Inside Schwarz Etienne - A 360° Independent Manufacture
Architecture & Design

Inside Schwarz Etienne - A 360° Independent Manufacture

For a watch brand to be genuinely independent, it requires total control over production, unrestrained creativity, and ownership of a certain “outsider” status. Schwarz Etienne ticks all these boxes with the humility that is now characteristic of the brand.

By Benjamin Teisseire

In today's fast-paced world, delivering on schedule while simultaneously meeting the required quality standards is essential to ensure production fluidity and meet demand. For independent watchmakers, this is a constant challenge. For this reason, the owning of its production facilities is a significant advantage, both for quality control and for the necessary "time to market" needs. Schwarz Etienne, a long-time resident of La Chaux-de-Fonds, is a fortunate beneficiary of the city’s infrastructure and local expertise.

A truly integrated production tool

We tend to forget, but Schwarz Etienne was not founded yesterday. As Mauro Egermini, general manager of the brand, briefly recalled, "The story begins with a love story between Paul Arthur Schwarz and Olga Etienne in 1870. They give birth to Schwarz Etienne in 1902, a company that developed, produced, and assembled watch movements for others. Three brands were created at the time: Schwarz Etienne, Venus, and Alpha. In 1950, they launched the first timepieces bearing the brand Schwarz Etienne.

In the ‘70s, affected by the [Quartz] Crisis, they reduced the sails [then] relaunched private-label activity in the ‘80s with standard movements. They equipped Chanel's premiere and sold hundreds of thousands of Alfred Dunhill. The latter allowed Schwarz Etienne to recuperate and stay in the family fold since the company is still owned by Paul Schwarz, a direct descendant of the founders. The brand has well and truly existed continuously since 1902."

It was in 2007 that the brand made a new start when it was acquired by a local entrepreneur and watchmaking enthusiast, Raffaello Radicchi. Simultaneously, the brand acquired two other companies: Tradition Mécanique Horlogère and E2O Innovations. The first produces bridges, plates, and components; the second produces exhausts and oscillating organs, including spirals. Once it was able to benefit from an integrated production tool, Schwarz Etienne began to develop its calibre. The ASE and MSE, launched in 2013, made the brand a truly integrated manufacture.

What are the benefits? The brilliant and outspoken director summed it up, "Above all, flexibility and responsiveness. In 4 years, we manufactured four different calibres. A real achievement for a company of our size! This independence also offers high efficiency and cost control. But it is above all the total freedom of creativity that is principal!"

Third-party opening

To optimize the tooling and in-house knowledge, a third entity was created: The Time Division. Put simply, the Time Division makes it possible for the manufacture to offer its production capabilities to third parties, lending a real helping-hand to other independent brands. Now, they are less dependent on big suppliers (for which small series rarely have priority) and get Haute Horlogerie calibres which are reliable, customized, modular, and competitive.

In some cases, Schwarz Etienne even became the right industrial partner to develop an entire product, from initial design to assembled watch. A series of as few as 20 pieces to as many as 1,000 can be realized. It is rare to find this amount of flexibility at this level of watchmaking! A real turnkey solution to meet all customer demands.

The calibre can be identified in some brands nowadays. Ming is an excellent example. The brand, created by the photographer and designer, Ming Thein, and his collective of passionate watchmakers, trusted the manufacture to develop two movements for the 19.01 and 19.02 collections, to perform the assembly, the quality control, and the adjustment before delivery in Malaysia. A partnership that payed off, as evidenced by the brand's success.

With an even more limited series - 56 pieces - Chopin Watches also demonstrates the know-how of the manufacture's lime-of-fonnière. An exclusive calibre was produced in collaboration with Chopin’s Polish team. Every customization, down to the smallest detail, has been thought out (discover them HERE). Schwarz Etienne is only limited by the creativity of its customers.

Freedom, the fruit of independence

By offering creativity to third parties, Schwarz Etienne is the first to benefit. It is found in its typical collections: Roswell or La Chaux-de-Fonds. The first offers top-of-the-line, offbeat watchmaking with its flying saucer case and ultra-modern look. The second plunges us into fine watchmaking according to Schwarz Etienne: uninhibited and different with its new architecture and bold tourbillons (find them HERE).

Not to mention women, where the demand for mechanical watchmaking is steadily rising. The new Fiji collection, introduced this year, is a testament to Schwarz Etienne's constant desire to create different and original timepieces.

The success of this new collection with well-to-do women is yet more proof that the differentiation advocated by the Manufacture is bearing fruit. As confirmed by Mauro Egermini, "In a watchmaking world that no longer dares, it is essential to be different. It is our desire for Schwarz Etienne. Sales of our flagship collections are the proof."

The Schwarz Etienne spirit

Schwarz Etienne takes pride in its originality and “outsider” status but refrains from taking themselves too seriously, all while applying strict quality criteria. This is the trademark found in current collections and limited editions. After the Ode to Spring, an Ode to the 70s revealed at Baselworld demonstrates all the free spirit, humor, and watchmaking excellence that drives Schwarz Etienne. A psychedelic tourbillon with a colorful enamel dial.

Schwarz Etienne is one of these immediately recognizable independent brands that is recognized by collectors for impeccable quality. Moreover, they are equally appreciated for authenticity, transparency, and strong character. A manufacture to follow carefully for enthusiasts who like to stir up the curiosity of other connoisseurs both by the design of dials and the intrinsic quality of calibres.

(Photography by Pierre Vogel)

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