Swatch Ltd Builds the Better Mousetrap
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. So goes the famous saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and judging by the feverish response to the Swatch Ltd Sistem51 collection that bowed in April 2013, the Biel-based brand may have made the old mousetrap obsolete.
Little revolutions aren’t out of character for the thirty-one-year old Swiss watch brand founded by Nicolas G. Hayek, a trailblazer who catalyzed an industry- wide Swiss watch renaissance in the mid-1980s. Back then, Far East outliers such as Casio and Seiko flooded the watch market with inexpensive, precise quartz-powered watches. The illustrious mechanical watch heritage – with handassembled movements conventionally numbering in the hundreds – seemed like cumbersome dinosaurs under the mid-1980s Gung-ho zeitgeist until Hayek rolled-out his inaugural plastic, quartzpowered, Swiss-made collection in 1983. High on precision and low on cost, Swatch Ltd played to the storied strengths of the Swiss watch industry and reinvigorated the fledgling domestic market. Cool, playful design coupled with austere, fully- automated, Swiss-made parts (51) won cultish accolades from savvy audiences.
Three decades later, history repeats itself, and the Swiss watch industry flirts with offside competition: the obsequious smart watch, burgeoned with speakers, microphones and cameras, elegant dials stretched to exaggeration. Why the long face? The burping, blinking onslaught of email and apps across a full-color LCD display forecasts a tuned-in, plugged-in future tethered to quotidian power cords.
But Swatch Ltd, with audacious pluck, codes the future to its past. In April 2013, with much fanfare, Swatch Ltd poised to bow its latest collection at Baselworld, the annual, eight-day watch and jewelry fair that highlights prestigious watch industry innovations. Rumors buzzed. Since time immemorial, Swatch Ltd has boldly stabbed into modernism, cheekily rolling out gamechanging products. Accordingly, industry insiders predicted a smart watch powered by a tony tech company partnership. But when the curtain rose on the Swatch Ltd Baselworld pavilion, jaws dropped. Ecce homo – a mechanical watch. Courageous and provocative for its back-to-basics statement, Swatch Ltd staunched the rising tide of beeps and blips with its Sistem51 collection of four watches, posturing an accessible, cost-effective gateway to mechanical movements.
The Swiss welterweight brims with 17 patents, 51 movements, one pin, five modules, a 90-hour power reserve – and true to the brand’s wallet-friendly legacy, it costs less than 200 Swiss francs. To augment its popularity, the brand opened a temporary, 60-square meter pop-up shop on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse from December 16, 2013 to January 4, 2014, which exclusively offered the first four Sistem51 models.
A masterpiece of innovation, advanced engineering and creativity, Sistem51 honors the 1983 premiere of Hayek’s groundbreaking Swatch collection with a 51-piece heart. The 2013 reboot features five separate modules (with printable surfaces that hint at future artist collaborations) welded into a single unit, underpinned by one screw. Automatic, self-winding mechanical movements (made of an anti-magnetic copper, nickel and zinc alloy called ARCAP) are driven by a transparent, oscillating weight that rotates freely around the central screw.
One hundred percent Swiss-made with all of its parts newly- conceived, engineered, and built, it’s the first mechanical movement to be made on a fully automated, 20-meter-long assembly line. The rate, set by factory laser, makes the manual rate adjustments (usually required by a mechanical watch) superf luous, and sustained accuracy over time is guaranteed to +/- 10 seconds per day. A 3Hz frequency ensures precise, long-lasting and maintenance- free performance, and although a hermetically-sealed case keeps out moisture, dust and foreign objects, it’s not serviceable. The Sistem51 slogan – “The front tells the time, the back tells the story” – defers to six of 19 rubies at the heart of the interior movement, which are demarcated in small red points positioned directly above corresponding rubies on the dial. On the back, a transparent crystal reveals the internal, oscillating gears.
On the design side, creative director of Swatch Ltd, Carlo Giordanetti, had stars in his eyes, inspired by the Renaissance- era mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Overarching celestial bodies are splashed across bezels and dials in constellations, cosmos, starbursts and sputniks.
All four models inked in swirling, star-like mythology, have dials set with a 3 o’clock date window; a transparent back crystal; six, red ruby-corresponding points; and black plastic bezels laid with 12 circular, white superluminova hour markers (excluding the Sistem White model).
Sourced from the past and designed from the heavens, Sistem51 reaches for the stars.
Sistem Red, with its translucent red plastic case, references the 19 rubies. Tied with a black silicone and red-stitched bracelet, the black dial is shot through with white, whirling dots connected with dotted and solid white lines. The back radiates a red and black graphic starburst.
Sistem Blue has a translucent blue plastic case and a black silicone bracelet with blue stitching. The black dial features white comet-dust dots bound with solid and dotted white lines. A black and blue striation radiates as a starburst on the back.
Sistem White is a Pop Art inspiration, set on a white field of its translucent plastic case, silicone bracelet and plastic bezel. In addition to the six red ruby pressure points, the white dial is marked with primary-colored dots corresponding to points where the movement’s five modules have been welded together and the back is divided into bold color fields.
Article by Courtney Smith