Have you ever heard of Swatch? How about Breitling? How about Fortis, or Eterna? If you’re familiar with one or even all of these established Swiss watch brands, you’re indirectly familiar with the home of BMC bikes: Grenchen, Switzerland.

A small town of just 17,000, Grenchen is located in the canton of Solothurn, about 45 minutes southwest of the country’s capital, Bern. Grenchen lies at the foot of the Jura mountains and is situated along the banks of Switzerland’s Aare River, the longest river with its own source and ending point (the Rhine) within the country of Switzerland.

Despite its diminutive stature, Grenchen wields enormous influence over the worldwide watch-making industry. Already with premium powerhouses like Breitling and Fortis, Grenchen’s stature in the watch-making world would have been forever secured. But, the real source of this small Swiss gem’s global influence is one company under the Swatch Group: ETA SA.

In the 1980s, and under the control of its then CEO, Nicolas Hayek, { Worthy of Note: Grenchen’s ETA was singularly responsible for saving Switzerland’s flailing watch-making industry from Japanese takeover. }Grenchen’s ETA was singularly responsible for saving Switzerland’s flailing watch-making industry from Japanese takeover. In the decade prior to 1980, 60,000 of Switzerland’s 90,000 watch-related jobs were lost as the country’s inimitable 500 year-old mechanical watch-making industry was succumbing to Japanese pressure in the form of inexpensive quartz watches from Citizen, Seiko, and Casio. At that time, Hayek, a trained mathematician, was head of an influential Swiss-based consulting company and he had the vision of competing with the Japanese by merging two of Switzerland’s most important companies: ASUAG-ETA, a large manufacturer of watch movements, and Nivarox-FAR, a maker of watch components.

Hayek stumbled across his idea after being asked by a banker friend to summarize in a report how to sell ASUAG and Nivarox to the Japanese-owned Seiko, who also had eyes on the Omega brand. Rather than sabotage Switzerland’s prized industry, Hayek aggregated it and ETA was born. Today ETA is involved in nearly every Swiss watch company, from simple Swatch to mouth-watering Breguet, by making widely shared assembled movements and ébauches. Hayek brought the idea of scalability to some of bmc-headquarters-issue1-inset BMC Headquarters in Grenchen the world’s most sought-after luxury brands, and in the process resurrected the Swiss watch-making industry and everything it represents.

But ETA went a step further. ETA proved that Switzerland, too, could build inexpensive watches. In fact, it could build $35 Swiss watches, an idea that was inconceivable prior to Hayek. Launched in 1982, Swatch sold plastic watches consisting of just 51 parts, 100 less than its Japanese counterpart. In its first year, Swatch sold 1.1 million units; by 1986, that number sky-rocketed to 12 million. Today, the Swatch Group includes numerous watch brands and is responsible for the development of the Swatchmobile, known today as the Mercedes-owned Smart Car.

Mr. Hayek died in June, 2010 but his influence and the power on the world of watch-making he exercised from the village of Grenchen is inestimable. In 2009, Swatch Group reported 4.9 billion USD in sales. Mr. Hayek was famous for saying, “We sell the mentality of Switzerland.” He made that mentality available to everyone, whether in the form of a $35 Swatch, or a multi-million dollar Breguet.