The game changing watch has changed its game. Swatch is one of the most popular names in watches – ever. Probably as well known as Rolex or Seiko, maybe even more do. Swatch is almost single-handedly to thank for saving the Swiss watch industry. It was the high volume sale of pop culture friendly Swiss quartz watches that fed the high-end mechanical Swiss watch making world we have and appreciate today. While this is a bit of an over simplification and there are other details, the bottom line is that Swatch should have a special place in the hearts of watch lovers everywhere.
Most people have very positive associations with the Swatch brand. Either it was some special Swatch watch in your past, or the friendly and fun designs you’ve been seeing your whole life. If you are like me, you have also been one to give Swatch watches as gifts as they are usually always appreciated, and a good value at that. Many hardcore watch lovers feel like they might have out-grown Swatch watches based on what we remember of them. But unless you have been keeping a close eye on Swatch, you might not realize that they have released some pretty interesting models (even a solid platinum Swatch watch at one point). Remember that Swatch and the Swiss movement making giant ETA are connected at the hip being part of the same group. This means that Swatch gets the benefit of having all the cool movements ETA makes with priority. Plus, Swatch does big volume production, meaning they can invest more into the production process. Any little guy trying to make watches like this would have to charge an arm and a leg. As such, with an interesting and highly complex design, Swatch is still able to sell these at a good price.
While these Swatch Automatic Chrono watches aren’t the first mechanical Swatch watches, they are of the first with this new ETA C01.211 automatic mechanical chronograph movement that is based on the classic Lemania 5100. The movement was designed to be durable, accurate, and not too expensive to make. Like the original Lemania 5100, the new C01.211 has some plastic pieces in the movement – but those should have no negative effect on its durability or functionality in the long run. All the important parts of in metal of course. See some of them in what looks to be brass. However, the escapement is in some fancy synthetic material. Overall the movements are comprised of 184 parts, have a 46 hour power reserve, and feature the time, date, and a 6 hour chronograph. In the back of the watch you can view the movement through a mostly semi-opaque crystal window, with two clear areas for where a particular gear is, and above the escapement. The movement is interesting with a large sized automatic rotor. The cloudy glass look of the caseback is likely meant to distract from much of the movement that is not really decorated. It is an interesting approach.
Using the movement is nice. The crown makes a bit of an odd noise when you use it for winding, but it feels like it is contacting the gears securely. Operating the watch is simple, and the chronograph pushers have a secure, if not heavy feel to them. The 6 hour chronograph works just as expected. Overall the movement feels a lot like a slightly less expensive version of the Valjoux 7750, which it essentially is from a hierarchy perspective. There are certainly no 7750 based watches at this price. Pictured is an ETA C01.211 movement, but with a Tissot logo (which is also a Swatch Group brand).
The Swatch Automatic Chrono line is placed within the Swatch Irony collection, but that is hard to determine. Instead, Swatch presents us with five models in the new Automatic Chrono line – each the same in function but in a different skin. My intent is for this discussion to cover the whole line, with emphasis on this particular model, known as the Swatch Automatic Chrono Silver Class watch Ref. SVGK401G. Other models have sub names such as “Right Track, Blunge, Sign in the Sky, and Simply Pure.”
Each of the watches has a case which is mostly made out of a high-grade plastic. This is Swatch remember? They have a reputation to maintain. The cases are enhanced with other elements such as metal bezels and casebacks. The plastic used for the case is very tough and also translucent in a cloudy sort of way. Size of the watch is actually deceptively large at about 45mm. It wears smaller though looking ample, but not too large on your wrist. The case is also water resistant to 30 meters.
Aside from different straps, the watches really differentiate themselves in terms of visual style. None of them look the same thanks to Swatch’s desire to make all sorts of bezels, and hands, and wild looking dials for the watches. Some are easier to read than other, and each one has its own distinct character. Given that each is within $10 of each other, the best one to get is which ever one you like the most.
From an aesthetic perspective the watches are all fun looking. Swatch utilizes some very fancy machinery to create interesting designs on the dials that are colorful and provocative. Swatch has succeeded in making a watch that is fun to look and uplifting. This Silver Class model has contrast finished Arabic numeral hour markers and prominent chronograph subdials. While the numbers are hard to read in certain lighting situations, the black hands with lume covered tips do an excellent job of contrasting with the with the dial for a nicely legible look. The chapter ring serves as a tachymeter scale, and Swatch places an orange colored chronograph seconds hand in the middle of the watch to add a splash of color to what would otherwise be a monochromatic look. One of the coolest touches on the dial in my opinion is use of a black colored date disc with an otherwise light color face. Neat right?
The Swatch Automatic Chrono models comes with metal, rubber, or leather straps. The Silver Class model has a metal bracelet that is comfy to wear and looks pretty nice. It has a certain relaxed charm to it. Swatch is able to apply a brushed and polished finish to the large links giving them a more dynamic look. I further had a very easy time sizing the bracelet that uses torsion pins. The deployment clasp has micro adjusts as well for precise fitting – something I more or less expect to be in bracelets, but get pissed when they are not.
For a lot of people who are interested in entering the world of mechanical watches for the first time, a cool Swatch like this is a good choice. It is also a good choice for people who aren’t really prepared to spend higher “luxury” amounts on more expensive mechanical watches. Priced at between $370 – $380, the Swatch Automatic Chrono is an incredible value for what you can. Plus, you really can’t find Swiss made mechanical chronograph movements for less! There is a world of people out there that are destined to enjoy these Swiss watches,with Swiss style, without the Swiss price.
If you are reading this in the month of December 2009, check out the aBlogtoRead.com Swatch Automatic Chrono giveaway were I am giving away a different model.
Learn more or get one at the Swatch online store here.
Thanks to Swatch for the review item. All opinions are 100% independent.