STP 1-11 vs ETA 2824
Disclaimer: Due to business privacy issues, lack of public records, and the enigmatic nature of the watch industry, parts of this article may be opinions, extrapolations, or reasonable assumptions. Any opinions stated in this blog will be reasonably apparent.
The watch industry is a rather strange one to work in. Allow me to take a moment to outline what is/has been going on for the past 15 years:
There is a huge corporation, Swatch, that essentially had a monopoly on the Swiss automatic movement market through their subsidiary movement manufacturer, ETA. They sold/sell to huge brands such as IWC, Breitling, TAG Heuer, and Longines, as well as relatively tiny brands such as Squale, Christopher Ward, and Steinhart, the latter two of which only started after 2002, a very important year in this narrative.
In 2002, the late Nicolas Hayek, then chairman of the Swatch Group announced that ETA would stop supplying movements to watch companies outside of the Swatch Group. This led to complaints from competitors, claiming that such a move would put them out of business, which in turn, led to an investigation by the Swiss Competition Commission in 2003. In 2005, ETA was ordered to continue supplying movements until 2008, at which point they were allowed to gradually reduce their deliveries over two years. This timeframe has since been extended to 2019, by which point, ETA would be allowed to reduce supplies by 70%. Likewise, Nivarox (more on them later) will be allowed to reduce their supply by 70% by the year 2023. This means that at that price point (~$250USD) ETA’s product was so good that their attempt to stimulate innovation and encourage competition would essentially backfire, driving all their competitors to bankruptcy.
Watch companies, from big to small, used to only be able buy from one place. This is where companies like STP, Sellita, Soprod, and even Miyota (Japanese) enter the picture, but for the sake of keeping this somewhat short, I will only be focusing on STP. Comment below if you’d like a run down of any of the other aforementioned companies.
You can find watches that costs $450 all the way to $2500, all with the exact same movement. Do you know what you are really paying for when you pay a $2000+ premium on a watch?
Reading some of the comments on reviews of the Trieste (and other watches that use the same movement) leads me to believe that despite what people might think, the answer for most of them is clearly a loud, resounding “no”.
Let’s start with the technical specifications that they have in common (note: for this blog, I chose to compare the STP1-11 with the standard grade 2824-2, as they are direct competitors and in the same price bracket. Higher grade 2824-2 movements cost a lot more than the STP 1-11, have different components, and are QC'd differently.):
Frequency: 28'800 vibrations per hour
Height: 4.60 mm
Diameter: 26.20 mm
Now, here is where they differ:
Jewels: 26 jewels
Power Reserve: 44 hours
Testing positions: 5 positions, CH, CB, 6H, 9H, 3H
Average rate: -0/+15 s/d
Max variation: 15s
Barrel Spring Material: Nivaflex NM
ETA 2824-2 (Standard Grade)
Jewels: 25 Jewels
Power Reserve: 38 hours
Testing positions: 2 positions, CH, 6H
Average Rate: ±12 s/d
Max variation: 30s
Barrel Spring Material: Nivaflex NO
"On Paper" vs "In Practice"
A quick glance at the specifications above clearly shows that STP aimed high with their own improvements on the already well-established and proven design of the 2824. An extra jewel that is located on the barrel arbor for increased durability, longer power reserve, and increased accuracy are all significant improvements that STP has made. The average rate and max variation of the 1-11 is also significantly better on paper than the 2824. I say “on paper” because there is a caveat.
Many brands take great care of their movements before sending them out to customers. For example, MkII is well-known in the watch enthusiast community to have incredibly granular quality control. Bill Yao personally assembles, inspects, and regulates all the watches before sending them out. That being said, I can only think of a handful of independent or micro brands that give this kind of care and attention to detail to their product.
The last important key difference between the two movements is in the spring material. (Note: not only am I not a watchmaker, but I am also not a material scientist. As such, I consulted with a couple of experts in the respective fields to distill the following information down to layman terms.)
Nivarox is a company based in Switzerland that manufactures springs for watch movements and other machinery. The springs that they manufacture are made of an alloy that they invented that goes by the same name, which explains the common confusion that comes with the topic. In a nutshell, the alloy is used in springs because of its resistance to thermal variation, which is a result of its low thermal coefficient of elasticity. In other words, your watch stays accurate in the summer as well as in the winter.
Things Get a Bit "Hairy" (excuse the pun)
The hairspring used on the balance wheel uses Nivarox. There are 5 grades of Nivarox, 1 being the highest and 5 being the lowest. The difference between them is in the consistency of the timekeeping. The 2824 that you probably have in your watch uses grade 2, although ETA does give you the option of upgrading a standard grade movement to use the Nivarox 1. Based on comparative tests, I can assume that the 1-11 probably uses the same or higher grade Nivarox spring.
When it comes to the mainspring, things get even more complicated. From the documentation I obtained directly from STP and ETA, I can see that the 1-11 uses Nivaflex NM, the same material as the highest grade 2824. The one that you have in your 2824-fitted watch is probably Nivaflex NO. Trying to describe the difference between the two would be akin to explaining the recipe for Coca Cola. The formulation is kept secret even from watchmakers, so it doesn’t matter that, like Coca Cola, there is no patent (that I am aware of) filed for the alloy.
All that matters are the facts: The 1-11 uses Nivaflex NM, the same material that the highest grade 2824 uses, thus, I can deduce that the STP 1-11 uses better mainsprings than the standard grade ETA 2824.
The REAL Difference
So what does this all mean? In real life, the difference might be negligible or it might be significant. It comes down to what I call the gatekeeper. (Note: Nodus has not worked with 2824s before so take the following information with a grain of salt.)
There have been a few complaints about the STP 1-11 out in the wild (In fact, a pretty sizable number of our 1-11s have failed our QC procedure.). This leads to doubt about the movement, some people even claiming that it is just a Chinese movement assembled in Switzerland. Not only are these grossly inaccurate claims made by uneducated internet trolls, but even if it were a Chinese movement, I hope by now you have come to realize that “made in China” does not translate to “bad quality”.
Because of the brand resonance and proven track record that ETA has, many larger brands choose the 2824 over the 1-11, but what people tend to forget is that for the general public, the performance of the watch reflects on the brand that sold you the watch, not ETA. Most people don’t even know what ETA is. It is our responsibility as watch brands to make sure that each watch performs well as an overall product.
Many of the larger brands regulate and quality-test each movement so that their end consumer, no matter how knowledgeable, is pleased with the watch. The same cannot be said about many of the comparably tiny companies that use STP. Many microbrands don’t have the expertise or capabilities to do regulation or quality tests, so they send out most if not every single movement that they buy from STP, despite the fact that some of them should be rejects.
The difference lies in the market. The companies that use the STP movements tend to sell to knowledgeable customers, who ask the right questions and look for the right things. Unfortunately, this has led to many customers placing blame on STP for faulty movements, rather than the brands that failed to uphold a certain standard.
It is evident that when it comes to the STP 1-11 and the standard ETA 2824-2, STP has a better quality standard than ETA out of the factory, but in general, the brands that choose to use ETA have a better quality standard than those that choose to use STP. Regardless of which company makes the movement in your watch, neither movement is good enough for consumers out of the box. Time and attention has to be put into every single movement before being sent to customers who put hard-earned cash into the watch. The watch industry, (more specifically, the micro-brand industry) as a whole has to be held accountable for letting these standards slip and you, as the consumer have to ask yourself the right questions when you purchase a watch.
So even in the relatively minuscule world of microbrands, where prices can vary from $450 to $2000+ and the quality does not necessarily follow suit, sometimes I find myself asking the same question: “what am I really paying for?”
For your own sake, I hope you are asking yourself too.
Wesley Kwok is the co-founder/operator at Nodus Watches. He is an entrepreneur by day, watch-geek by night, and a musician in the spaces in between. When he is not working or playing guitar, he can be found seeking out the best craft beer in California, perfecting his brioche bun recipe, or keeping up to date on the latest tech trends.