeline