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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
As you might know they discontinued Ebel BTR back in 2011 or 2012. The watch retailed at something like $7K when it came out. Almost everybody agreed that the design was a smashing success. Watch people praised its looks. If that had "Breitling" or "Omega" written on the dial, it would have sold like hotcakes. Ebel is more obscure brand outside the watch enthusiast circles so it didn't sell that much. Maybe they screwed up marketing it or whatever...

Now these can be had for $2K in the preowned market. Some sell as "new" but in reality they have been sitting since 2012 or so.

The movement is Lemania-based "half-inhouse" caliber and it has been decorated nicely. I have seen a few of these and the quality and details are actually quite amazing. Of course it's hard to determine "quality... but I've seen (and owned) many higher end watches and the finish of these is definitely up there with brands like Zenith, imho.

I remember the times when you could find full size Tudor Submariners for $1.2K. I doubt these can ever raise their value much but I think it's safe to say they won't become cheaper than they're now.






 

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Discussion Starter #4
Save up, when it's time for service, it's gonna cost.
I have a personal watchsmith that has serviced my Rolexes, Breitlings and Omegas. Does BTR have some "special issues"? Or is that the parts are expensive?

Kinda like old Jaguar XJ or S-Klasse Mercedes. Yeah you can buy them for "cheap" but when something breaks up you're doomed? :D
 

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Save up, when it's time for service, it's gonna cost.
Not really. Here's some data.

I just had my BTR chronograph serviced by MGI service, requesting that they do not exchange the movement (I had the COSC certificate for the old movement and also it has some decorative details not all of them do). They sent it to Switzerland, and I got it back this week. Their regular full service for an Ebel chronograph is $520 (price list here), but in this case (surprise!) they charged me only $359 for a full service, plus return shipping and tax. Because they sent it back to Switzerland, it took 3-1/2 months to get back to me rather than the usual three weeks. Nothing in what I wrote is unreasonable at all, even the higher published amount, for factory service.

The BTR work included cleaning up the case (which made it look better than when I bought it), replacing the rubber bezel, replacing the pushers and pusher guards with what seems to be black metal instead of rubber-covered metal of the old pushers, and all gaskets and O-rings. They even sent back the old pushers. They also replaced the keyless works detent spring, which I know because I got the old one back.

I also had them do a full service on my 1911 Chronometer (1120L41), and they exchanged the movement. I had told them that was acceptable for that watch (I didn't have the COSC certificate for that watch in any case). They charged their regular full service for an Ebel 3-hand movement of $370. That's expensive but still under two-thirds what Rolex would charge for service on a three-hand movement.

And I get all the old parts back, including even the gaskets and O-rings.

The 1911 is within 3 s/d, though I haven't specifically checked it. The BTR has been running within 1 s/d since Wednesday.

I don't know what Ebel charged for service pre-MGI, and perhaps that's when you formed your impression, but I have to say I'm not at all unhappy with the servicing prospects for Ebels, at least newer models.

I also sent one of the Redhead's Concord quartz watches for a battery service: $45 plus return shipping, including replacement of the case gasket.

Finally, I can't praise their warranty service enough. I have exercised their warranty on four occasions. Two for watches that I bought several years after they were made, and sent in for warranty service 5 years (in one case) and 7-8 years after they were made. Both had been baked in display windows, and the movements started running slow. Those two were back in my hands in three weeks with new movements, no questions asked. One of them was a Tekton with a caliber 137. Another of that batch, one of the Redhead's Ebels, we (foolishly) had take to a local jeweler, who is a Rolex authorized service center, for battery replacement. They broke one of the face screws, couldn't replace it, and after some discussion with us, sent it themselves to MGI. MGI replaced the case. 12-1/2 months after we got it back, the stem came out--the split stem wasn't holding. I sent that to MGI service essentially falling on their mercy, and they repaired it under their repair warranty, no charge, no questions asked. We weren't even their customer for that repair, the local jeweler was.

Rick "nope, so far Ebels have been quite easy to own" Denney
 

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The white-dialed version with the polished bezel really is quite nice. I have two BTR's, one a black-dialed version with the rubber bezel and red chronograph hands, and another with the Caliber 139 and the central-minutes display. Considering that they all share the same case design, they really look remarkably different.


This is the one just back from repair. I replaced the strap with the alligator strap from the other one.



This strap is now on the above watch, and I bought the bracelet for this watch ($450 from MGI, but they may have sold all of them by now). Both watches improved as a result.

To your question "are they the best deal in the preowned market right now?" I would say they are a pretty good deal indeed. I would not really classify these as "high end", but I would put them at the same general quality level as other fine mid-grade watches like Zenith and Rolex (that will cause some gnashing of teeth, but I don't mean to insult those brands at all).

The movement started life as a Lemania 1340 (aka Omega 1040), which descends to some extent from the Lemania 1873 (aka Omega 1861). They are lever-action chronographs that nevertheless have very smooth pusher action and operation. Breguet uses the same movement, finished to about the same level, in the Type XX and XXI, with the additional of a flyback function. (The Breguet designation is the caliber 582 series, the current version of which is the 584Q, if I'm remembering correctly). When Ebel started developing their version of this movement, they bought exclusive rights to the movement design from Lemania, with rights given to Ulysse Nardin for the base plate (which UN used in their calendar watches) and to Breguet for use in the Type XX. Ebel then redesigned the winding mechanism and made a few other changes. They started the project in 1991, and the first watches with the new caliber 137 came out in 1995. Every single Ebel Caliber 137, 139, 240, and 288, which all use the same base, was chronometer-certified. Ebel contracted with Lemania (at first) and then with Dubois-Depraz to build about 40 parts that Ebel could not themselves make. Remember that at the time, Ebel was a full manufacture of very nice quartz movements that were use in Ebel and Cartier quartz watches, so they already had the wherewithal to produce normal stuff like wheels. Ebel assembled the movements in their own factories. When MGI gave up on the BTR, they were struggling to make enough of the movements to cover fixed costs without raising prices higher than they thought they could sell. They ended production and sold the rights, tooling and specialized staff to Ulysse Nardin in April 2012. The movement lives on in Breguets as the 584 and in Ulysse Nardin watches as the UN152. I would say that the movement is the highest expression of a lever-actuated chronograph. But it is not perfect. It was originally designed for a central minutes display, and does not jump the minutes hand, for example.

Rick "who sorta likes Ebels" Denney
 

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Not really. Here's some data.

I just had my BTR chronograph serviced by MGI service, requesting that they do not exchange the movement (I had the COSC certificate for the old movement and also it has some decorative details not all of them do). They sent it to Switzerland, and I got it back this week. Their regular full service for an Ebel chronograph is $520 (price list here), but in this case (surprise!) they charged me only $359 for a full service, plus return shipping and tax. Because they sent it back to Switzerland, it took 3-1/2 months to get back to me rather than the usual three weeks. Nothing in what I wrote is unreasonable at all, even the higher published amount, for factory service.

The BTR work included cleaning up the case (which made it look better than when I bought it), replacing the rubber bezel, replacing the pushers and pusher guards with what seems to be black metal instead of rubber-covered metal of the old pushers, and all gaskets and O-rings. They even sent back the old pushers. They also replaced the keyless works detent spring, which I know because I got the old one back.

I also had them do a full service on my 1911 Chronometer (1120L41), and they exchanged the movement. I had told them that was acceptable for that watch (I didn't have the COSC certificate for that watch in any case). They charged their regular full service for an Ebel 3-hand movement of $370. That's expensive but still under two-thirds what Rolex would charge for service on a three-hand movement.

And I get all the old parts back, including even the gaskets and O-rings.

The 1911 is within 3 s/d, though I haven't specifically checked it. The BTR has been running within 1 s/d since Wednesday.

I don't know what Ebel charged for service pre-MGI, and perhaps that's when you formed your impression, but I have to say I'm not at all unhappy with the servicing prospects for Ebels, at least newer models.

I also sent one of the Redhead's Concord quartz watches for a battery service: $45 plus return shipping, including replacement of the case gasket.

Finally, I can't praise their warranty service enough. I have exercised their warranty on four occasions. Two for watches that I bought several years after they were made, and sent in for warranty service 5 years (in one case) and 7-8 years after they were made. Both had been baked in display windows, and the movements started running slow. Those two were back in my hands in three weeks with new movements, no questions asked. One of them was a Tekton with a caliber 137. Another of that batch, one of the Redhead's Ebels, we (foolishly) had take to a local jeweler, who is a Rolex authorized service center, for battery replacement. They broke one of the face screws, couldn't replace it, and after some discussion with us, sent it themselves to MGI. MGI replaced the case. 12-1/2 months after we got it back, the stem came out--the split stem wasn't holding. I sent that to MGI service essentially falling on their mercy, and they repaired it under their repair warranty, no charge, no questions asked. We weren't even their customer for that repair, the local jeweler was.

Rick "nope, so far Ebels have been quite easy to own" Denney
When I saw "Ebel" on the HEW subforum thread list, I thought I was about to read an Rdenny post. Then I saw someone else is "into" Ebel. Glad you're getting some company on the Ebel thing. They are such nice watches and not nearly enough given some love.

All the best.
 
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This looks quite impressive. Does anyone in WUS own this Perpetual Calendar-model?

I like the white-dialed version, but the deal I've been offered was a black-dialed version that was harder to read. And though it was a good deal, it was more than I was prepared to spend at the time. I think Rory (WWII70, if I'm remembering his screen name correctly) has one.

These retailed at $30k in steel. They use a caliber 137 chronograph with a Dubois-Depraz perpetual calendar module. The month dial has 48 months to cover the leap-year cycle, so it's bit hard to read compared to perpetual-calendar watches with a year display or a leap-year-cycle display. Ebel sent these to COSC twice, once before the module was mounted, and again after.

The module was first used by Ebel on the Zenith El Primero movements that Ebel designated caliber 134, to make caliber 136. When installed on the 137, the caliber number is designated 288. So, the one above, in steel, would be 9288L73.



Rick "concerned it wouldn't get a lot of wrist time" Denney
 
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I remember the controversy when Ebel replaced the El Primero cal 134 with the 137 cam-actuated chronograph; a step down it was thought. The 1911 case style has become Ebel's iconic design and I still find my eye drawn to its seductive curves. The very flat 1911 quartz on bracelet was the only Swiss quartz watch I've ever owned. The BTR's oversized knurled pushers perhaps takes away from those clean lines. The perpetual calendar chronograph in steel remains an elusive and desired model if found in the right dial configuration; that black version is indeed difficult to read :-(

We passed by the Ebel manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds a few years ago. It was a bit dingy! Thankfully we knew the good things they made inside.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Yeah that classic El Primero Ebel Chronograph is pretty impressive. Too bad it's only 38-39mm. BTR speaks more to younger generation. It's not as slender and beautiful but it's definitely handsome. For a 6'3 guy like me who has lifted weights for 25 years it's just the perfect size.

I don't know whether this new model had a bit bigger case as I've seen these listed at 40mm.

These have caliber 137 inside. I guess it's called "Modulor" and based on ETA, heavily modified by Ebel?



 

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Yeah that classic El Primero Ebel Chronograph is pretty impressive. Too bad it's only 38-39mm. BTR speaks more to younger generation. It's not as slender and beautiful but it's definitely handsome. For a 6'3 guy like me who has lifted weights for 25 years it's just the perfect size.

I don't know whether this new model had a bit bigger case as I've seen these listed at 40mm.

These have caliber 137 inside. I guess it's called "Modulor" and based on ETA, heavily modified by Ebel?
The caliber 137 is the movement which Rick described in his earlier post. It's a Lemania 1340 with some modifications, including a "miracle arm" winding system (licensed from Seiko unless I'm mistaken). The 139 is a modified version with a special module that creates the central chronograph minutes display of the one BTR and several Tekton models.
 

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I remember the controversy when Ebel replaced the El Primero cal 134 with the 137 cam-actuated chronograph; a step down it was thought. The 1911 case style has become Ebel's iconic design and I still find my eye drawn to its seductive curves. The very flat 1911 quartz on bracelet was the only Swiss quartz watch I've ever owned. The BTR's oversized knurled pushers perhaps takes away from those clean lines. The perpetual calendar chronograph in steel remains an elusive and desired model if found in the right dial configuration; that black version is indeed difficult to read :-(

We passed by the Ebel manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds a few years ago. It was a bit dingy! Thankfully we knew the good things they made inside.
They are no longer in that building, sad to say. They moved in 2013 to the MGI Luxury Group HQ in Biel/Bienne, in the Silver Tower right next to the train station. They also do logistics and after-sales service at Factory One (the nickname of the building) on the Solothurnstrasse. Those buildings are much cleaner! Pierre-Alain Blum popped a cork in an editorial in the Chaux-de-Fonds L'Impartiale when that decision was announced--by all accounts, in his heart he is a Fonniere even though he lives in Geneva. Ebel still owns the Villa Turque, however. I tried to get a tour of it when I was there in 2014, but I wasn't able to make the arrangements.

When I was there, the old digs at Rue de la Paix 112 (which you pictured) were being rented to a company that does fine polishing. But the Ebel Sport Classic wall clock was still on display.

Ebel upgraded the building in the late 70's or early 80's, but at that time they were buying factories and rights to factory sites right and left. By 1982, they had five factories and 500 employees, and made everything from movement plates to cases and bracelets. A lot of their production had "Cartier" written on it. In the 80's, their quartz watches were 100% made in Switzerland. The building on the Rue de la Paix was just for offices and administration, like the current offices in the Silver Tower. MGI contracts out production now, like most watch companies.

Yes, it was a controversy when Ebel started development of the 137, but it was also a smart business decision at the time. They took that decision two years after Zenith started supplying movements to Rolex, and Rolex was one of the few companies that could edge out Ebel at the time. Also, Blum saw Ebel as a complete watch company, and didn't want to use supplied movements for his flagship watch. Nouvelle Lemania was owned by Piaget in 1991, considered independent like Ebel. Ebel had also just purchased 20% of TAG-Heuer from Piaget--the part they did not sell to TAG. So, there was a relationship with Lemania at some level that presented an opportunity for Ebel.

At the time, there was no assurance that the El Primero was a better movement than the 1340--the main difference is the column-wheel actuation, but that was considered rather quaint in 1990 and Zenith was the only company making one like that at the time (althought it has to be said that the ETA 2894 uses a column wheel after a fashion, but it certainly does not contribute to smooth pusher operation). And the 1340 had real credibility from its successful application in Omega watches as the 1040. The 1873, the hand-wind predecessor (at least to the extent that it used the same actuation mechanism) was and still is very highly regarded. It is used in the Speedmaster Professional, and was used in my Heuer 1964 Carerra Re-Edition, made in 1996. Lemania was producing the 8810, which was the old Longines 990, and Ebel was building up to use that movement, too. (The Lichine with that movement appeared at least as early as Ebel's 1994 catalog, which listed only Zenith-powered chronographs). So, it was not a silly decision.

Mainly, though, I suspect Blum wanted control over his supply chain.

In any case, I have examples of both, including a vintage Ebel Sport Classique Chronograph with a 134, and a modern Captain Chronograph with a Caliber 400 from Zenith. I compare that with my three watches with 137 variants (there is also a 137 in my Type E chronograph from the LVMH period), and I don't find that the 137 gives up anything in terms of smoothness of actuation and operation compared to the Zenith movements. And, of course, Breguet and Ulysse Nardin both continue to give it gravitas. It is quite likely that had Ebel not bought the design from Lemania and fronted the money with them to productize it with Ebel's modifications, the 1340 might not have been sustainable at the price points of the 90's. Just as Ebel brought back the Zenith movement, they also brought back this Lemania movement.

Of course, by the time they put the 137 in a watch, Rolex's application of the Zenith movement had brought new stature to the El Primero.

When they finally put the new 137 in a watch, they enlarged the case slightly to 40mm from 38mm (nominal--measurements of these are inconsistent because of the shape of the case), and called it Le Modulor. They were borrowing the name from the history of Le Corbusier, who they honor as the architect of the Villa Turque that Ebel had restored in 1986, and was thus the inspiration for "The Architects of Time". As it turns out, Le Corbusier's family wasn't pleased, and Ebel stopped using that name within a year. In the 1998 catalog, it was just "1911 Chronograph". Interestingly, the '98 catalog shows the perpetual-calendar chronograph as having a Zenith tractor (caliber 136). I don't think Ebel paired the 137 with that module until they were under MGI ownership after 2004, and they did so with the caliber 288 in the BTR case. LVMH had halted all such development for gents watches, and MGI found the plans for the 139, 240, and 288 gathering dust in a drawer, according to an article in Europa Star in 2006. The perpetual-calendar watch in their 2002 catalog is still a caliber 136.

Incidentally, a former Blum family home is about two blocks behind you in your picture, between where you are standing and Girard-Perregaux.

Back to the 137 history--Blum owned Authier Skis, a hotel in Basel, a movie company, and other assets when the Savings and Loan problem cause a general credit crunch. He'd invested in these to avoid paying all the watch-company profits in taxes, but later discovered that the books on a couple of these had been cooked a bit and the banks withdrew their credit. Blum was forced in 1994 to sell the watch company (the Ebel, SA part of the Ebel Group) to save it, though I think he retained his ownership in Heuer to sell later to help dig out. Sandro Arabian brokered the deal for Investcorp, and then came in with management techniques that were not well liked by the employees, according to (probably biased) local press reports. Blum left a year later--the year the 137 hit the streets in the Modulor. He tried to buy Ebel back in 2004, and that provides an alternate-reality fantasy that I wonder about from time to time, but LVMH had already made the deal with MGI.

I agree with you that the BTR is not as sleek as the original Sport Classic, but Ebel's sales were already in the toilet and MGI was trying to create a line that would fit the market's desire for more overtly muscular designs. I can choose between 134 and BTR watches in my collection, and I wear the BTR more often, though in more casual situations, than the 1911 Sport Classic Chronograph. Ebel made and still makes elegant sport watches, a category that I think struggles in general these days. But they are definitely downmarket from where they were in years past.

Rick "noting the Sport Classic Chronograph revived and announced at Baselworld this year has an ETA 2894" Denney
 

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Yeah that classic El Primero Ebel Chronograph is pretty impressive. Too bad it's only 38-39mm. BTR speaks more to younger generation. It's not as slender and beautiful but it's definitely handsome. For a 6'3 guy like me who has lifted weights for 25 years it's just the perfect size.

I don't know whether this new model had a bit bigger case as I've seen these listed at 40mm.

These have caliber 137 inside. I guess it's called "Modulor" and based on ETA, heavily modified by Ebel?



These are post-Modulor 1911 Chronographs, and both appear in the 1998 catalog. The 137 was never put in the nominal 38mm case (901 case code). These are in the 240 case, which is a bit larger. I particularly like the blued-dialed version with the arabic markers.

Rick "who will have to keep on the lookout for that one" Denney
 
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They are no longer in that building, sad to say. They moved in 2013 to the MGI Luxury Group HQ in Biel/Bienne, in the Silver Tower right next to the train station. They also do logistics and after-sales service at Factory One (the nickname of the building) on the Solothurnstrasse. Those buildings are much cleaner! Pierre-Alain Blum popped a cork in an editorial in the Chaux-de-Fonds L'Impartiale when that decision was announced--by all accounts, in his heart he is a Fonniere even though he lives in Geneva. Ebel still owns the Villa Turque, however. I tried to get a tour of it when I was there in 2014, but I wasn't able to make the arrangements.

When I was there, the old digs at Rue de la Paix 112 (which you pictured) were being rented to a company that does fine polishing. But the Ebel Sport Classic wall clock was still on display.

Denney
Ah, my picture was 2013 so perhaps they were already gone? I've owned their El Premiero chronograph and Omega's Speedy at the same time and found the Ebel's pusher action felt much better. I also had the Lichine which was an interesting contrast. Both in gold, the chrono had a rather thin case and the automatic watch weighed substantially more! Regardless, they were very elegant pieces but I grew cold on the brand. This reminiscing has revived my interest!

Speaking of Le Corbusier, seeking out his creations was another great highlight of our visit to La Chaux-de-Fonds. Its been a real pleasure learning more about the background of Ebel from an enthusiast of the marque, chapeau Monsieur :)


 

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The move was reported in September 2013 and completed in December. Your visit looks like summer. I was there the following April, when it is more likely to rain.

















Rick "we had sun in the Alps and in Geneva" Denney
 
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