ETA, a company initially founded by Eterna, has been part of the Swatch Group for decades. Their aim is to develop and create movements for watch manufacturers. ETA’s product range extends from relatively cheap quartz movements to mechanical calibers with complications like calendars and chronographs.
ETA and In-House Calibers
Many ETA movements find their way into the watches of brands that are also part of the Swatch Group, including Swatch, Certina, and Tissot. These movements are generally generic calibers that are used by several different manufacturers. However, ETA also creates exclusive movements for select brands like Longines. You’ll likewise find ETA movements in a number of different watches from dozens of brands outside of the Swatch Group. In most cases, this is because the watch manufacturer doesn’t have the technical or financial means to develop and manufacture their own in-house movements. This applies to both small, independent microbrands as well as large, well-known brands.
Omega‘s story is telling in this regard: Prior to developing their own in-house calibers, the Swiss brand purchased third-party movements. When they made the switch and developed their Co-Axial caliber 9300, it required an investment of some 100 million Swiss francs. That’s a lot of cash, even for a large brand like Omega.
The ETA Success Story
So, are in-house calibers necessarily better than those from a movement supplier like ETA? Well, the ETA caliber 2892-A2, for example, is a movement that is used by several major brands, including Breitling, Omega, and IWC. Over many years, the caliber has proven itself to be a reliable workhorse. This means that any potential weaknesses have been improved or eliminated. At this very moment, the ETA 2892-A2 is powering hundreds of thousands watches around the world. Thanks to the company’s size and expertise, ETA is able to perfect their movements to ensure they keep running, and running, and running…
Is a new in-house movement by a watch manufacturer with very little “on-the-job” experience a better movement? Most new in-house movements need some time to prove themselves. This often requires several iterations along the way, which can be challenging for watchmakers who have to keep track of all the changes.
Of course, buying a timepiece with an in-house movement certainly has its charm, and it undoubtedly makes the watch more exclusive. It’s also an appealing prospect to purchase a watch that was truly and fully developed by the brand as opposed to just partially refined or assembled afterwards. That being said, the terms “in-house” and “manufacture” are marketing tools that brands like to use to entice enthusiasts and collectors.
It’s important to ask yourself whether an in-house movement actually offers you added value or whether it’s just an expensive quality stamp. There is no guarantee that an in-house movement is superior to that of an external supplier like ETA. When it comes to optimizing watch movements, practice is better than theory, and that process can take years.
There are a few other advantages that speak in favor of ETA movements. When you buy a watch from a small brand with an in-house movement, you have to rely on their continuity, capacity, and skills when it comes to servicing or repairing your watch down the line. With an ETA movement, however, this is a non-issue. Most watchmakers can work with ETA movements; in fact, they probably even practiced on them during their training. Moreover, spare parts are readily available and not limited to certified service centers. Plus, with so many ETA movements in circulation, spare parts and repair costs remain relatively low.
In-House Movements: Advantages
From what you’ve read so far, you might be thinking there are hardly any advantages to in-house calibers, but that’s not the case. There are many reasons why buying a watch with an in-house movement is a good idea. For starters, it demonstrates a watch manufacturer’s skilled craftsmanship. It proves the brand can come up with its own movement and deal with the complexity that is inherent to the process. Just consider how things like movement dimensions and modular construction can make a watchmaker’s work a bit easier.
Plus, if a manufacturer opts for a chronograph movement like the ETA Valjoux 7750, it is bound to a very specific dial design and case height. Minor adjustments and visual optimizations are possible, but they may negatively impact the movement’s reliability. On the other hand, when a watch manufacturer develops and produces their own caliber, they set the dimensions so it perfectly fits into the case. They can also opt to use innovative technical improvements to the escapement, winding mechanism, or regulation system, for example.
Enthusiasts are passionate about in-house calibers for a variety of reasons. They are often considered a highlight of the watch, whereas third-party movements are more likely to be viewed as a practical solution to a manufacturer’s problem.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most noteworthy movements that ETA has to offer. Keep in mind that it isn’t always easy to tell whether a watch manufacturer is using an ETA base movement or not since some brands rename them. Sometimes it’s obvious, like the Tudor caliber 2824 (actually an ETA 2824-2), and other times it’s not so clear, like IWC’s caliber 79320, which is based on the ETA 7750. In many cases, companies like IWC and Tudor heavily modify these ETA base movements and finish them to their own standards.
A final note before we get to the overview: ETA movements come in four different quality grades. These grades reflect the movement’s level of precision. ETA uses the designations Standard, Elaborated, Top, and Chronometer to indicate each caliber’s accuracy and degree of visual finishing. Not every ETA movement comes in every quality grade however.
The ETA 2824-2
As mentioned above, the ETA 2824-2 is used in several Tudor watches. This movement is one of ETA’s most popular. The automatic caliber boasts 21 jewels and runs at a frequency of 28,800 vph. You can find this movement in countless watches from a wide range of brands. This is the go-to caliber if a watchmaker is looking for a solid workhorse. The ETA 2824-2 is available in all four quality grades.
The ETA 2892-A2
The ETA 2892-A2 has been on the market for decades and tends to be used in more expensive watches from big names like IWC, Omega, and Breitling. Omega used this movement as the base for its first series of Co-Axial calibers, the 2500, which the manufacturer introduced in 1999. The automatic movement boasts a date display, 21 jewels, a power reserve of 42 hours, and runs at 28,800 vph. It has the same functionality and diameter as the 2824-2, but is one millimeter thinner, making it ideally suited to expansion with other modules and complications.
Tudor added a chronograph module to the 2892-A2 for the watches in their Heritage Chrono line. You can often tell whether or not a chronograph movement has a modular construction based on the position of its push-pieces and crown. If the push-pieces are above the crown, it usually indicates that the caliber has a “piggyback” chronograph module.
The ETA 7750
The ETA caliber 7750, on the other hand, is a dedicated chronograph movement, meaning that it was designed and constructed as such as opposed to having an added module. This caliber is also known as the Valjoux 7750 (Valjoux is likewise part of the Swatch Group), and has been powering numerous watch models since 1973. The 7750 followed in the footsteps of the legendary Valjoux 7733, a manual-winding chronograph movement that was first introduced in 1969. The ETA 7750 is the automatic version of this famous caliber and comes in several different versions.
In addition to a chronograph, the ETA 7750 boasts a day and date display. The ETA 7751, in turn, comes with a month and moon phase indicator. Another well-known variation is the ETA 7754, which is basically an ETA 7750 with an additional GMT hand. You can find the ETA 7750 in countless timepieces, as it is considered one of the most reliable chronograph movements on the market today. It’s used in watches priced below the $1,000 mark as well as very high-end timepieces. In these latter watches, the movement is often beautifully decorated or skeletonized for added effect.
The IWC caliber 79320, which powers the IWC Pilot Chronograph, is the perfect example of a finely-finished ETA 7750. Other brands that use, or have used, the ETA 7750 include Breitling, Omega, TAG Heuer, Panerai, Sinn, Porsche Design, Longines, Oris, Tissot, Hamilton, Rado, and Chopard. You will also find the movement in watches from much smaller and lesser-known brands like Peter Speake-Marin and Alain Silberstein.