Swatch Sistem51: Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic
Swatch is a contraction of “Second Watch”. The original Swatch watch was conceived to recapture the entry level market segment that the Swiss watch industry had lost to manufacturers in the Far East, such as Seiko and Citizen. Consisting of just 51 parts that were fully assembled by machines and encased in plastic, a Swatch […]
Swatch is a contraction of “Second Watch”. The original Swatch watch was conceived to recapture the entry level market segment that the Swiss watch industry had lost to manufacturers in the Far East, such as Seiko and Citizen. Consisting of just 51 parts that were fully assembled by machines and encased in plastic, a Swatch watch cost 80% less to manufacture than its contemporaries, and priced accordingly.
In an era when people owned just a single mechanical timepiece, sometimes for life, a Swiss made quartz watch sold at just CHF50 made it possible to own more than a single watch, and was nothing short of revolutionary. In its first year of production, Swatch moved 1.1 million units. Three years later, annual sales had jumped to 12 million pieces. The revenue generated by Swatch was responsible for revitalising the Swiss watchmaking industry – brands such as Blancpain and Breguet would not have been resuscitated had the Swatch brand not heralded the end of the Quartz Crisis and grown into its present form as the Swatch Group.This brings us to the Sistem51, Swatch’s new mechanical watch. The name itself recalls the original Swatch watch, and is equally ground-breaking in today’s context. Like the original, the Sistem51 is fully automated in its assembly – down to the regulation of its escapement’s oscillation period (using a laser) – something never before done for a mechanical watch. Its 51 parts appears to be the bare minimum for an automatic movement as well. In comparison, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding also comes with a date complication, but consists of 280 parts. Constructed of an anti-magnetic alloy (ARCAP) and featuring a 90 hour power reserve, the Sistem51’s movement is hermetically sealed within its plastic case to keep out foreign materials, and accurate to +/-7 seconds a day.
Swatch has been opening up retail channels for the Sistem51 in batches, beginning with Switzerland in December 2013. Within Asia, China, Hong Kong, and Japan have begun carrying the timepiece, and it’s finally Singapore’s turn tomorrow. The Sistem 51 will retail at Swatch’s new store on the ground level of Orchard Gateway for S$209 including GST. The first 51 customers to buy a complete set of Sistem51 watches in all four colours will also receive a free Sistem51 watch winder.Given its hermetically sealed case, servicing appears all but impossible for this timepiece. You’ll own it, wear it, and probably throw it away when it spoils, instead of merely looking after it for the next generation. Yes, it’s quite disposable, just like the original. So why buy it? If you look at the Sistem51 from another angle, you’ll see that it is the new Swatch. It probably wouldn’t be your second watch, but it’d be your second tier watch, the beater you wear in lieu of more expensive pieces. If you’re holidaying in cities where pickpockets and robberies are a real concern, you might want to leave the Patek at home, and tell time with a Swatch instead. The same goes for rough activities – the right luxury timepieces can make it through them, but probably shouldn’t if it can helped.
Given its significance in horology, a Sistem51 is also a piece of history. Wouldn’t you want to own one?