The passion for watches and timepieces has consumed even Kings, Queens, and Sultans. Marie Antoinette and her famous Breguet; the private collection of the King of Siam; the Vacheron Constantins that were given by Citizens of Geneva to the four Allied leaders at the end of World War II - examples of haute horlogerie are intricately woven into stories of world leaders and Potentates.
This Ebel Lichine Sr was intended to be part of a Royal commission by a reigning potentate of the East, but Fate and international geo-politics had other plans. Through a concatenation of events, we have the opportunity to take an up-close and in-depth look at a NOS specimen of what is widely considered one of the best automatic movements evolved in the 20th century, clothed in an interesting and unique case and strap.
The world at the turn of the 20th century was an eventful place - motor cars were just being introduced as alternatives to the horse and buggy; the October Revolution in Russia was to have worldwide repercussions for the next 9 decades; Einstein introduced his papers on relativity; and the personal timepiece was transitioning from the pocket to the wrist.
It was against this backdrop that Eugène Blum and Alice Levy, a husband and wife team, registered their new company in La Chaux-de-Fonds on July 15, 1911. EBEL is an acronym of the first letters of their names - Eugene Blum et Levy.
Ebel debuted their first signed product within a year of their formal opening, and three years later, they won a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition with their comprehensive watch collection. This award drew the attention of the other, more established brands in Switzerland, and as a result, Ebel's private label business was to become their bread and butter for the next 70 years, though they they continued to produce Ebel signed pieces on a small scale basis.
Alice Levy Blum stayed at homebase, running the daily operations and occasionally involving herself with the creative aspects of designing the models and collections offered, while Eugene handled the selling of the products, becoming a world traveller and company salesman in the tradition of Francois Constantin and Antoine Norbert de Patek.
Ebel's reputation was further enhanced in 1929, when a Certificate of Excellence was awarded to Ebel at the International Exhibition in Barcelona. This was the same year that Charles-Eugene Blum joined his parents in the family business, and along with watchmaker Marcel Reuche, established a tight system of production control that won over ever increasing orders from even the top names in the industry, including Vacheron Constantin, under their Astral label.
Ebel continued to develop as a family owned and family run business, and their private label business grew. Well known within the industry, the Ebel brand was not so highly recognized outside of it. Ebel signed pieces from the 20's, 30's, and on through the 60's show solid, if unexceptional, design and production quality.
And thus it continued, until the arrival of Pierre-Alain Blum, son of Charles-Eugene and grandson of company founders Eugene and Alice.
By all accounts, Pierre-Alain was a reluctant heir to the family business. Early on, he showed a rebellious and independent streak. At 15, he announced that he was dropping out of the traditional formal education path, and going to technical school to study mechanics, then electricity. After a few more years of exploration and some changes of heart later, he decided a technical future was not for him, and he departed for America to seek his fortune and destiny.
In the 60's, Pierre-Alain found an entry level position at Lucian Picard in New York, and steadily worked his way up in the growing organization. By 1969 he was offered a partnership in the company. When Pierre-Alain excitedly wrote to his father about the offer, Charles-Eugene asked that he go home, to help with the family business. Stubborn as he still was, even the father's threat of selling off the family concern was not able to sway him, at first.
Pierre-Alain finally relented, and returned to Ebel. For the first several years, he was very unhappy and surely regretted his decision to go back to Switzerland. As the returning prodigal son, he encountered most of the burden and responsibility of being an heir, without much of the prerogative. It was a difficult few years, but his opportunity was to come.
An unfortunate accident forced the senior Blum to withdraw from active running of the family enterprise, and Pierre-Alain was thrust into the senior management role. This was his chance.
After assuming the reins of the company, Pierre-Alain brought ever increasing revenue and profits to the company - 30% growth in the first year; another 30% the year after that, and 60% the year after that.
In 1973, he bought 70% of Ebel from his father, and 2 years later he bought out the remaining 30%. What followed was one of the major success stories of the Swiss Watch industry, a story that paralleled the roller coaster ride of that industry as it was devastated by the challenge of quartz.
End Part One.
Back to top of article
Part One introduces the origins of the Ebel watch company.
Part Two of this article covers Ebel's subsequent evolution, with its vertiginous highs and cataclysmic lows, a story that included an intriguing crossed path with Le Corbusier, Cartier, a way-stop with Middle-Eastern Investcorp, and its current home within the French luxury behemoth LVMH.
Part Three begins a guided tour into the innermost depths of the highly regarded Lemania 8810 movement, evolved from the legendary Longines cal. L.990, that powered the Ebel Lichine Sr.
Part Four continues the tour and analysis of the movement and watch.
Part Five finishes the tour and analysis, and provides some summary comments.
ThePuristS.com Home Page
(Use back on your browser to go back to the last page viewed)
References (history, specifications, and scans):
LVMH press releases and marketing materials
Misc original French language sources
Misc sources - anonymous owners and sellers
The Purist personal collection of watches and original product literature
We welcome comments, suggestions, and corrections to this article.
Please Email us or Sign Guestbook.
Copyright July 2001 - ThePurist178.com and Mr. John Davis - all rights reserved
This article was prepared from publicly available sources, without the express permission or approval of Ebel or LVMH. It is written for non-commercial reference and entertainment purposes only, and no claims are made for historical accuracy, although considerable efforts have been made to ensure factual correctness. All trademarks, trade names, service marks, logos, and copyrights remain the possession of their respective registered owners.