LA DOLCE OROLOGIO

While Ital­ian watch en­thu­si­asts have em­braced the time­pieces of Eber­hard & Co. for well over a cen­tury, only a rel­a­tive hand­ful of Amer­i­can col­lec­tors are aware of the brand’s rich his­tory and di­verse of­fer­ings. Now, buoyed by a surprise Geneva Grand Prix

WatchTime - - Table Of Contents - By Mark Bernardo

| Buoyed by a surprise Geneva Grand Prix win for its most his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant model, Eber­hard & Co. is mak­ing the U.S. sit up and take no­tice.

— When we dis­cuss the his­tory of div­ing watches, we usu­ally fo­cus on a hand­ful of ac­knowl­edged icons, like the Rolex Sub­mariner, Omega Sea­mas­ter and Blanc­pain Fifty Fath­oms. When we dis­cuss im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal chrono­graphs, we in­evitably bring up Heuer, Bre­itling, Zenith, and Rolex’s Day­tona (which, of course, for much of its ex­is­tence, used a Zenith-made move­ment). e Day­tona, Heuer’s Monaco and Car­rera, and per­haps Chopard’s Mille Miglia col­lec­tion tend to en­ter the con­ver­sa­tion when it turns to watches con­nected to auto rac­ing. All this is as it should be, though an­other ven­er­a­ble Swiss watch brand – one that was founded in 1887, yet op­er­ated for much of its ex­is­tence un­der the radar of many Amer­i­can watch afi­ciona­dos – makes a fairly con­vinc­ing case for in­clu­sion in the con­ver­sa­tion. Here is a fam­ily-by-fam­ily tour through the in­ven­tions, world’s firsts, and re­mark­able tech­ni­cal and de­sign achieve­ments of Eber­hard & Co., a Bi­enne-based watch man­u­fac­turer that con­tin­ues to in­no­vate af­ter 130 un­in­ter­rupted years.

Evo­lu­tions in Tim­ing: Ex­tra-fort & Con­tograf

Founded in La Chaux-de-fonds by 22-year-old en­trepreneur Ge­orges-lu­cien Eber­hard, whose Ber­nese fam­ily traced its watch­mak­ing her­itage back to the 10th cen­tury, Eber­hard & Co. adopted the chrono­graph as one of its spe­cial­ties from very early on. e com­pany’s first chrono­graphs were pock­et­watches, which were still pre­dom­i­nant in the early 20th cen­tury prior to World War I. e com­pany pro­duced its first wrist-worn chrono­graph in 1919, and as stop­watch tech­nol­ogy evolved (along with the pop­u­lar­ity of wrist­watches, which had eclipsed that of pock­et­watches), launched in­creas­ingly ad­vanced mod­els: a dou­ble-pusher chrono in 1935, a watch with an hours counter in 1938, a fly­back in 1939. Eber­hard chrono­graphs were worn by Ital­ian Royal Navy of­fi­cers dur­ing these pre- and post-world War II years, pi­o­neer­ing the com­pany’s strong pres­ence in the Ital­ian mar­ket that re­mains to­day.

e cul­mi­na­tion of all this ad­vance­ment was the launch of the Eber­hard Ex­tra-fort in the late 1940s. e Ex­tra-fort, which took its moniker from the tough­ness of its case (fort means “strong” in French), was notable for its slid­ing push but­ton that en­abled the user to mea­sure in­ter­me­di­ate times, a de­vice in­tro­duced to the watch in­dus­try by Eber­hard. e Ex­tra-fort quickly be­came a leader model for the com­pany through­out the 1950s and in­flu­enced the de­sign of all Eber­hard chrono­graph watches that would fol­low. Among these mod­els was one still prized by col­lec­tors to­day, the Con­tograf of the 1960s, which in­cluded an­other new and in­no­va­tive fea­ture, a fastchang­ing date, in a dis­tinctly shaped trape­zoidal

win­dow at 6 o’clock, and whose min­utes counter was di­vided into three sec­tors meant to help its wearer mea­sure the du­ra­tion of a tele­phone call.

In the mod­ern era, pro­duc­ing re­li­able, com­pet­i­tively priced chrono­graphs re­mains an Eber­hard spe­cialty. In 2014, the com­pany is­sued a mod­ern ver­sion of the Con­tograf, in a stain­lesssteel 42-mm case and a ceramic, coun­ter­clock­wise uni­di­rec­tional bezel em­bla­zoned with a tachymeter scale. e move­ment is an ETA 7750, one of the many cal­ibers pro­duced by the Swatch Group-owned move­ment pro­ducer that are used in Eber­hard watches – a cor­po­rate re­la­tion­ship un­likely to change in the near fu­ture de­spite the grow­ing trend of watch man­u­fac­tur­ers mov­ing to in-house pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to Eber­hard CEO Mario Pe­serico. “We have al­ways had a very good re­la­tion­ship with ETA,” says Perserico, who has been with the com­pany more than 25 years. “We’ve al­ways de­clared that our base move­ments are ETA, and this al­lows us to main­tain the price po­si­tion in our core col­lec­tion be­tween about $2,000 and $7,000. e tech­ni­cal aspects are im­por­tant, of course, but we’ve found that at least 50 per­cent of the rea­son that a client chooses a watch is its aes­thet­i­cal aspects. Ob­vi­ously, of course, there are some spe­cial pieces that ex­tend that range.”

One of those out­liers is the Ex­tra-fort Rouée à Colonnes Grande Date, whose first gen­er­a­tion was a 500-piece lim­ited edi­tion cel­e­brat­ing the com­pany’s 125th an­niver­sary in 2012. Equipped with a col­umn-wheel chrono­graph move­ment and the tit­u­lar big date in­di­ca­tor at 12 o’clock, the model is one of the few Eber­hard watches avail­able in pre­cious me­tal cases, with rose-gold and white-gold ver­sions priced at $21,070. e an­niver­sary edi­tion also paved the way for the fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the ven­er­a­ble Ex­tra-fort col­lec­tion, which to­day in­cludes a three-hand au­to­matic, a three-hand with power-re­serve in­di­ca­tor and a lim­ited-edi­tion Rat­tra­pante model in ei­ther steel or rose gold.

Div­ing Into His­tory: The Scafo­graf

Like most Swiss watch com­pa­nies at the time, Eber­hard in­vested much re­search, ef­fort and cap­i­tal into the de­vel­op­ment of wa­ter-re­sis­tant watches for div­ing, which was grow­ing as both a com­mer­cial and recre­ational pur­suit dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s. e com­pany had in fact been an early adopter, patent­ing the Calotte Pa­trouille case con­struc­tion, which pro­tected a watch’s move­ment from dust and hu­mid­ity, as early as 1921, and build­ing highly wa­ter-re­sis­tant watches for sport­ing and mil­i­tary use in the years be­fore World War II. It was the launch of the Scafo­graf in the 1950s, how­ever, that se­cured Eber­hard a spot in the an­nals of dive-watch his­tory. e first Scafo­graf, re­leased in 1958, had a 36-mm case, wa­ter-re­sis­tant to 100 me­ters, and a dis­tinc­tive dial, with tri­an­gu­lar hour mark­ers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock; it did not have a ro­tat­ing bezel, a fairly new de­vice at the time, which first ap­peared on one of the

It is the de­sign of the Scafo­graf 300 that has best with­stood the test of time.

Scafo­graf’s more well-known pre­de­ces­sors, the Blanc­pain Fifty Fath­oms. A 200-me­ter Scafo­graf would launch just a year later, with a sim­i­lar dial de­sign and a ro­tat­ing bezel (but no crown guard) added. Only 200 pieces were made of each of these early mod­els, per­haps in­di­cat­ing that Eber­hard found it dif­fi­cult to find an au­di­ence for them, com­pet­ing as they were with the Rolex Sub­mariner, the Omega Sea­mas­ter and the afore­men­tioned Fifty Fath­oms, among many oth­ers.

e third gen­er­a­tion de­buted in 1964. e Scafo­graf 300, as its name im­plies, upped the wa­ter re­sis­tance to 300 me­ters, ex­panded the case di­men­sions to 42 mm, and streamlined the dial de­sign. It was also the first Scafo­graf to be pow­ered by a self-wind­ing cal­iber. e some­what im­mod­estly dubbed Scafo­graf Su­per fol­lowed it in 1984, deep in the heart of the Quartz Cri­sis, with a quartzpow­ered move­ment, a he­lium-re­lease valve, and an ex­treme wa­ter re­sis­tance of 1,000 me­ters, a depth achieved by only a hand­ful of other watches at the time. A pro­fes­sional-grade off­shoot of the col­lec­tion, the Scafo­dat, with a 500-me­ter wa­ter re­sis­tant case, an internal ro­tat­ing bezel con­trolled by a large crown, and a dial de­sign rem­i­nis­cent of the first two Scafo­graf mod­els, de­buted in 2006 and re­mains in the port­fo­lio to­day.

It is the de­sign of the Scafo­graf 300 that ap­pears to have best stood the test of time and trends, as it was that watch that Eber­hard res­ur­rected in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion in 2016. De­cid­edly mod­ern in many of its el­e­ments – a larger 43-mm case in stain­less steel, a ceramic uni­di­rec­tional bezel, Su­per-lu­mi­nova on its hands, in­dexes and 15-minute bezel dive scale, three color op­tions for the cen­tral sec­onds hand, and an in­te­grated black rub­ber strap – it is nev­er­the­less a very faith­ful homage to the orig­i­nal in an era where retro-look watches, par­tic­u­larly dive watches, con­tinue to grow in pop­u­lar­ity. Un­der its screwed case­back, en­graved with a starfish, beats the au­to­matic ETA 2824-2 cal­iber, with a 40-hour power re­serve. Eber­hard’s mod­ern-day stew­ards were no doubt beaming with pride when the Scafo­graf 300 took home the Sports Watch prize at the 2016 Geneva Grand Prix, against stal­wart com­peti­tors like the Tu­dor Her­itage Black Bay Dark and TAG Heuer Monza.

In the wake of the prize-win­ning re-edi­tion, Eber­hard has added two more ver­sions of the Scafo­graf. e Scafo­graf GMT, in­tro­duced in 2017, adds a triple-time-zone in­di­ca­tion to the dial, which is of­fered in both blue and black, with match­ing rub­ber straps. at model’s 43-mm steel case fea­tures a styl­ized globe, rather than a starfish,

en­graved on its case­back, and its bezel, also in ceramic, is bidi­rec­tional rather than uni­di­rec­tional, the bet­ter to easily use it in con­junc­tion with the GMT hand to set ad­di­tional time zones. And since the watch is more of a “desk diver” than an ac­tual dive watch, the wa­ter re­sis­tance is di­aled down to a more main­stream, though hardly pedes­trian, 100 me­ters. At Basel­world 2018, the brand in­tro­duced a new fem­i­nine ver­sion, the Scafo­graf 100, in a 38-mm steel case with ceramic bezel and mother-of-pearl dial, as well as the lim­ited-edi­tion “Black Sheep” ver­sion of the Scafo­graf GMT, in a 43-mm black Dlc-coated case, black ceramic bezel in­sert and dial, and a con­trast­ing orange GMT hand. “We see the term ‘Black Sheep’ in a pos­i­tive sense,” says Pe­serico. “It is a watch for some­one who wants to stand out from the crowd.”

Pur­su­ing Power: The 8 Jours

In ad­di­tion to the on­go­ing quest for the most wa­ter­proof watch, Eber­hard has also em­braced the chal­lenge of mak­ing a self-wind­ing watch with a lengthy power re­serve. In 1997, with the me­chan­i­cal watch re­nais­sance just ramp­ing up, the maker in­tro­duced the sim­ply named 8 Jours (“Eight Days”) time­piece, which in­cor­po­rated a new, and now patented, wind­ing mod­ule with two over­lap­ping springs, which to­gether are an ex­tra-long 1 1/2 me­ters in length (com­pared to a stan­dard spring, which is only around 30 cm). e de­vice en­abled the base move­ment to amass an eight-day power re­serve, thus meet­ing Eber­hard’s goal in of­fer­ing a watch that its wearer would need to wind only once per week. e watch’s un­con­ven­tional, asym­met­ri­cal dial had a left-side power-re­serve in­di­ca­tor, and its case­back fea­tured a sap­phire port­hole with the bridge of the large go­ing bar­rel vis­i­ble through a sil­hou­et­ted num­ber 8. e orig­i­nal ver­sion of the 8 Jours came in a 39.5-mm case, but Eber­hard, once again at the fore­front of a watch in­dus­try trend, de­buted the 42-mm “Grand Taille” (big size) ver­sion shortly there­after. e “Grand Taille” case size, which emerged as a re­sponse to con­sumer de­mands in the late ’90s and early 2000s for big­ger watches, has since be­come a fix­ture in nearly all of Eber­hard’s col­lec­tions.

Auto Rac­ing In­spi­ra­tion: Tazio Nu­volari

The Grand Taille case size was a re­sponse to con­sumer de­mands.

Eber­hard’s fond­ness for Ital­ian de­sign and cul­ture, and Italy’s em­brace of the brand, also brought about one of the most en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween a watch com­pany and an auto rac­ing icon. Tazio Nu­volari (1892 - 1953), known as Man­to­vano Volante or the Fly­ing Man­tuan, was a mo­tor­cy­cle racer turned race car driver who won 24 Grand Prix races and raced for Alfa Corse, Scud­e­ria Fer­rari and Maserati. Once dubbed “the great­est driver of the past, present and fu­ture” by none other than Fer­di­nand Porsche, he re­mains

revered by fans of rac­ing his­tory, es­pe­cially in his na­tive Italy.

Eber­hard & Co. launched the first Tazio Nu­volari Chrono­graph in 1992, the cen­te­nary of the rac­ing leg­end’s birth. It was the brain­child of Palmiro Monti, who bought the com­pany from the found­ing fam­ily in 1969 and strength­ened its ties to the Ital­ian mar­ket. “Eber­hard is a Swiss brand owned since 1969 by an Ital­ian fam­ily,” says Pe­serico, “but the roots stretch back even fur­ther, be­cause when Mr. [Mau­rice] Eber­hard of the found­ing fam­ily used to travel to Italy dur­ing the 1950s he was build­ing a very strong dis­tri­bu­tion net­work. At that same time, Nu­volari was be­com­ing a myth in the rac­ing world. So the idea to build a prod­uct that would honor the me­mory of this great pi­lot was one that made sense to us.”

A mile­stone piece in the Tazio Nu­volari col­lec­tion came in 2013, though its in­spi­ra­tion traced all the way back to 1936, the year that Nu­volari drove his 12-cylin­der Alfa Romeo 300 miles on New York’s Roo­sevelt Race­way to cap­ture the pres­ti­gious Van­der­bilt Cup. e watch that cel­e­brated that vic­tory was dubbed the “Naked” Chrono­graph, and it was the first in the fam­ily to fea­ture a black dial with white Ara­bic nu­mer­als. On the tech­ni­cal side, the watch also in­cor­po­rated a chrono­graph stop-pusher that was co-ax­ial with the wind­ing crown, a fea­ture that de­buted in Eber­hard chrono­graphs of the 1930s. In 2017, Eber­hard added a three-hand au­to­matic to the line, which had pre­vi­ously con­sisted ex­clu­sively of chrono­graphs, to woo cus­tomers with sim­pler tastes and, pre­sum­ably, leaner wal­lets. e lat­est ad­di­tion, pre­mier­ing at Basel­world 2018, is the Nu­volari Leg­end, a black-di­aled chrono­graph with big, lu­mi­nes­cent Ara­bic nu­mer­als, and a vin­tagelook spi­ral tachymeter scale in km/hr in the cen­ter, over­lap­ping the min­utes counter at 12 o’clock and hour counter at 6 o’clock. e driver’s Alfa Romeo Type 12C car is em­bla­zoned on the screw­down ex­hi­bi­tion case­back, and the watch, avail­able in both 39.5-mm and 43-mm sizes, se­cures its retro look with the ad­di­tion of an “an­ti­quated” leather strap.

Dash­board De­sign: The Chrono 4

Per­haps the most rec­og­niz­able model in the con­tem­po­rary Eber­hard col­lec­tion made its de­but rel­a­tively re­cently, in 2001, and its DNA can also be traced to Eber­hard’s con­nec­tion to the Nu­volari rac­ing mys­tique. e Chrono 4 – an­other cre­ation of Monti, who died in 2005 – brought to the world an en­tirely new de­sign for a chrono­graph wrist­watch, one in­flu­enced by the look of the dash­boards of the race cars ad­mired by Eber­hard’s large Ital­ian au­di­ence, and one that boasts yet an­other Eber­hard patent. Be­low the cen­tral skele­tonized hands and un­usu­ally placed 12 o’clock date win­dow, three over­lap­ping sub­di­als line up in a hor­i­zon­tal ar­range­ment, dis­play­ing chrono­graph min­utes, chrono­graph hours, the time on a 24-hour scale and the run­ning sec­onds. To ac­com­plish this feat, Eber­hard cre­ated its own mod­ule that would mod­ify the base ETA 2894-2 move­ment. “If you look at chrono­graph di­als over the last 20 or 30 years, they are all some ver­sion of 3-6-9 or 3-6-12. We wanted to change the po­si­tion­ing, to cre­ate a watch on which you can read the time in a dif­fer­ent way,” says Pe­serico. “It took three years to de­velop, partly be­cause of the dif­fi­culty in ad­just­ing the ex­ist­ing move­ments for the po­si­tion­ing of the sub­di­als.”

Mak­ing its de­but in an era when large watches were in vogue, the orig­i­nal 40-mm Chrono 4 swiftly be­gat larger mod­els in the en­su­ing years, first the 43-mm Grand Taille ver­sion in 2008, and even­tu­ally an even larger it­er­a­tion, the Chrono 4 Géant, (“Gi­ant”), whose case was a hulk­ing 46 mm, in 2010. Ar­guably, the larger case ver­sions were a sen­si­ble aes­thetic choice, as they al­lowed the hor­i­zon­tally aligned sub­di­als, which due to the de­sign needed to be quite small, to be slightly en­larged and thus more leg­i­ble. All three ver­sions con­tin­ued to adopt new dial col­ors and case ma­te­ri­als, such as ti­ta­nium, as the col­lec­tion ex­panded. e most avant-garde ver­sion is the “Full In­jec­tion” Géant lim­ited edi­tion of 2013, dis­tin­guished by its car­bon-coated steel case and côtes de Genève fin­ished dial with sporty red ac­cents.

Since its in­tro­duc­tion, Eber­hard has tin­kered fur­ther with the de­sign of the Chrono 4, with its most ex­treme it­er­a­tion be­ing the ton­neau­cased Te­mer­ario, whose four sub­di­als are stacked ver­ti­cally, rather than hor­i­zon­tally, along the dial’s right side, and whose push­ers are un­con­ven­tion­ally po­si­tioned at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock, some­what rem­i­nis­cent of a clas­si­cal “bull­head” ar­range­ment. Among the three patented in­no­va­tions in this model are the clever crow­nac­cess sys­tem, which uses a hid­den lever be­neath the case to pop open the lid of the cham­ber that con­ceals the wind­ing crown at 12 o’clock.

With Eber­hard & Co. at­tain­ing a higher in­ter­na­tional pro­file af­ter the GPHG prize, Pe­serico knows the time has come, af­ter many years of spotty U.S. dis­tri­bu­tion, to pur­sue a larger foot­print in the U.S. mar­ket. “We’ve been in the U.S. for sev­eral years, through some rocky times and some less rocky times,” he says. “e brand has al­ways been there and hasn’t changed, but local dis­tri­bu­tion at times was dif­fi­cult. But we think we have found the so­lu­tions. We have part­ners, we’ll be at some events, and we will be help­ing deal­ers with com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We want to re­build the Amer­i­can mar­ket be­cause it is a mar­ket with huge po­ten­tial. It’s only a mat­ter of time.” —

The mod­ern ver­sion of the Scafo­graf 300 won the Sports Watch prize at the 2016 Grand Prix d’hor­logerie de Genève.

The Scafo­graf GMT “Black Sheep” Edi­tion

Above: The mod­ern Eber­hard Con­tograf launched in 2014

Above left: The Ex­trafort Rouée à Colonnes Grande Date; be­low left: an Ex­tra-fort model from the 1940s

Clockwise from above:

The orig­i­nal Eber­hard fac­tory build­ing in La Chaux-de-fondsCom­pany founder Ge­orges-lu­cien Eber­hardTazio Nu­volari’s vin­tage race car

Left: The 8 Jours Grand Taille Right: The Tazio Nu­volari “Naked” Chrono­graph Be­low left:The Nu­volari Leg­end

Left: The orig­i­nal Chrono 4. Be­low: The Chrono 4 “Full In­jec­tion” Géant lim­ited edi­tion.

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