Swiss Watch Movements

Chopard Mille Miglia
Chopard Mille Miglia

I was admiring Richard B’s Chopard Mille Miglia Gran Turismo XL over dinner the other week and this started a discussion on watch movements. In a trend common in watches nowadays, the Millle Miglia has a sapphire glass case back and through this you can see an ever reliable ETA movement ticking away.

It reminded me of the fact that few of us are aware that many Swiss watch makers actually use ETA movements in their watches. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an ETA movement. They are reliable and cheap. What does surprise me is that the same movement in a different case and with a different brand name can command huge differences in price. Given the resources and history of the Swiss watch industry, few watch brands have their own in-house movements.

I was told by a friend who works in Mont Blanc that a non COSC certified ETA movement costs about $5 – $15 dollars and if you go to the Otto Frei website you can buy one for about $70 dollars. Although prices are creeping up nowadays and The Swatch Group is limiting supply, I suspect that you can get good prices from other wholesale suppliers or if you buy in larger volumes.

If you start talking about mechanical chronographs, the number of brands with their own movements is even lower. Out of over 300 Swiss watch manufacturers which sell mechanical chronographs (wrist stop watches) I believe less than 10 have their own in-house mechanism. Some of these brands are:

  • Rolex
  • Girard Peregaux
  • Patek Philipe
  • Zenith
  • Blancpain
  • Breguet
  • Jaegar LeCoutre

The reason for this is simple, despite all the money available many large makers are still unable to design a better or cheaper chronograph than the standard ETA or Valjoux stock.

There is a great article published by watch time that talks about how Ebel invented their own movement and in it they talk about this subject of how so few watchmakers actually make their own movements. You can read it at at http://www.watchtime.at/archive/wt_2006_06/WT_2006_06_220.pdf

These facts should not detract form you buying that watch you want but in my opinion it is always nice to have a better understanding of what exactly you are getting.

Happy collecting!

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