The ETA 2824-2 is, without a doubt, the most well-known and prevalent Swiss automatic caliber. It began life as the 2824 (without the “-2”) in 1971, although the movement can trace certain design features like the rotor with ball bearings back to 1948’s Eterna 1247. Despite its extensive history, the design is far from obsolete today. When the Swatch Group threatened to stop delivery of ETA movements, numerous competitors – both in Switzerland and Asia – began producing copies of and expanding upon popular ETA designs. This was legal due to expired patents. Thus, numerous movements like the Sellita SW200-1, Valanvron VAL-24, Seagull ST2130, and STP 1-11 are based on the proven design of the 2824-2.
Of course, ETA didn’t just sit idly by. They continued working on their movements, developing improved calibers with modern technology and better power reserves. These movements are exclusively available to brands in the Swatch Group and aren’t sold to third parties.
It’s time we shed a bit more light on the history of this movement and how it has evolved over the years. Of course, this will also include an overview of the latest iteration.
The ETA 2892: From Humble Beginnings
The 2824 debuted in 1971, right in the middle of the quartz crisis. The timing wasn’t a coincidence: ETA intentionally designed the movement to hold its own in a fiercely competitive market with a lot of pressure on prices. This is in stark contrast to the ETA 2892, which premiered in 1962 (and is still in production today). The ETA 2892 is a much flatter automatic movement with more refined specifications.
Measuring in about one millimeter thicker than the 2892, the 2824 is ill-suited for ultra-thin elegant timepieces, but that was never the intention. The 2824 was made for optimized production, meaning a streamlined design and reduced number of components. With that in mind, it’s justified to call movements like the 2824 the “workhorses” of the industry. The origin story of the 2824 is also less glamorous than that of the 2892. While the latter is associated with industry legends like Heinrich Stamm, Urs Giger, and Anton Bally, we know very little about the creation of the 2824. There is only a vague reference to a Mr. Edwin Jakob, whom former ETA director Anton Bally once named as the designer of the 2824 in an interview.
Despite these obvious cost-saving measures, the movement has proven to be very accurate and efficient, as evidenced by the numerous complicated modular calibers that use the 2824 as their base.
Technical Specifications of the 2824-2
One of the most striking features of the ETA 2824-2 is its balance frequency of 4 Hz or 28,800 vph. Most entry-level movements run at 3 Hz, which leads to a “jerky” second hand. Thus, the 2824-2 has a comparatively smooth second hand. Some watch enthusiasts look down at anything running at less than 4 Hz, as they see gently flowing second hands as THE defining feature of mechanical watches and associate jerky second hands with quartz watches. Brands like Rolex, who uses 4 Hz movements in all of their models, push this narrative further. Of course, Rolex shapes the image of what constitutes a luxury mechanical watch due to their widespread popularity. Others find movement frequency less important, but regardless, this frequency at this price range is undoubtedly an attractive selling point for the 2824-2.
The movement’s configuration with three hands and a date display at 3 o’clock (comprised of a date disc and corresponding dial cutout) appears in an extensive number of watches. This is in part thanks to the popularity of the 2824-2.
To justify its use in watches across a wide range of prices, the 2824-2 is (or was) available in several different quality grades. The highest grade is the Chronomètre level, which indicates the movement has chronometer certification and is adjusted in five different positions. At the other end of the spectrum is the Standard level, which offers an accuracy of +/- 12 seconds per day on average. These movements make use of less efficient materials for the mainspring and balance spring, use ETA’s own Etachoc shock protection system, and are only adjusted in two positions. The next level up, Elaboré, uses the same materials and shock protection system but guarantees an accuracy of +/- 7 seconds a day thanks to its 3-position adjustment. Both the Top and Chronomètre grades make use of higher-quality materials for the mainspring and balance spring and integrate the well-known Incabloc shock protection system. The former level has an accuracy of +/- 4 seconds per day, while the latter has COSC certification, as mentioned above.
When a manufacturer uses a Top or Chronomètre-grade movement, it is usually well-advertised and reflected in the overall price. In contrast, you will rarely find reference to the quality level if a watch uses one of the lower grades.
The 2800 Family of Calibers
The 2824-2 is easily the most frequently-used movement in its series, but the ETA 2800 family consists of many other movements with more (or less) functionality. We don’t have the scope to cover every historical variant in this article, but we can mention the five most recent calibers:
- The ETA 2801-2 is the hand-wound version of the 2824-2 but lacks a date function.
- The 2804-2 also has manual winding and comes with a date.
- The 2826-2 has an interesting design with an oversized date. The date discs are neither side-by-side (like Lange & Söhne), nor do they have different diameters (like Glashütte Original). Instead, the date consists of two coaxial overlapping date discs with the same diameter, the upper of which has a cutout. Thanks to this clever design, only half of the digits have to be printed on each disc, meaning the size of each number is quite generous – now that’s great design.
- The ETA 2834-2 has a day and date in what you could call “Rolex configuration.” The day is written out in full in an arched display at 12 o’clock, and the date is at 3 o’clock, just like the Rolex Day-Date.
- The ETA 2836-2 also has a day and date, but both of these are displayed in a row at 3 o’clock. Due to the rather limited space, the days are abbreviated.
The Competition Commisson and ETA’s Future
You can’t talk about recent developments at ETA without mentioning the antitrust mess of the past decade. I already mentioned above that there was limited availability of some ETA movements for third parties. This is partly due to the Swatch Group’s strategic plans but also comes down to the antitrust requirements of the Swiss Competition Commission (COMCO).
The story goes something like this: Back in 2009, one year before his death, Swatch founder Nicolas G. Hayek announced in an interview that ETA would stop supplying their mechanical movements to third parties. This spurred COMCO to investigate whether ETA could be considered a monopoly and, if so, whether they would be allowed to stop supplying third parties.
COMCO concluded that ETA did, in fact, occupy a monopoly position in the market and, as such, could not suddenly stop delivery. It took until 2019 for the authority and the Swatch Group to reach an amicable settlement that laid out plans for a gradual decrease in delivery quotas. According to COMCO, alternative suppliers and customers must be given sufficient time to increase production capacities and adjust supply chains.
In late 2018, COMCO initiated a so-called “reconsideration process” to check whether alternative suppliers could establish themselves. This led to a strange situation in which the Commission temporarily forbade ETA from supplying any customers who didn’t qualify as small or mid-sized companies due to “precautionary measures.”
It wasn’t until 2020, more than a decade after Hayek’s declaration, that the findings of COMCO’s investigation were made public, and ETA was subsequently released from their delivery obligations. The Commission ruled that Sellita was a suitable alternative supplier, and efforts by several manufacturers to produce their own movements likewise contributed to the decision. ETA is still under investigation, but all measures have since been relaxed.
The Swatch Group had already announced its intention only to supply select customers and stop delivering to competing groups like Richemont and LVMH in 2019. This isn’t quite in line with the initial announcement from 2009, but it does mean that several buyers can no longer source movements that were once readily available. Fortunately, no one has been forced to shut their doors due to a lack of ETA movements, thanks to the many alternatives on the market – just as COMCO desired.
Of course, business at ETA didn’t come to a standstill during these times of legal uncertainty. They improved several of their older designs, including the 2824-2. The only downside is that the newer generation of the 2824-2 is only available to Swatch Group brands.
ETA C07.XXX: The New 2824-2
Movements from the new caliber series C07.XXX, better known as the Powermatic 80, now power a wide range of affordable automatic watches across the Swatch Group. While the name doesn’t exactly suggest it, a closer look at the movement itself reveals that the tried and tested architecture of the 2824-2 remains. At first glance, the main difference between the two calibers is the improved 80-hour power reserve – more than twice that of the older model. With this, ETA has managed to build a Swiss movement with a power reserve meeting modern-day standards and make it available at extremely affordable prices. Everyone should be delighted with it, right?
Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple. The new caliber series has led to heated debate among enthusiasts, some of whom still prefer the classic 2824-2. The reasons for this come down to several different variants in the Powermatic 80 range. Each caliber in this series has a name beginning with “C07,” followed by three numbers. The first number represents the quality level, and the other two indicate what complications are built-in.
Quality Grades for the New Generation
You’ll primarily find the C07.111 in timepieces from brands like Tissot and Certina. These are the Swatch Group’s entry-level mechanical watches. This variant, in particular, is cause for some of the controversial debate because it features a plastic escapement. Both the pallet fork and escape wheel are made of a polymer instead of metal or silicon. Many enthusiasts can’t quite wrap their heads around plastic components being found in a fine mechanical watch – it just doesn’t fit the quality or sustainability requirements of a good marketed as timeless. I haven’t heard anything bad about the movement’s performance per se, but some mechanical watch fans just can’t get past the plastic parts.
The C07.611 is the next level up and a better choice for anyone who simply can’t make do with a plastic escapement. This movement features a conventional escapement, as you’d expect to find in any classic automatic watch. It is used in several Certina watches but mostly ticks away inside timepieces from higher-priced brands like Mido (Caliber 80), Hamilton (H-10), and Rado.
The C07.811 represents the top of the Powermatic 80 series. This movement is comparable to the Chronomètre version of the 2824-2. It comes with the obligatory chronometer certificate, as well as a silicon balance spring. This caliber is used by some of the Swatch Group’s more expensive brands and in many Tissot models, bringing silicon technology to a wider audience. Silicon components were previously extremely exclusive.
In terms of complications, C07.XXX variants are available with both common and not-so-common complications. The C07.661, for instance, features a “true GMT.” This means that the main hour hand can be adjusted in hour increments and always clicks into place, while the GMT hand remains on the home time. This is much more convenient than ETA’s earlier GMT designs that require fiddly adjustments every time you change time zones. Also of interest is the C07.651, comparable to the previous 2826-2 with its oversized date. This movement powers the Mido Baronelli Big Date, among others.
A Hurdle in an (Almost) Perfect Movement
All the Powermatic 80 movements have one thing in common: a reduced frequency of 3 Hz or 21,600 vph. This is, of course, 1 Hz less than the 2824-2. The decrease is accompanied by a notably jerkier second hand, which has garnered disappointment from watch enthusiasts. However, unlike the plastic escapement in the entry-level movement, this characteristic concerns every single caliber in the Powermatic 80 series.
So, why would ETA decide to lower the frequency even though higher beat rates are more popular and better withstand shocks? Well, the higher the frequency, the more energy the watch uses. In addition to a modified barrel and an escapement regulated by screws on the balance wheel, this reduction in frequency significantly contributes to the 80-hour power reserve.
Buyers have a choice: Accept the less smooth second hand or stick with models powered by the “old” 2824-2 or its equivalents from competitors. If you want to venture into higher price ranges within the Swatch Group, brands like Longines offer an interesting alternative. New versions of the ETA 2892 provide an improved 64-hour power reserve with a more subtle reduction in frequency from 4 to 3.5 Hz. If you don’t really care about the second-hand or plastic components, however, you’ll have no trouble finding your perfect watch among current line-ups of the Swatch Group brands. So, I hope this article has offered some insight into ETA’s offerings and provided a good overview of the 2824 and the latest, but hopefully not last, iteration of this legendary caliber.