Caliber Spec: the ETA 2824 – Automatic for the People

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Movements (otherwise known as calibers–or calibre, depending on who you ask) are undeniably the heart and soul of a watch. They’re the engines that drive our favorite timekeepers, be they mechanical, quartz, or a magical mix of the two. Today, we’re launching a new series dubbed Caliber Spec that will focus on some of the most common and interesting movement families around. Today, we’re kicking things off with ETA’s 28XX family, which, of course, includes the ever-present 2824.


There are three stages in the lives of most horophiles. In the first, you still have disposable income that doesn’t get spent on watches and you believe that you can get by with just that one, special watch. At this stage, anything with a Swiss movement is fine. “It’s got a Swiss movement—it must be good!”

If you are fortunate, you remain in this state of blissful ignorance. You will still be a normal person with a civilized relationship with your bank manager and a car worth more than the watch on your wrist.

However, if you’re reading this, chances are the addiction has already progressed past this initial, mild and harmless stage. As a nailed-on watch junkie, you will at least know what’s inside the cases of the watches in your collection. You will be able to spout movement specs with the best of them. And you are probably sniffy about ETA, particularly the 28XX series of movements.

A tried-and-true workhorse–the ETA 2824. Featured inside the Farer Hopewell Automatic.

The third stage of enlightenment comes when you start hanging out with watchmakers who regard in-house movements much as mechanics regard any engine made by Maserati; they are utterly beautiful, but a total bloody nightmare. They’ll mutter about spares supply, adjustment horrors, regulation sweats and they’ll probably swear quite a lot. They’ll explain how movements like the common Valjoux 7750 and the ETA 28XX family are actually remarkable and lovely pieces of watchmaking.

And they’re right.

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Yes, chase your cloisonné enameled triple reverse-oscillating balance movement, but wouldn’t you rather have something you can wear and enjoy every day without having kittens every time someone sneezes near it?

Birth of an Icon

This is where the ETA 28XX family fits. Proper watchmaking that you can wear anywhere doing just about anything without worrying. But it’s not as if this is just a utility choice.

The 28XX family has quite a heritage, as much as that word gets overused. Now, the movement is part of ETA’s “Mecaline” series, but it can trace its family tree back to ETA’s parent, Eterna. Their cal. 1247, the 2824’s ancient relative, began ticking on the bench in 1955. There’s DNA from their later caliber, the 1541, too.


For our historical overview of ETA, click here.


Before the cal. 1247, most watches were manual-wind to keep your fingers fit. Then, automatics for the lazy-fingered started to take hold, powered by bumper self-winders. The 1247’s predecessor, the 1237, saw not just a proper oscillating weight, but one mounted on ball-bearings to reduce wear and friction. This was sufficiently innovative and distinctive that Eterna took the five ball-bearings and made them their logo.

 

Eterna cal. 1247. (Image source: Omega Forums; user: X350 XJR)

The grand-daddy of Watchworld, the ETA 2824, uses that same five-bearing format for its winding rotor to this day. So, the basics. For ease of reference, it’s probably best to avoid wading through every variant of large date, small date, day-date, no date, and Medjool date to concentrate on the principal actors.

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The Workhorse

The 2824, the best known of the family, is nearly 5mm thick and 25.6mm in diameter. Clearly, it’s self-winding, with that oscillating weight spinning up a 38-hour power reserve. The balance runs at 28,800 bph (4Hz) and the movement hacks. It has 25-jeweled bearings. The regulator is ETA’s own Etachron system. And you’ll find the 2824 in watches ranging from “affordable” to “ye gods, how much?”

It might not be the prettiest caliber in the stable, but even at its most basic the 2824 is solid as a rock. Featured here in an Archimede 42H Bronze Pilot.

Watchmakers argue that the relatively humble 2824—when properly regulated, oiled and adjusted—can easily match movements from far smarter makers for accuracy. More practically, it can beat most of them for sheer robustness. Its heavy, brass plates may not be as temperature stable as Invar, but a 2824 will take a beating and still come up ticking. It’s certainly been around long enough to demonstrate its tough credentials, with the first of the modern 2824-2 models coming off the bench in 1982.

The Extended Family

If you want to stroll slightly more up-market, there’s the ETA 2892. This one first twirled a balance in the 1970s and persists, in evolved form, today. It’s rather skinnier than the 2824 at 3.6mm thick, but the same 25.6mm diameter. Again, it’s powered by that ball-bearing mounted self-winding weight, runs at 28,800 bph and uses the in-house Etachron regulator.

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The 2892 is often cited as more accurate than the humbler 2824, but that’s simply because it’s found in more expensive watches with movements better regulated from the factory gates.

Commentators also suggest that the 2892 is made from more upstage materials than the 2824 and, to be fair, you’ll usually find it finished to a higher standard.  The most significant difference from its older brother is that the self-winding weight’s ball races are better-supported, so it’s more shock-resistant. After all, the moment of a moving weight needs some control if it is not to cause damage when the watch gets knocked.

You’ll find ETA cal. 2892s powering, amongst other classy watches, the IWC Pilot MK XVIII and the Omega Seamaster 2254. Featured here inside the Davosa Vanguard.

 

The ETA 2801 featured here inside the Meistersinger Phanero.

If you prefer a little more involvement with your watches, how about the cal. 2801 and cal. 2804? Both are 17-jewel hand-winders and none the worse for it. There’s something rather attractive about starting each day by hand-winding the watch that will accompany you throughout it. You also remove one of the principal causes of movement wear and shock damage—the winding weight.

The 2801 is a little thinner at 3.25mm as it doesn’t need the winding weight of the 2824, and you’ll find it ticking happily in anything from a Meistersinger to some of Laco’s splendid replica Luftwaffe watches. And it’ll tick happily for 46 hours before you need to wind it again. You can have your watch dateless with a 2801 or with a date with the otherwise identical cal. 2804.

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Make the Grade

What makes the whole thing rather more complex is ETA’s habit of offering movements in three or four grades—standard, elabore, top and chronometer. To be fair, the principal differences are in the level of regulation and the quality of mainspring, hairspring and shock system. The cooking movements get Nivarox hairsprings, and the smarter movements get the more temperature-stable Anachron. Likewise, the more basic models have Nivaflex NO mainsprings with their big-house-on-the-hill cousins being powered by Nivaflex NM springs.

The difference? It’s a challenge working out why NM is better than NO. Both mainsprings have the same metallurgical breakdown: 45% cobalt, 21% nickel, 18% chromium, 5% iron, 4% tungsten, 4% molybdenum and 1% titanium. The difference may lie in the remaining 2% composition and the way the springs are tempered.

A top-grade 2824 (with a custom rotor) in a Stowa Flieger Klassik Sport.

Regulation is simpler to understand. ETA regulates the standard movement to a tolerance of +/-12 seconds a day, although many watches actually run better. They’re rather fussier with the chronometer models, sharpening those to COSC specs of −4/+6 seconds a day.

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Apart from the two lower grades of 2824 that run Etachoc shock absorbers, the rest of the 28XX family run the very much finer-made Incabloc system.

In Conclusion

No matter which of the 28XX family is powering your favorite watch, it’ll almost certainly be doing a fine job. Rather like the B18 and B20 engines that powered the rally-winning Volvo Amazons, it’s an over-engineered, under-stressed power plant that’s easy to work on and simple to fix and with a ready supply of spares. And it’ll run happily for years, often swallowing lack of maintenance, abuse and neglect with a smile.

So why are people so rude about ETA movements? To be fair, the irritation around 2824-powered timepieces isn’t usually about the quality of the engine itself; it’s about the price. A single ETA 2824-2 movement will set a watchmaker back around £225 (about $290), assuming they buy just one. And that same movement will pop up anywhere from “budget” watches to some serious, top-end timepieces with posh names on the dialand prices to match.

It can be a little hard to swallow when a £5,000 watch is apparently carrying the same movement as your £350 beater. But explaining why is a story for another day.

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
markchristie mark_mcarthur_christie
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  • shanekleinpeter

    I have one watch with a 2824-2; a Bathys Hawaii 100 Fathoms. New it was running +30 sec/day which was pretty tiresome. I opened it, and on three successive evenings regulated it to about +8 sec/day and it’s been stable for two years now. The power reserve isn’t fantastic, but if you keep it on the winder or on the wrist, it’s never a problem.

  • James Sefcik

    what a great article – thanks!

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Thanks, James!

  • Romeo

    This article is spot on! If only I could transport myself to the days where the only consideration I had in buying a watch was that it tell time!
    I’m a big fan of watches with a 2824, 2893 or 7750 movement for the reasons mentioned, and fortunately the watches I happen to love that have these movements are in the lower end of the price scale. Looking forward to the next article in the series.

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      I think there’s a great deal to be said for affordable watches. After all, there’s no point wearing it if you’re going to worry about damaging it because of how much it cost.

  • Phill

    This article is fantastic. One will truly start appreciate ETA movements when servicing bills start coming through. 2824 is great and runs within cosc in all my watches. The only downside I see is the short power reserve. 36-38 hours PR in a Breitling watch that costs 3K is a bit let down. Anyway, it is still amazing movement due to all the practicalities.

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Absolutely delighted you enjoyed it! I think you’re absolutely right about the costs of servicing – rather like cars.

  • Jeez Louise

    I like this movement. The work horse of Swiss watches, fairly accurate and dependable. My daily driver is an inexpensive Steinhart Ocean One with the 2824 movement.

  • David Tyne

    I am not on any of the stages. I have no interest in what’s inside a watch (is it magic?) but I like no date automatics and hand wound watches because I don’t have to worry about a battery rotting away inside. I will also never pay for a high end watch because I would rather spend that cash on my family and I am a clumsy so would probably end up smashing it to bits. I think there are many people like me who love watches for their variety of design, origin and use. For example, I am currently looking for a HMT and a Maranez. Will my collection then be complete? Nah, I have W&W to introduce me to brands that may be of interest.

  • Jeffwb65

    Great overview of this family of movements. I’m a longtime owner and fan. I wore my 2007 Steinhart Ocean 1 daily for nearly 10 years with absolutely no problems. Still never opened or serviced. It’s currently retired in it’s box, but I have no doubt it would be ready to serve with a quick wind and set. (I received a Seiko SRP775 from my son for Christmas, have only worn this one since. Seiko automatics are a whole other story in awesome workhorse movements)

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Ah, you’re preaching to the converted! Im a huge Seiko fan, with everything from a couple of early King Seikos to a quartz GS and an SDGA001. Superb watches. And, ironically for those who are sniffy about Seiko, a proper manufacture!

  • Tom Alaerts

    It would be interesting to extend the article by pointing out the newer evolutions that the SWATCH group reserves for its own brands: there are now newer 2824 variants with an 80 hour power reserve – this is partly done by lowering the frequency to 3 hertz yet some of these are nevertheless COSC certified.

  • Igor

    Question – the $290 price for the 2824-2 – is that that an ebauche price or and full movement price? Also, which grade is that? I’m interested in know the general cost of the movement between all 4 grades, and the price differences between ebauche and full movement. Thanks

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      That’s a complete movement from Cousins here in the UK. Not sure what an ebauche would cost though.

  • BM

    Truly great article !! I have a Sinn 556i using an ETA 2824 and it runs +1 seconds per day ! Totally chuffed !

  • Johan Sajfrt

    Great article, thank you! PLEASE MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS!

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Planning them already… and delighted you enjoyed it.

  • What’s the equivalent from Sellita and are the parts interchangeable? Just asking as ETA are cutting parts supply to watchmakers and non group brands.

    • The Sellita 200 series are based on the 28xx ETAs. The 220 in particular is used almost interchangeably with the 2824.

  • The Deplorable Boogur T. Wang

    Well written Mr. MCARTHUR-CHRISTIE (yes, that’s a copy-paste).
    Thank you for the illuminating piece. I did learn a bit about the 2824 caliber.

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Really pleased you liked it. And don’t blame you for copying and pasting. “Smith” would have been so much simpler as a surname.

  • Wissam Al-Ashaq

    What is the best affordable watches with ETA28xx and with Day and date?