The new Eterna Grace automatic ladies watch
Eterna’s history definitely has its fair share of “Sliding Doors” moments (the idea posited in the 1998 romantic comedy that life’s most dramatic divergents can be dependent on something so small as the making of a train before the door closes).
Its early history is littered with elements of chances, such as the Grenchen municipal authorities deciding to introduce watchmaking to the town back in 1856. Or that one of its two founders, Urs Schild (the other was Dr Josef Girard) knew that, in order for his fledgling company to succeed it would have to make its own components and so devised an assembly line concept.
However, the real Gwyneth Paltrow/train moment, comes in 1932, when Schild’s brother, Theodore, decided to spilt his company in two, with its arm responsible for movement blank manufacturing to be known as ETA, while Eterna specialised in complete watches only.
That is the very same ETA that now supplies around 60% of the movements used by the Swiss watchmaking industry. Thanks to the modern machinery and computers employed at ETA (possibly a hangover from Urs Schild’s pioneering days), ETA was a money-making machine at the heart of the quartz crisis, when most companies were making huge losses.
When the entire industry was reshuffled – ASUAG and SSIH merged, along with Omega, Tissot and Lanco, to form SMH or the group latterly known as Swatch – ETA was chosen to be the movement manufacturer for this new group, while Eterna was sold.
That’s not to say that Eterna was dead in the water. Its expertise in making solid, dependable watches, as well as its history of innovation, such as the first ball-bearing automatic launched in 1948 to reduce friction in thinner-cased women’s watches, meant it was well placed to lead the mechanical watch renaissance.
The latest iteration of the KonTiki design
Models such as the KonTiki, which is still a major part of the collection today, and the Air Force were central to this rebirth.
In 1995, another business deal was to add another twist to Eterna’s tale. It was acquired by German industrial company Porsche Design and. as part of the deal, Eterna started making watches for the car brand, which were a far cry from the timepieces you’d associate with today’s collaborations.
A Porsche Design watch created by Eterna
In 2012, Porsche Design sold Eterna to China Haidan, which is now known as Citychamp Watch and Jewellery Group that also owns Corum, Rotary and Dreyfuss & Co, with the rumours being that it had been bought more for its prowess as a movement maker than for its finished product.
The launch of the Calibre 39 in 2013 seemed to bear that out. This base calibre is modular and boasts 88 different specifications, aiming it squarely at all those brands who have been adversely affected by ETA’s decision to stop producing the amount of calibres it previous did to the industry as a whole.
Eterna has certainly been putting it to good use in its own backyard – it has just launched its first GMT, with the calibre 39 as the base – and there are certain to be more innovative launches in the pipeline.
All this makes it seem as though Eterna is a brand that has focused solely on men’s watches, which isn’t the case.
A vintage advert for Eterna’s ladies watches
From the early 1900s, it made a point of creating dainty styles for feminine wrists, one of which was the smallest baguette watch in production. It was also thanks to women’s line, and the problems Eterna’s watchmakers faced with friction caused by the thinner cases, that led to the development of the ball-bearing movement, which is the reason why there are five dots, representing the five ball bearings, on the Eterna logo.
And, if that wasn’t enough, Eterna watches graced the wrists of such notable names as Brigitte Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida.
Another version of the Grace watch
Its newly launched Grace collection continues in this rich heritage and is a must-see for anyone who likes their watches a little different, rather chic but not showy. This is just another reason to love the fact that Eterna is once again making waves in the watch world (we’ve already got our names on the waiting list for one).