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Title: Ebel Recent History

Collection: Wrist Watches
Category: None
Publication Date:
Last Modification Date: 2018-12-29
Author:
Ebel is an excellent brand, established in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1911. The Blum family was extremely influential and central to the La Chaux-de-Fonds watch industry, even though the brand has never had great recognition in the USA. This is lekely due to the fact that Ebel had an excellent reputation within the Swiss watch industry and hence established a backlog of orders making watches and movements for other companies. Ebel has remained true to its past until very recently when the quality took a bit of a hit. The brand was owned by the family until 1994. Pierre-Alain Blum, the grandson of the founder, was a visionary who led Ebel to produce the Sport Classic design. This model used a 5-link link bracelet which was distinctly different from the wave bracelet. Starting in 1978, this series became known as the "1911".

In 1982, Blum bought up an inventory of finished Zenith El Primero movements for the newly launched Sport Classic Chronograph. This gave Zenith a lifeline for El Primero production. Blum predicted a return to quailty mechanical movements in the luxury watch space. Many other manufacturers had discontinued production of mechanical watches, except for Rolex and several other high end brands. All of these companies had trouble making money in the newly established world of Quartz. At the same time, Ebel developed the ability to manufacture quartz movements in house. These quartz movements were high-quality and well-decorated and were used by Ebel for their own watches as well as Cartier's watches. Hence, Ebel was one of the few Swiss companies to make much of a profit during this era. Jean-Marc Jacot, head of Ebel marketing, and Blum priced all their watches (quartz and mechanical) at the high end of the market. For example, the price for the Sport Classic Chronograph with the El Primero movement was $1995 in 1983. This was even higher than the Rolex Daytona. A decade later, in 1993, the same watch was listed at $6250, still higher than the Rolex Daytona which used a modified version of the same Zenith El Primero movement. In the late 1980s, Zenith once again started making theior own watches, but Ebel was able to sell the same movements in more elegant cases at a higher price point. As result, Ebel established itself as one of a few important Swiss watch brands. This excellent reputation and marketing strategy allowed Ebel to remain squarely in the black through the 1990s.

Unfortunately for Ebel, Blum had diversified his personal portfolio to to try to reduce the tax bill. This caused him to leverage his non-Ebel investments excessively. When the Savings and Loan Crisis caused a credit crunch, Blum was hit hard. Included in his no-Ebel assets were Authier and Look ski and ski binding companies, as well as a hotel in Basel and a movie company. To save Ebel, which was financially strong, from the bankers, Blum was forced to sell portioons of Ebel to investors. These investors owned a majority share of the company and looking to realize a quick profit on their investment, they took over management and forced out Blum.

Investcorp, one of the primary shareholders in Ebel, took over Ebel the company in 1994. They immediately sold it at a profit to LVMH (Mo√ęt Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) in 1999. Sadly, LVMH was new to the watchmaking business, and didn't really grok their new acquisition. This severely restrained Ebel's ability to market effectively. LVMH wanted to treat Ebel as a cash cow similar to their TAG Heuer asset. In 2004, LVMH sold Ebel to the Movado Group. Movado made a huge effort to goose their new brand during subsequent 7 or 8 years. Ebel created several entirely new lines for men under Movado's direction, but none of these new product lines were very successful. Movado's timing was poor. Then, when the markets tanked in late 2007, Movado was forced to starve their various product lines.

One decision made by Movado during this period was to crank out watches. This resulted in a huge inventory. For example, Ebel attempted to produce 100,000 watches in 2007, but were only able to sell about 30,000. Instead of dumping the excess inventory on the gray market, Movado decided to sell of the extra watches through their outlet discount stores. There are 25 or 30 in in outlet malls around the USA. The discounts at these outlets were huge, because outlet stores cater to bargain shoppers. The percentage reductions from MSRP had to be enormous to get the price down to a point where a Black Friday shopper would buy one/

When compared with other brands, the build quality of Ebel watches is very high and thus the bang-for-the-buck you can achieve by buying an Ebel watch at a Movado outlet is incredible. Buying them at deep discount can really spoil the buyer. Any competitor's watch that retails at $2000 cannot even begin to touch the quality of an Ebel that retails at $4500 - $7500 but has been discounted to below $2000. The Ebel 1911 models are often compared it to the TAG-Heuer Link. But when viewed close up it is clear the quality of the Ebel is vastly superior. For example, the bracelets are of much better quality, and the cases are not even in the same ballpark. The 1911 Ebel has also been compared it to a Ball, but on close examination, the Ball is thick and clunky compared to the elegant lines of the Ebel 1911.

Ebel watches feature a wide a range of movements, but they always use quality mechanisms. The Chronograph, which uses qa Zenith movement, was their only mechanical offering for many years. In the early 90's, with Zenith making watches again and Rolex buying up Zenith's manufacturing capability, Ebel worked a deal with Nouvelle Lemania to revive the 1340, a high-quality automatic chronograph movement. This movement is also known as the Omega 1040. Ebel redesigned the winding system and fully jeweled the chronograph train, bringing the jewel count up to 27. They bought exclusive rights to the movement so they could bring manufacture in-house. Ebel then contracted with Lemania to make approximately 40 or so specialized parts that Ebel could not produce themselves. Ebel then bought or made everything else and assembled the movements in their own workshops. This became the 137 series. When Lemania was sold to Swatch in 1999, Ebel bought up a supply, and when that ran out, had Dubois-Depraz make those specialized parts. In the wake of poor sales of the BTR and Tekton watches which were not making enough money to justify the cost of their workshops, Ebel sold the designs and toolings to Ulysse Nardin in 2012. The same movement, with a flyback feature, is used in the Brequet XX. The 1911 Discovery chronograph, which was sold at a lower price point, used a Valjoux 7750 in chronometer grade. For three-hand watches with mechanical movements, Ebel has used just about everyone's movements. For example, the 1911 mechanical watches initially came with an Ebel 080, which is a Lemania 8810 (formerly a Longines 990, the last full in-house movement made by Longines and still the thinnest central-seconds-plus-date automatic movement ever made), and when that was no longer available, they used their caliber 331, which is a Girard-Perregaux 3301. When that was no longer available, they used top or chronometer-grade ETA 2892's.

The quartz 1911 features a logo design, hands design, and bracelet details, was produced no later than the very early 1990s. Quartz Ebels used caliber 87, 157 and 187, made by Ebel in their joint factory with Cartier, CEC. These are not intended to be high-accuracy movements (though they are as accurate as the usual good-quality quartz movements), but they are durably made and have a nice finish. Movado can still service them, and does so a bit more cheaply than most upper-end Swiss companies. Changing the batteries requires skill--these are front-load cases and those gold bezel screws have to be removed, so use a good watchmaker for this service. All the gold bits on this watch are solid 18K gold.
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