Schwarz-Etienne: Mastering The Power To Tame Time
There is an interesting dichotomy at the heart of Schwarz-Etienne. There is a respect for traditional watchmaking skills, ones that it has honed through its 100-year-old history, but then there is also this wonderfully romantic notion of a quest to harness the living power of time.
This push and pull between science and romance is there in all its watches. The magic of a flying tourbillon is shown dial side next to the mechanics that make its flight possible; the flights of fancy inspired by the alleged alien landings at Roswell juxtaposed with the very real and scalable Matterhorn.
You could surmise that this tension exists because this over 100-year old company was founded by husband-and-wife team Paul Schwarz and Olga Etienne in 1902 and those two elements represent the masculine and feminine sides of the founders.
Or it is because despite these whimsical ideas about taming time, what Schwarz-Etienne realised long ago was that the only way to have mastery over this most subjective of constructs was to do everything yourself.
This is a brand that does things in its manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds that some names could only dream of. We’re not just talking about movements, which is impressive enough, we’re talking tourbillons, inverse rotors and even balance springs. Just to put that point into context, there are only about 10 brands who make their own balance springs, but these are names with the kind of financial clout as Rolex, Montblanc and Lange & Sohne. It isn’t considered to be an essential part of the in-house process, which just goes to show the attention to detail present in a Schwarz-Etienne watch.
However this has always been the brand’s modus operandi. Since its launch, it set out to distinguish itself as a manufacturer of premium quality movements, ones that were eventually used by Chanel and Dunhill alongside its own brands – Venus, Alpha, Sultana Le Phare and Astin. Despite surviving the Quartz Crisis in better shape than most, Schwarz-Etienne had a period of consolidation; working on developing its own brand and improving its mechanical know-how.
However, in 2007, the brand got a much-needed boost in the form of Raffaello Radicchi. Formerly from Perugia, this self-made man is one of the most influential businessmen in the canton of Neuchatel, which contains La Chaux-de-Fonds. He invested in Schwarz-Etienne and set about restoring its reputation by taking the brand back to what it did best – making seriously well-made movements.
In 2012, it showed the watch-making world what it had been doing for the past six years with the unveiling of the MSE (Manual Schwarz-Etienne) calibre. It had a vintage look to it, a twin-barrel construction and a very decent four-day power reserve. After that there was no stopping Schwarz-Etienne. A year later, it launched its ASE (Automatic Schwarz-Etienne), which replaced one of the barrels with a micro-rotor. Then in 2015 it flipped the micro-rotor onto the front of the movement and proudly showed it dial-side for its ISE (Irreversible Schwarz-Etienne). In 2016 came the evolution of the ISE, which had an added flying tourbillon, for the TSE (Tourbillon Schwarz-Etienne).
Schwarz-Etienne hadn’t just been honing its skills as a movement maker, it had also been finding innovative and iconoclastic ways to house these movements. There’s the Roswell, which is inspired by the alleged flying-saucer crash in 1947, its Roswell Voyage edition with a piece of the Matterhorn in the caseback and the utterly mind-blowing Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) shortlisted Ode à la Semaine, which features a jumping hour, a retrograde minute scale and a stone on which is a painting of a star. Even its more sedate Roma plays with the placement of the power reserve and the proportions of the seconds sub-dial.
All of which might make Schwarz-Etienne one of the most accomplished, important and interesting brands of today! If you’re a man of ‘excellence’, you will no doubt be bowled over.