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Tuesday, January 03, 2006 

Ebel

Ebel watchesIt was against a backdrop of social and cultural revolution at the turn of the twentieth century that Eugène Blum and his wife Alice Levy, founded Ebel in 1911. The name is an acronym of the first letters of their names - Eugene Blum et Levy. Three years after the company formed it was awarded a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition. This drew the attention of the 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. They continued to produce Ebel signed pieces on a small scale basis. Alice Levy Blum ran the daily operations of the company, only occasionally involved with the creative aspects of designing the models and collections offered. Her husband handled the selling of the products, becoming a world traveller and company salesman in the tradition of Francois Constantin and Antoine Norbert de Patek. With the award of a Certificate of Excellence in 1929, Ebel’s reputation was further enhanced. That year Charles-Eugene Blum joined the family business, and along with watchmaker Marcel Reuche, established a tight system of production control that won over ever increasing orders from the top names in the industry, including Vacheron Constantin.

Very well known within the industry, the Ebel brand was not so highly recognized outside of it. Ebel’s 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 with a rebellious and independent streak. He announced at 15, that he wanted to study mechanics, then electricity at technical school. A few years later he decided a technical future was not for him, and departed for America. After years of steady work, he was offered a partnership at Lucian Picard in New York. 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. After initially refusing, he finally relented, and returned. He encountered many difficulties in this initial period. 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. He 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. By 1975, he’d bought the whole company from his father. 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.

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