When Swatch Group announced to hit the brakes (but not a full stop) on delivering their ETA movements to watch brands outside their group, the panic could be felt everywhere where there was a dependency on these movements. Without spending too much time on in-depth insights and anecdotes of what happened next, let’s just say that a number of watch brands took the decision of developing and producing their own movements.
Third party suppliers of movements outside the Swatch Group (Sellita, Soprod etc.) took the opportunity though and probably saw some double digit growth numbers ever since. Brands from the Richemont Group for instance, either started making their own movements (IWC, Panerai) or using suppliers like Sellita to get their hands on movements. A brand like Jaeger-LeCoultre was always keen on developing and producing their own movements. Jaeger-LeCoultre, for example, also delivers their movements to other watch manufacturers (e.g. Audemars Piguet).
Also, within the Swatch Group you can divide certain brands using their own ETA movements, as well as brands that develop their own movements (the production often takes place at one of the ETA facilities). Swatch Group brands like Certina, Tissot, and Longines are using ETA movement, some times even those made exclusive to these brands, while Omega, Blancpain and Breguet have a strong focus on developing and manufacturing their own movements.
Rolex has been using their own movements for a long time, the only exception is the Daytona Chronograph, that didn’t use in-house movements before 2000 (but Zenith and Valjoux). Their sister company Tudor started using in-house movements as of April 2015 for certain models. However, for most of their models they are still supplied by ETA.
Another interesting example is Zenith, one of the first companies to enter the market with an automatic chronograph movement in 1969. Zenith is known for their El Primero movements and also delivered them to many other brands (Rolex, Ebel, TAG Heuer etc.). When they introduced their new Pilot watch some years ago, they used a Sellita movement instead. Well, let’s just say that was a decision that was reversed within a blink of the eye when word got out.
However, there were two brands where damage control came too late. A big and famous brand often associated with chronographs and racing, for using a Japanese chronograph design as blue print for their “in-house” caliber and not being fully transparent about it, and a small brand for claiming they used an in-house movement while it was actually a La Joux-Perret movement (owned by Citizen) that they used. When some clever collectors found out about this, the company explained there was a misunderstanding.
Anyway, ever since, certain brands have become keen on stating that they use in-house movements for their watches. Some brands, like Longines, are actually keen on the fact that they don’t use in-house movements but ‘standard’ ETA movements, so they were able to stay “an affordable brand”.
So, welcome to the snake pit of mechanical movements. Confused? Don’t be! The only thing that is really important is: is an in-house manufactured movement better than those from 3rd party suppliers? The short and simple answer is: No, an in-house movement is not a quality seal or by definition worth the extra money.
An in-house movement might make a watch manufacturer more interesting, as they can show they have the knowledge and/or craftsmanship. The downside is that a newly constructed movement by Omega, IWC, Breitling or Tudor for example, might have some flaws in early generations/iterations of their calibers while a trusty ETA2892-A2 caliber for example, has a proven track record since 1982. You have to decide what is more important to you. In any case it would be wise to get yourself informed about the movement inside the watch of your choice and whether it has known flaws or quality-issues. Most of the time it doesn’t take long before faulty movements or common issues are being discussed on forums and watch blogs.
A manufacture like A. Lange & Söhne (Richemont Group) is an example of a company where the movement plays such an important role, that it can become one of the key reasons for someone to buy one of their watches. A. Lange & Söhne plays in a different league than many other players in the watch industry.
One last note is about movements made in Japan, versus Swiss or German made movements. Some micro brands seem to have a preference for Mioyta (Citizen) or TMI (Seiko) movements. Not only because of the fact that these movements are easier and cheaper to source, but also due to the quality they deliver. Made in Switzerland or Germany doesn’t always mean it is a better product or made without pride. A brand like Seiko used their own movements of course and their Grand Seiko and Credor calibers are highly respected, even by the Swiss.