Baselworld 2013: Swatch Sistem51- Only 100 Swiss Francs for a Mechanical Watch!

Baselworld 2013: Swatch Sistem51- Only 100 Swiss Francs for a Mechanical Watch!

Baselworld 2013: Swatch Sistem51- Only 100 Swiss Francs for a Mechanical Watch! Watch Releases

Today sees the launch of the Swatch Sistem51 and the fire burns bright once more.

Swatch watches were one of the guilty pleasures of my youth. When the Swatch craze took over the world in the early 90's, I was there in the thick of it. I remember going to Swatch boutiques looking for the "Bora Bora", the headline watch of the Scuba 200 series, and even starting a collection of the Swatch quartz chronographs when they first came out. Then, when the Midge Ure song "Breathe" came out, I was singing along like no tomorrow, making sure that I had a carefully selected Swatch on my wrist when it happened.

There was something very cool about the attitude that Swatch embodied, and as a young boy whose only other option was a Casio or Seiko, everything by Swatch was instantly elevated to something special. Of course, I grew up and Swatch was resolutely forgotten in favor of more sober watches in more traditional colors. The bright and sometimes gaudy designs of Swatch were put away.

My early love for Swatch has today been resurrected from an announcement by Swatch that for me came out of left field.

I want to tell you about the Swatch Sistem51, a watch that I should not be excited by, but am, because of the way that it packages a bunch of features together, and is bound by such a fiercely disciplined philosophy for which I have nothing but admiration.

Let's look at the headline features. It's a fully automated assembly-made mechanical movement composed of  only 51 components,  a 90 hour power reserve and a selling price of no more than 100 Swiss Francs. To those who go by other currencies, this translates into 105.50 USD, 81.20 Euro or 68.3 GBP.

Previous to this, the only cheaper mechanical watches I can think of are the Seiko 5's and many Chinese watches. The Swatch however is 100% Swiss made, which is cool for those who find that label important.

The movement is an automatic, but in place of the rotor, we have a transparent disc rotating around a central screw. This allows users to see into the movement and all the intricate details of the 51 components. Quite frankly this is excellent, as it offers the advantage of not having to wind the watch everyday like a mechanical and the ability to see the movement unblocked by a rotor such as in an automatic watch. Kudos to Swatch for coming up with this idea.

51 components as well is an astonishing number, as most mechanical watches easily have twice that. Some complicated watches easily go close to 900 plus components. For the reduction of necessary parts to such a low number, a tremendous amount of thought and design must have gone into it, and it would be interesting to see how Swatch managed to accomplish this.

Baselworld 2013: Swatch Sistem51- Only 100 Swiss Francs for a Mechanical Watch! Watch Releases

The movement itself is 100% assembled by machines, so no hand polishing here, only big robots in clean rooms will ever touch your watch during production. The components are welded together to form an assembly centered around a single screw, and the advanced design of the escapement does away with the need for a regulator . The rate in fact is set in the manufacturing process by a laser, which means manual adjustments are totally unnecessary. Top it all off with a 90-hour power reserve and it all forms a very nice list of ingredients for us watch nerds to marvel at.

In fact, when more details emerge, I will want to see this movement taken apart and described because it just sounds so cool. It's all a big high-tech extravaganza to make this mechanical watch, which sounds kind of funny in a way, but we're human, so there you go.

Baselworld 2013: Swatch Sistem51- Only 100 Swiss Francs for a Mechanical Watch! Watch Releases

A further innovation is the material that the movement is made from. It is called ARCAP, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc with exceptional anti-magnetic qualities. Also, the components are hermetically sealed within the case, preventing moisture of foreign objects from interfering within. Well, that's interesting isn't it? It kind of  sounds similar to the Cartier ID Two with its Vacuum sealed case. Hmm, could this have something to do with the 90-hour power reserve?

All in all, this is an exciting watch and looking at the list of features it is easy to see why. A low price, technical innovation so far unseen before, and marvelous aesthetic qualities. In fact,  this is ideal to present as a gift to your friends with unrefined and simple tastes in watches. It will function as a starter piece to allow them to appreciate the wonders of the mechanical watch, and hopefully wean them off using their mobile phone to tell the time.

One can only hope.

I will look forward to having this watch for review in the near future, so look out for it.

PS: Apologies for so few pictures, more will be added when they become available.





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  • Oelholm

    Well done Swatch!

  • vmarks

    Where’s the rotor? How does this differ technically from the 2842 used in the 1990s-present Swatch automatics?

    • adisoon

      vmarks The rotor is a transparent disc as described, so you can see the movement. I can’t answer the second question until I get better pictures from Swatch or a review unit.

    • cshepley

      vmarks Seems to be a clean sheet design. Would have to be to have a regulating organ tuned by a laser and a 90 hour power reserve and with only 51 parts. I think less is actually more in this case, and with twice the power reserve of any of my watches with off the shelf ETA movements, it is definitely appealing. Make a co-axial escapement version please too SWATCH. Then you truly would have something revolutionary on your hands.

  • Ulysses31

    Reading the title I was initially underwhelmed.  You can get some pretty decent mechanical watches for that much.  Then I started reading about all the unusual little details.  This watch is basically the polar opposite of what most mechanical watch lovers would normally go for; made of cheap plastic, very few parts, light weight etc.  Being Swiss made at this price point is rendered irrelevant – at 100CHF i’m sure Swiss crap smells the same as everyone else’s.  I like the look of it and appreciate the innovations they applied, and it makes the watch something I might want to buy purely as a novelty though I don’t think I could ever be seen actually wearing it.  It’d be great for kids though.  
    The power reserve is impressive (probably due to the lack of air inside and lower friction due to fewer moving parts) but I wonder if any of these advances will ever be seen in higher-end pieces.  I reckon not, as a high-end movement needs to be maintainable and unless there’s a valve somewhere where the air can be evacuated after every servicing it would be pretty useless.  I would guess this was intended to be a disposable watch that, after breaking down, would simply be tossed in the garbage.  Would like to get a closer look at that escapement…

    • adisoon

      Ulysses31 The technical aspects are certainly interesting. I am also eager to peer under the hood, as it were, to see how it all works.

  • Will_F

    Looks perfect for my 11 y.o. daughter.  A great “gateway” watch if it really performs well.

    • adisoon

      Will_F I heartily agree!

  • JonnyD

    Well, at least now, my daily beater can be classed as Mechanical, instead of my present eco-drive or god forbid, quartz, both of which I wear for work purposes. Mechanical is purely for weekends and night time in my case. Adi, do you have an idea of the release date?

    • adisoon

      JonnyD info is scarce now, but I intend to do a full review when I can get my hands on more info.

  • DG Cayse

    Sealed case…anti-magnetic…new materials…100% machine assembly…90 hr power reserve….SWISS MADE….introduced by SWATCH…this is the new face of watch making.
    I think it rather interesting in that these new standards will gain instant credibility by virtue of coming from SWATCH and have the sacrosanct SWISS label. If this same ‘mechanical watch’ technology had been introduced, at this low price point, by another country I doubt it would be held in such high initial regard.
    Like them or not, SWATCH has led the way with this innovative move.

  • Kris C

    While I’m not likely to wear it, I can tell you this: I am certainly buying one. Hopefully there will be some design options.
    This watch smells of ‘noteworthy horological events in history’.

  • Rick D

    I’ll be buying one of these the moment it comes out.  There are just too many things about it that I find astounding, the price point not the least of it.   Hopefully, this’ll convince some of my quartz-loving friends to investigate the dark side.

  • Zeitblom

    Errr…. somebody making dirt-cheap watches that are in many ways the equal of watches costing 50 times more? Does that sound familiar? Here comes the “plastic crisis”!
    In-house movement and all……

    • adisoon

      Zeitblom You’re funny… Good observation !

  • Borys Bozzor Pawliw

    Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, TRIZ and more than a hint of Kaikaku – mind blowing. Swatch once again reinvents watchmaking. Freakin’ genius!

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  • deltaslim

    Wicked cool. Water resistance? I will buy at 30m, buy at 50m, love at 200m. Standard  Swatches are laser sealed and are not serviceable. Conflicting statements from Swatch service center indicate that auto chronos might be serviceable in Suisse. Owner pays round trip. While Nick Hayek Sr., in his restriction of ETA may have been trying to crush the small guys, he did say that the proliferation of ETA parts inhibits innovation. 51 may be his baby. To get a closer look at that escapement here in Boston, one will need a boarding pass to access the Swatch store in Logan airport.

  • Woaah

    Wah lau aah…. die die mus buy one….

  • watchme

    What does Swatch manage to achieve with this if anything? It is not the cheapest movement out there. 100 CHF may be cheap in Switzerland but in other countries where people buy Seiko, Citizen or Chinese watches, there are movements which are cheaper. Infact you have in the Seiko 5 range watches that are available for less and then the movement is repairable and will last better. Is it a technological breakthrough which improves timekeeping? No. Is it a beautiful product that will last well. I doubt. The life I expect would be something like 3-5 years max and it is a use and throw product. I dont know. Maybe the only achievement for Swatch is they managed a 100 CHF product made in Switzerland. Probably made for those who want “A Swiss watch at any cost” 🙂

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  • Jus_ad_bellum

    is this bastard EVER going on sale? every time I’m in a shop that carries Swatch, I ask about it. 99% of the time I get a blank stare from the staff.

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