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.
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 Fabriques d'Ebauches Bernoises SA of Bienne (a holding company formed on June 7, 1972 and consisting of Aurore of Villeret, Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Sonceboz, and Hora SA of Cortébert), Charles Hahn & Cie, and Landeron, among other smaller makers in 1927. The next year, Ebauches SA added 10 more companies, including Felsa SA, Venus SA, Bovet, and Optima. 1929 saw 8 more, including Postala and Urania. Also added were Guerrin-Bourquin & Cie and Unitas SA, the movement maker of A. Reymond.
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. Ebauches SA brought order to the market by buying as many as 75 movement manufacturers by 1951.<ref>150 Jahre ETA Grenchen - Warum die Uhrenfabrik ihren Geburtstag nicht feiert, 24 Nov. 2006, dortige Quelle: Oltner Tagblatt/ German Vogt / www.oltnertagblatt.ch. Internet Stand 7.2.2008</ref>
Many important movement makers would join Ebauches SA over the following decades. Fabrique d'Ebauches de Fleurier was added in 1932 and Peseux in 1933. 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.
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:
- Léopold Dubois chairman of Banque Suisse, chairman
- Sydney de Coulon of FHF, outside secretary
- Hermann Obrecht chairman of A. Michel, first vice-president
- Paul Robert chairman of FHF, second vice-president
- Maurice Robert of FHF
- Adolphe Schild of A. Schild
- César Schild of A. Schild
- Gottlieb Vogt-Schild, publisher
- Emile Hindenlang, banker
- Hermann Stadlin, banker
- Erest Scherz, bank manager
- Gottfried Scharpf, president of the Société Suisse des Fabricants de Boites de Montres Or
The initial management team was selected by the board on February 5, 1927, and consisted of the following:
- Robert Schild, general manager
- Alphonse Ehrsam, head of the commercial bureau
- Sydney de Coulon, proxyholder and secretary
- Otto Fürholz, proxyholder
- Paul Vuille, proxyholder
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.
- Fontainemelon et succursale du Landeron (Formerly Charles Hahn & Cie/Landeron), Le Landeron (subsidiary of FHF)
- Fabriques d'Ebauches Bernoises
- Hora SA, Cortébert and Porrentruy
- Most movement makers are merged with ETA
- Ebauches SA is merged into SMH
- The remaining factories in Fontainemelon (FHF), Villeret (Bernoises/Aurore), and Grenchen (ETA) are formally merged under ETA management, along with factories in Chézard, Corgémont, Fontaines, Les Bioux, Marin, Saint-Imier, and Sion and the tooling factory in Neuchâtel
- Ebauches Electroniques SA in Marin is kept separate as EM Microelectronic-Marin SA to focus on semiconductor research rather than watchmaking
- Ebauches SA is dissolved
- 1926 - December 27 - Ebauches SA is officially registered; the board consists of Léopold Dubois, chairman, Hermann Obrecht, first vice-president, Paul Robert, second vice-president, César Schild, Adolphe Schild, Gottlieb Vogt-Schild, Maurice Robert, and bankers Emile Hindenlang, Hermann Stadlin, Erest Scherz, and Gottfried Scharpf; outside secretary is Sydney de Coulon; the company offices are at Faubourg de l'hôpital 8 in Neuchâtel
- 1927 - February 5 - Robert Schild is appointed general manager, Alphonse Ehrsam is commercial manager, and Sydney de Coulon, Otto Fürholz, and Paul Vuille are made official proxies
- 1932 - October 19 - Alphonse Ehrsam resigns as commercial director and is replaced by Max Luterbacher and Virgile Juillerat
- 1933 - May 12 - Paul Vuille resigns
- 1934 - January 17 - Hermann Mägli resigns from the board, replaced by Robert Kaufmann and Charles Berner; Paul Robert is no longer chairman of the board; César Sehild and Maurice Robert are vice presidents; Sydney de Coulon becomes central director; Frédéric-Albert Handschin is appointed proxyholder
- 1934 - March 29 - Ernest Strahm joins the board
- 1938 - November 5 - Following the death of Ernest Strahm, Paul-Albert Renggli joins the board
- 1939 - April 28 - Following the death of César Schild and the resignation of Louis-Paul Monnet, Hans Soldan joins the board
- 1940 - October 22 - Following the death of Emile Hindenlang and Paul Robert, Paul-Albert Renggli becomes chairman of the board
- 1941 - June 13 - Charles Turler joins the board
- 1942 - September 9 - Board member Charles Berner becomes authorized representative
- 1945 - February 24 - Alfred Hirs resigns; Frédéric Hindenling, Théodore Walker, Ernest Maire, and Hans Gselwend become proxy holders
- 1946 - May 18 - The company is reorganized with the aim "to safeguard the interests of the industry of watchmaking blanks and watchmaking in general and to contribute to its development, by buying all or part of the shares of the factories of blanks, by participating in the administration of these and by controlling financially and technically the companies in which it is interested. The company was also able to manufacture spare parts for watches, in particular shoes, and to trade in them."
- 1947 - July 5 - Frédéric Handschin is appointed general secretary; Michel de Coulon, François DuPasquier, and Hans Glauser, are appointed proxyholders
- 1948 - April 22 - Max Luterbacher is appointed Deputy Director of Central Offices in Grenchen; Virgile Juillerat is appointed inspector, Frédéric Handschin resigned; the offices are transferred to Faubourg de l'Hôpital 1
- 1949 - June 30 - Pierre-William DuBois is proxyholder
- 1950 - July 15 - Pierre-William DuBois becomes technical director