One of my goals with Grail Watch Reference is to use primary sources to develop the best information possible. Although many aspects of horology are widely reported as truth, we can not completely rely on these stories: There’s just too much folklore out there! To illustrate, I will walk through my process of verifying the timeline of one of today’s top movements, ETA’s 2892A2.
1975: ETA Launches Cal. 2892
In 1975, ETA launched a new “flatline” movement family. Calibres 2890 and 2892 (with date) measured just 3.6 mm thick, a remarkable achievement for a robust and modern movement. Although most mechanical movements were swept away by the quartz revolution between 1975 and 1985, ETA’s high-end automatic movement remained in production. In fact, it was reduced in diameter in the 1980s, becoming Cal. 2892-2. But this movement had some issues, so another revision followed in the 1990s: Cal. 2892A2, with improved winding efficiency.
It is commonly reported that ETA launched Cal. 2892 in 1975. To verify this, I went into the archives of Europa Star to find the earliest mention of this movement in this contemporary source. The earliest mention I could find was a favorite of mine, this “family portrait” from ETA. It shows the broad range of movements offered as of November, 1975, including Cal. 2892, the now-common Cal. 2824, Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement, compact Cal. 2678, “Gabarit” Cal. 2878, and even the Cal. AS 5008 alarm movement.
Then, the May-June 1976 issue includes a writeup of the “New Automatic Extra-Flat Calibre.” Although not 1975, this wording strongly suggests that it was considered a recent development. An archived copy of the ETA website from 1998 also mentions that in 1975 “ETA launches the flattest automatic mechanical movement men’s watch, with centre second, date and rapid connection, to be mass produced.” And a 2002 WatchTime profile of Anton Bally, then head of ETA, notes that “Bally’s first task [at ETA] was to design and build a 3.60-mm-thin, 12.5-ligne, automatic mechanical movement with a calendar disk.”
Given these sources, I will deem the 1975 launch date for Cal. 2892 to be confirmed.
Note that this movement measured 28.00 mm diameter (12.5 ligne) rather than 25.60 mm (11.5 ligne) of the modern Cal. 2892A2. This is an important difference, since the reduction in diameter matched the mainstream Cal. 2824 as well as the thicker “Gabarit” Cal. 2872. As ever-smaller quartz movements were introduced, 11.5 ligne became the basic size expected for most watch movements until the 2010s.
Another important thing to note is that Cal. 2892 was considered a “Flatline” movement by ETA. They used this terminology for movements thinner than 4 mm, and continue to use it today. Other families included “Normline”, “Gabarit“, and “Manufacture”. ETA also calls out the instant date change, quick date correction (using the crown), and “stop-second” device, all of which were differentiators at the time. And unlike many previous movement families, the ETA 2890 family was only produced in 28,800 A/h “high-frequency” speed.
1983: ETA Shrinks the Movement as 2892-2
Although many mechanical movements didn’t last through the 1970s, ETA’s Cal. 2892 remained attractive as a higher-end thinner movement for upscale watches. But the diameter was problematic for the designs emerging in the 1980s, necessitating a shrink. ETA removed a few millimeters from the main plate and trimmed the rotor to reach the same 25.60 mm diameter as other popular contemporary movements.
Cal. 2892-2, as it was known, appeared in the early 1980s for sure, as it was widely used later in that decade. But when was it launched? A few sources referenced 1983, though I also found mentions dating it 3-4 years earlier and 2-3 years later. Once again, I searched through Europa Star to see the first contemporary mention of this movement. And once again, I located an excellent temporal reference.
Although not a definitive date, it seems clear from the wording of this article that the reduced-diameter ETA 2892-2 was an advanced movement in 1984, and that ETA wanted to promote its use in new watch designs. Plus, Cal. 2892-2 is not mentioned previously in the archive. This strongly supports the 1983 date of introduction for Cal. 2892-2. It also definitely shows that this movement measured 25.60 mm (11.5 ligne) diameter. Some modern sources wrongly assume that the movement family always measured this size or alternately that it was only the modern Cal. 2892A2 that was reduced.
Cal. 2892A2: What’s In a Name?
It is much harder to place a definitive date on the introduction of the updated Cal. 2892A2. Indeed, many people assume that this movement is equivalent to the shrunken Cal. 2892-2, that it is simply a renaming, or that it is a modern redesign. The truth is somewhat different, and perhaps more interesting.
First, let us clarify the name of this movement: It is “2892A2”, not “2892-A2” or “2892/A2” as one often sees. Although many publications and commenters use a variety of names, ETA has never used a dash or slash in the name. WatchTime is particularly egregious in this, as they seem always to call it “2892-A2”. Perhaps that dash is the reason there is so much confusion about the relationship of this movement to the similar Cal. 2892-2. Indeed, I found a reference to “Cal. 2892-2A” in Europa Star, and many references to “2892-2” and just “2892” in recent articles.
The earliest official mention of Cal. 2892A2 I could locate by ETA themselves was a 1998 advertisement for the complete line of mechanical movements. This contains the line, “for some years now, the ETA 2892A2 11 1/2”’ self-winding caliber has enjoyed considerable success with upmarket makers, often providing the basis for a variety of complex auxiliary functions.” ETA also included Cal. 2892A2 (and not Cal. 2892-2) on their website way back in 1998.
An earlier official reference came in 1996, in coverage of La Chaux-de-Fonds’ International Museum of Horology. This short article shows Anton Bally of ETA donating several “movements of interest” to the museum. Along with two Flatline quartz movements, ETA donated a “MECALINE 2892A2” and notes that this is “a product adapted specifically for use in chronometers.” I believe that I saw this exact movement on display during my visit to the museum a few years back.
Even earlier mentions came in coverage of various watches. A 1994 writeup of a new watch from Epos mentions that it uses “Cal. 2892-A2/9000” with full calendar and moon phase. It is typical to use a slash to denote a module on top of a base movement, and the Dubois Depraz 9000 module fits this description, so it all makes sense. At BASEL 96, Bertolucci boasts of their “2892-A2” being an “officially certified chronometer” while Dubey & Schaldenbrand uses a “modified calibre base ETA 2892-A2” with world time.
Clearly the updated movement was available as early as 1994, but this begs the question: What differentiates a 2892A2 from a 2892-2?
Users of the reduced-size Cal. 2892-2 apparently experienced poor winding efficiency, with the movement sometimes failing to wind enough to keep running on the wrist. ETA modified the rotor, reducing the chamfer to add mass at the edge. It is also said that they switched from a stud to a jewel on the upper winding bridge, though the official jewel count remains at 21. These are the generally accepted changes, but they could have been phased in over time and did not require a name change.
Perhaps there is a more important difference. As noted in ETA’s official copy, Cal. 2892A2 was designed for use in chronometers. Certainly this movement has always performed well, but the finishing and decoration of 2892A2 is far superior to 2892-2, even in basic models. This seems to be the true differentiator: Cal. 2892A2 was a higher-end product for the emerging chronometer and luxury automatic watch segment in the 1990s and 2000s, while Cal. 2892-2 seems to vanish over this same period. This also matches the naming of other ETA movements, in which a dash indicates a major revision while a number suggests finishing: Cal. 2894S2 is a skeletonized version of Cal. 2894-2, while Cal. 2890-9 and 2890A9 and 2891-9 and 2891A9 appear identical apart from finishing.
Interestingly, in a 2008 WatchTime article, Brunner takes no notice of Cal. 2892-2 at all. He simply repeats the claim that Cal. 2892-A2 (sic) was introduced in 1983. Clearly, Cal. 2892-2 existed and is different from 2892A2, but perhaps he’s not so far off. If the difference is in finishing and execution, and the modified components came without fanfare, these movements would be roughly equivalent. My previous belief, that Cal. 2892A2 was a major revision, could be off base.
As for the date of introduction for Cal. 2892A2, I’ll stick with 1996 since this is the first official mention. But it seems likely that it was a more gradual process, with third parties using the “A2” nomenclature at least as far back as 1994. I welcome corrections from my readers!
Research Notes: ETA 2892
Even a popular and well-documented movement like Cal. 2892 requires research and verification. We must rely on contemporary sources and first-party information, not folklore. Next I’ll dive into a murkier topic: Dating the other members of the ETA 2890 family. I was surprised to learn how early these movements appeared. This is one reason I questioned the accepted wisdom and timeline of Cal. 2892A2 in the first place. After all, many of these movements pre-date this change and yet include the modified parts. Surely the name change does not just refer to the rotor!
I strongly recommend examining the following sources of information about Cal. 2892 and its successors:
- “The Most Comprehensive Range of Automatic Calibres”, Ebauches SA, Europa Star, 1975
- “New Automatic Extra-Flat Calibre by ETA SA”, Europa Star 97, 1976
- “Mechanical Watches Keep Their Fans”, Europa Star 145, 1984
- “ETA Mechanical Movements Two Centuries of Tradition”, Europa Star 231, 1998 Page 1, Page 2
- “Mister ETA”, WatchTime, December, 2002, p. 114