Eterna celebrates 160 years

Internationally renowned today, the company has built its legacy based on principles which continue to drive it forward: a pioneering, bold and unwavering spirit.

Doctor Josef Girard and school teacher Urs Schild lay the foundations of the watchmaking brand in Granges (Soleure) and contributed to the economic upturn of the Aare River region. On November 7th 1856, they founded a watch movement (ébauche) factory "Dr Girard & Schild» and benefited from the emerging watch industry which spread from Geneva to the entire Jura Arc region. In a very short time, they were producing semi-finished movements (or ébauches brutes) and fully finished watch movements (ébauches blanc-roulant).

In 1866, Dr. Girard left the factory and Urs Schild became the sole owner. He proved to be a forward-thinking businessman who knew how to make the best out of new technologies. In 1870, he introduced the first automatic manufacturing machines which could be powered not only by water from the surrounding streams, but also by a modern steam engine. He employed nearly three hundred workers to produce movements with anchor and cylinder escapements, spindles and regulator movements.

However, times were tough and the competition fierce. In the 1870s, when market values for movements fell due to excess supply, Urs Schild recognised that only the production of watches and their components, from the ébauche to the casing, could ensure the company’s survival. The resounding success of the first pocket watches entirely manufactured in his workshop in Granges and marketed in 1876 proved him right. In 1890, daily production of the factory reached 180 timepieces,with the "Eterna" logo already decorating a part of the watch faces. The name of the collection, already iconic by its strength and richly evocative message, would become the company’s brand name and resonate around the world.

The founder died in 1888. Two men from the Schild family succeeded him. Their progressive ideas and desire to take on the challenges of their times marked the destiny of the company. Theodor Schild, who had studied mechanical engineering, took over management of the company from 1899 to 1932, during which business boomed. He increased productivity at the factory, as well as the quality and precision of the timepieces produced using modern manufacturing methods which included electric automatic production machinery. At the same time, he kept expanding the international sales network and in 1906, the company went on to adopt the corporate name of "Eterna-Werke, GebrüderSchild & Co". The company modernised, thanks in particular to its reliable partners which ensured the desired service, while the number of branch offices grew.

However, it is above all the development of new watches and innovative movement mechanisms which allowed Theodor Schild to make his mark on history. Eterna saw resounding success thanks to its elegant pocket-watches which were exceptionally slim, as well as an alarm clock with a practical 8-day power capacity. At the turn of the 20th century, a revolution turned the watchmaking world upside down: the wrist watch. This created new technical and esthetical challenges for the manufacturer in Granges. They affirmed their distinctiveness by filing a patent in 1904 for a special wrist watch casing with moving safety band lugs and four years later, for the first wrist watch in the world with an alarm feature, finally marketed in 1914.

When Dr. Rudolf Schild-Comtesse succeeded his uncle at the helm of Eterna in 1932, the company was separated into two entities: ETA SA for the production of movements, and Eterna dedicated to the production of precision watches. With a PhD in law, the new manager expanded distribution throughout the world. He introduced a real brand policy and developed an internationally consistent advertising image.

Five small balls for worldwide fame
Eterna owes its reputation as a Swiss watchmaking pioneer to its numerous innovations which include the ball-bearing mounted rotor. From 1948 onwards, the new technology would become a standard for all automatic wrist watches in the world of fine watchmaking.

Five tiny balls create the foundation for Eterna’s worldwide fame in 1948. Since then, they have become the familiar logo of the manufacturer from Granges. Over the years, the development team at Eterna devotes themselves body and soul to optimising the automatic winding systems. Their goal: to develop a reliable and precise calibre which, even with the automatic winding mechanism, would meet the same demanding criteria as classic manually wound watches. The calibre would also have to function in ladies’ watches of much smaller sizes. The challenge was huge: The smaller the mechanism, the lower its degree of efficiency. For a mechanical watch, any miniaturisation is of paramount importance to its reliability.

In a regular automatic movement, a central rotor uses both rotational directions and covers the entire surface available, which also guarantees optimal winding performance. However, this system is susceptible to a few major weaknesses: the considerably expanded rolling axe is easily broken upon impact. In addition, wear and tear induce significant stress on the mechanical parts, and the rotor could scratch against the movement or the case. Finally, if the oil dries out, the movement could cease to work.

The solution developed by Eterna is as ingenious as it is revolutionary: a tiny ball bearing with five micro-balls, each 0.65mm in diameter. The system resolved all the problems of the rotor system: friction and wear are minimal. The rotational movement remains free, yet with less play, meaning that the «dislocation» present in older movements is prevented. Damage to the bearings is practically impossible, thanks to elastic inner bearing rings.

With the development of the ball-bearing rotor system, Eterna established a new standard with regard to automatic winding, which was adopted by all the players in the watchmaking business and remains in use today. This explains the phenomenal success of the Eterna-Matic model in 1948, which premiered these technical achievements, as well as of the Eterna-Matic Dato 3000 a few years later, in 1962 (the slimmest wrist watch in the world, with automatic winding and date display).

Kontiki: the adventure, the legend …. The birth of an enduring icon
Eterna watches enjoyed worldwide prestige early on for their unparalleled precision and reliability. An extraordinary adventure illustrates this reputation and enshrines the company in a unique legend: KonTiki.

In 1947, young archaeologist and ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl is searching for appropriate watches for a particularly bold oceanic expedition. Dr. Schild-Comtesse decides to help the Norwegian who is inspired by the advanced technology and reliability of time-pieces from the factory in Granges. Since the 1930s, Eterna’s research and development department had been working on the design of watertight watch housings which offer optimal protection against water penetration and the negative influence of temperature changes. Eterna undertakes the production of a small series of wrist watches which are particularly water-tight and resistant.

It is these very watches which accompany Thor Heyerdahl and his crew made up of five other scientists during their journey on board a balsa raft christened KonTiki, in reference to the Incan sun god. Shoving off the Peruvian coast, they would navigate to the very middle of the Pacific Ocean. Through this bold expedition, Heyerdahl wanted to prove to the world that it was technically possible for the pre-Columbian aborigines of South America to colonise Polynesia by following the trade winds and the Humbold current. The adventure came to an end at the atoll of Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, after 101 days and nights on high seas and 8,000 kilometres travelled. For all manoeuvres and decisions which the survival of the crew and the success of the expedition depended on, the explorers relied on ETERNA watches. They proved to be essential and reliable tools, ideally suited for safe navigation. They weathered extreme conditions without being damaged by salt water, humidity or temperature changes. Numerous adventures marked this extraordinary journey, which became famous all over the world, in particular with the phenomenal success of Thor Heyerdahl’s publication "The KonTiki Expedition".

The successful partnership between Eterna and Heyerdahl, two courageous and ambitious pioneers keen on pushing the limits, led to the launch of the legendary KonTiki in 1958 - a watcmaking icon still considered even today as the reference in terms of extreme sports equipment, absolute reliability, precision, sturdiness and resistance.

The world’s smallest automatic winding calibre for the biggest stars
Women’s taste for elegance played a key role in the evolution of watchmaking from watches to wrist watches at the beginning of the 20th century. It is therefore quite natural that Eterna quickly devoted itself to the creation of jewellery watches, genuine gems in terms of technology, aesthetics and functionality.

In 1930, an impressive collection for women develops the aesthetic values of the period and leads to the baguette watch, the narrowest ever to enter mass production. Its dimensions are reduced to 7.25mm x 22.5 mm. Quite an accomplishment! Mass production makes the price affordable. In addition, it is easy to care for and offers many clear advantages compared to competing products which, while admittedly smaller, are produced only by hand, are more expensive, and are less reliable.

In 1958, Eterna unveils a new technological revolution dedicated to ladies’ watches. A very special movement beats at the heart of the Eterna-Matic Golden Heart: to the smallest automatic winding calibre in the world, a 23-carat gold inertia mass is added. The heavy weight of the gold guarantees excellent winding power for the rotor, despite its small dimensions. Gina Lollobrigida and Brigitte Bardot, the most glamorous and iconic actresses of world cinema, were instantly enthused by this jewel and became ambassadors of the company.

The core business of the company
The retirement of Dr Schild-Comtesse marks a new chapter in the story of the firm. Eterna, like other watchmakers such as Certina, Longines, Mido, Oris, Rado and Rotary, joins the multinational General Watch Co group (GWC). A few years later, the company regains its autonomy when Swiss industrialist Franz Wassmer integrates it in his group PCW which includes, among other companies, shoemaker Charles Jourdan, as well as furniture manufacturer De Sede.

In the 1980s, Eterna creates a range of watches in a design still considered iconic. The Eterna quartz model, unique in its form and technicality marks an era; likewise, the poetic Eterna Galaxis, which is set in a midnight blue sapphire case with it’s a bracelet decked in gold. 1980 sets a new record with the Linea Museum quartz watch, the slimmest of all times which measures a mere 0.98 mm in thickness. In the same year, the company is awarded the "Grand prix triomphe de l’excellence européenne" for contributing significantly to the growing influence of Europe in the rest of the world.

Since its acquisition by the Porsche family in 1995, and its subsequent integration in 2011 into the Chinese Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group Ltd, Eterna returns to its traditional values and advantages as a true watchmaking manufacturer. Its innovative designs still show the creative genius of the watchmaker: by introducing the Spherodrive system, with its cylinder mounted on ball bearings, Eterna continues to improve quality standards and movement durability. Its calibre 6036 chronograph, which allows for mechanical numerical display of lap times, is the most complex mass-produced movement in the world. Finally, the unique modularity of its calibre 39 allows for the design of 88 different versions from the same base movement. Each timepiece endowed with one of these movements is marked with the «Eterna Manufacture» signature with five spheres at the top. This specifies and certifies that it is a movement completely designed and manufactured by the company.

160 years - Eterna celebrates the pioneering spirit of the company and refreshes its image
For Eterna, to celebrate its history means to honour its reason for being, the search for aesthetic and technical innovation, and to look to its future. For its 160th anniversary, the Swiss watch manufacturer presents a collection based on the five pillars which constitute the core of its offer: KonTiki, Eternity, Heritage, Lady Eterna and Special Edition.

To this end, Eterna has taken inspiration from timepieces which have now become company classics. The passionate stories which make up the background of these iconic objects are once again at the forefront of the designs. Moreover, the new creations seek to strengthen the feminine segment, to which the watchmaker has always paid special attention.

At the same time, the brand strives to optimise its presence in the market by addressing a younger audience. New tools will be set up in the future: an unprecedented advertising campaign and a completely redesigned website, combined with an expanded presence on social networks.

March 31, 2016