Even now, almost two decades since the Swatch Group announced their intention to cease supplying their rivals with ETA calibres, it seems the world’s most famous movement manufacturer is still the number one choice for most small brands.
But if we dig beneath the surface we find that there are plenty of independent maisons to choose from. The bulk of which were founded or massively expanded in the wake of the Swatch Group’s expected departure from the market. Somewhat surprisingly, however, there are a few that have been surviving and thriving for a very long time indeed.
One such manufacturer is Schwarz Etienne. A one-stop-shop for calibre creation, SE has been beavering away in La-Chaux-de-Fonds since 1902, riding out the waves of the 20th century to find itself atop a crest in 2019.
Not only does Schwarz Etienne have more than a century of uninterrupted experience under its belt, but their accessibility as a movement supplier is also a huge lure for independents. Longevity in our industry often results in companies developing an isolationist streak. The fact that a Maison of SE’s quality is still willing to work with ‘rival’ brands speaks volumes of how they see the role of a manufacturing brand in a sustainable ecosystem these days.
Founded at the dawn of mankind’s most industrious century by a husband and wife duo, the company originally had several brand names under its control, creating movements for Venus, Alpha, Sultana Le Phare, and Astin among others.
Word of their talents soon spread. Huge brands such as Chanel and Dunhill employed the services of Schwarz Etienne. The sons of Paul Arthur Schwarz and Olga Etienne eventually took over their parents’ company in 1940. The boys oversaw an international expansion as the company grew throughout Europe and, eventually, Asia.
The company reached its apex during the sixties, a decade before the onset of the quartz crisis. Having rolled with the punches of the seventies and early eighties, Schwarz Etienne began producing watches under its own name in the mid-eighties.
Today, under the ownership of Rafaello Radichhi – a local businessman who purchased the company in 2007 – the brand is known for mechanical flair, stand-out aesthetics, and the fact they are willing to work with smaller brands looking off the beaten track for a high-quality supplier that wants to be part of a disruptive endeavour.
Were it not for their CEO Mauro Ergemini’s creative vision, exactly what Schwarz Etienne are able to offer not just end consumers, but also other brands might not be so obvious. The own-label collection of watches by SE is a perfect platform to showcase the movements that are available separately, as well as the hugely dynamic design of which the brand is capable of.
Each of the in-house models is a canvas for expression and an advert for a possibility. My personal favourite is the Roswell. Not only because of the discreet vibrant styling but also thanks to the many personal touches courtesy of Ergemini. The rock on the back of the Voyage model actually comes from a piece of meteor debris found by Ergemini during a Swiss mountain trek on the Matterhorn.
And let’s not forget the high-end horological nouse!
Presenting their most unusual and ambitious movements in such an arresting package is one part bold and one part savvy. This is an uncompromising design that accentuates the novel movement architecture. The ISE100.11 movement is one of the brands most complex. To highlight the excellent manufacturing standards, the movement’s innards have been flipped (ISE stands for Irreversible Schwarz Etienne). This means the micro-rotor weight is visible from the front (at 9 o’clock), and the balance is afforded a clear and uncluttered view.
There is a bright, inventive, and organic quality to the Schwarz Etienne Roswell (particularly the 08 model). It reminds me of a sharp and stylish Saville Row tailored jacket with a bold coloured lining. Add to this the after sales abilities of any in-house manufacture to guarantee repair of any watch, and you have an incredible value proposition for the end consumer, and a powerful potential partnership for a fellow independent brand.
The fact that a modern company is not only engaged with the needs of their industry peers, but also producing calibres that are desirable products in themselves provides a fantastic boost in confidence for the watch-curious to venture into the independent realm.
Without this open-door policy, many independent brands that specialise in branding, story-creation, and design rather than in-house manufacturing, would be forced to approach either large, somewhat soulless Swiss movement makes, or outsource production to Asia.
The existence of marques like Schwarz Etienne can only serve to light a fire under the competition and keep the local watchmaking community sustainable, which is good news for everybody.
This white label manufacturer has the pedigree and know-how to boost a whole segment of the market. 117 years into their history and the company has found the formula for success in the modern day. Here’s hoping they continue their good work as they look to expand their reach around the globe.
More information via the Schwartz Etienne website.
Sky is the founder of SKOLORR, the curated hub dedicated to the pedigreed independent watchmakers. SKOLORR is official partners with Farfetch and Quintessentially, handpicking fine watches from independent brands for tastemakers and coolhunters. Sky has operated at the heart of... read more