Want to simplify your search for a nice watch? Look for the quality assurance of a "Swiss Made" label or a watch with a Swiss-made movement. But with such a broad and potentially technical topic, where to begin if you just want to make an informed watch purchase? Learning about the companies that make movements for a range of watch brands ain't a bad starting point.
The movement (also sometimes called caliber or calibre) is the engine inside that powers a watch, and it's a big part of what you're paying for. Switzerland has a vast economy built around watches. It includes watch companies that make their own movements in-house and artisans that make delicate, complicated movements by hand for watches that probably only belong in a safe or museum. There are also companies producing the simple, robust and relatively affordable "workhorse" movements that power, say, your trusty field watch. And there's plenty in between.
Yes, you'll often find the same movements in a wide range of watches, battery-powered quartz or spring-powered mechanical, with different brand names on their dials. There's more variety and nuance in Swiss watch movements than you can shake a stick at, but understanding just a handful of companies that make movements used by multiple brands will serve you well as a consumer. If you're looking at watches with movements from any of the following makers, you're off to a good start.
Are Swiss watch movements good?
There's a reason that Swiss watch movements are the industry standard: they're renowned for their general quality, reliability and precision. Probably (arguably) many of the "best" watch movements in the world are Swiss, whether that means the most complicated, most accurate, have the best finishing or even offer the best value. (Debate amongst yourselves.) The movements we're talking about here, however, are those made by companies that supply them to watch brands.
Is a Swiss watch movement 100 percent Swiss?
When a watch qualifies for the Swiss Made label, it means that its movement also has. Specifically, 50 percent of the value of its parts must be generated in Switzerland (excluding assembly), and 60 percent of its overall manufacturing costs. Many exceed those criteria, while others might make special efforts to meet them. It's worth noting that a "Swiss Made" watch will have a Swiss movement inside, but it's not necessarily the other way around: a watch with a Swiss movement doesn't necessarily meet the other criteria for the label.
What is a watch movement clone, and should I care?
There are certain very robust and popular movements of which other companies have essentially made their own copies, and they're referred to as "clones." These shouldn't be understood as fakes, and they're completely legal. The most commonly cloned movement is the ETA 2824 movement which was introduced in 1982 and for which the patents have expired.
The movements other companies have produced based on ETA's design (sometimes with minor tweaks) can be perfectly legitimate and are not necessarily inferior. They might not be bursting with originality, but they offer watchmakers a canvas for creativity. The Sellita SW-200 movement is a common example of an ETA 2824 clone, and there are plenty of others.
What's in a watch movement's name?
Prestigious Swiss brands nowadays are increasingly phasing out third-party movements in favor of their own in-house ones. Many, however, continue to use movements from the likes of ETA and Sellita. It's been a common practice for a brand to make some minor modifications to a movement (this can mean significant modifications to something as simple as decorating its rotor) and give it a completely new name — leaving the consumer unaware that the movement doesn't come directly from the brand. Although this practice is fading, it's still worth researching the movement when considering a new watch. (Websites like Caliber Corner, Grail Watch Reference and WatchBase can be useful resources.)
The following list of movement makers isn't exhaustive, but it represents the most important companies for casual watch consumers to understand.
A historic company, ETA has a massive and important presence in the watch industry and is today part of the Swatch Group. You'll find time-only, automatic movements like the ETA 2824 or thinner and slightly more premium ETA 2892 powering watches of many types, at a range of price points. The company Valjoux was acquired and integrated into ETA, and the Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement is, according to Jason Heaton, "a timekeeping icon." Each of the movements above also comes in variations that offer different functionality, and they're the most commonly cloned movements.
Today, ETA supplies only Swatch Group brands (such as Hamilton, Tissot, Longines, Rado and others) with newly upgraded versions of the movements mentioned above. They go by names such as Powermatic 80 or H-10, and ETA doesn't sell them to brands outside the Swatch Group.
Sellita's primary products offer alternatives to the most common and popular ETA movements — and it plays an important role in the watch industry as the primary supplier of ETA-equivalent movements to brands that ETA no longer supplies. The Sellita SW200, SW300 and SW500 series movements are considered clones of the ETA 2824, 2892 and 7750 movements, respectively. They're considered so similar and interchangeable, a watch might be sometimes said to have an "ETA or Sellita" movement.
You should be just as happy with a Sellita movement as one of the above-mentioned ETAs, but they don't yet offer an equivalent of the newer, upgraded movements ETA supplies to Swatch Group brands. You'll find Sellita movements powering watches from microbrands and established Swiss companies alike.
When you see a Swiss watch with a quartz movement, there's a good chance that movement was made by Ronda (ETA is also a big producer of quartz movements). Though the company is best known for quartz, it also makes an automatic movement of its own, the R150 series. Although its dimensions are such that it'll fit in the same places as an ETA 2824, it's not a clone. You'll mostly find this movement used by the likes of startups and boutique watch brands.
While a less common choice, Soprod offers alternatives to popular ETA and Sellita movements, particularly the ETA 2892. They're made to compete in a similar price range and fit in the very same spaces but aren't exact clones. The current Soprod M100 family of automatic movements is the successor to the now-discontinued A10. That movement is believed to be based on the Seiko 4L family of movements which was, in turn, meant to compete with the relatively slim and premium ETA 2892. Kinda makes your head spin, right? Soprod is part of the Festina Group which also owns watchmaker Perrelet.
Entering the watch market only in 2008, STP stands for Swiss Technology Production. It was created by the Fossil Group, and you'll find these movements in group brands like Zodiac but also many third-party brands. Like other companies on this list, it aims to offer alternatives to ETA and Sellita movements and fit in the same places. The company's basic movement, the STP 1-11 is considered an ETA 2824 clone.
La Joux-Perret is a little different than the above companies in a few ways. It does make a simple automatic movement to compete in the 2824 market, as well as a chronograph for third-party watch brands. But it also makes high-end, complicated movements that are reserved for its own watch brands, Arnold & Son and Angelus. La Joux-Perret was acquired by the Citizen Group in 2016 along with multiple other Swiss companies — and you'll find La Joux-Perret movements powering some of those watches, as well.
This is the movement manufacturer created by Tudor, so when the movements are found in Tudor watches, they're credibly "in-house." Kenissi, however, also supplies movements to other watchmakers, the most notable of which is Chanel who is also directly invested in the manufacturer. You'll also find brands such as Breitling, TAG Heuer, Fortis and recently Norquain using Kenissi movements. With a prestigious tie to Tudor (and, by extension, Rolex) and the associated quality, Kenissi movements are understandably increasing in popularity.
Concepto is a smaller but eclectic maker of mechanical watch movements. On one hand, Concepto chronograph movements are found in tool watches in the several-thousand-dollar range. On the other hand, they're also responsible for ultra-complicated and expensive watches, such as those from Jacob & Co.
You won't find movements from Vaucher powering simple three-hand watches with affordable price tags, ETA-style. No, Vaucher specializes in high-end watchmaking. But it's still one of the prominent and prolific movement makers whose movements you'll find in a variety of watch brands, and understanding that will help you get a better sense of high-end and exotic watches. Vaucher produces movements directly for Parmigiani and Hermes, but it also "collaborates" with other brands, notably Richard Mille.