The Swatch Sistem51
30 minutes on the wrist with
The Swatch Sistem51
What you see in these pictures is definitely not a Swatch! Don't be mislead by its design, its colors or brand logo, as it is not a Swatch. Not just because of its name, Sistem51, but rather for if you're turning it clockwise you might think somebody has played while inserting in its case something totally apart from a quartz caliber inside.
Let us be clear, the Swatch Automatic already exists and adopts an ETA movement but the Sistem51 is something utterly different and deserves a special section of the official website, for it is the first mechanical movement ever to be fully assembled and regulated automatically. The very first Swatch, 31 years ago, had an enormous success simply because there was nothing on the market quite like that, the cheapest swiss watch. The Swatch Sistem51 is a breakthrough in mechanical watchmaking.
Any consumer who is going to spend 130€ for a Sistem51 should know that he's buying a mechanical timepiece that has the same technical features he usually finds on a wristwatch that costs nearly 20 times more. 51 are the parts that make up the movement (as 51 where those in the 1983 quartz Swatch) that has an uncommon architecture for a mechanical watch: 5 modules coupled by just one central screw.
This caliber is assembled and regulated by no watchmaker, just by robots, regulation included, as no escapement regulation device is even provided. Everything is just up to laser technology, as Swatch laconically claims; so laconically to stimulate my curiosity, since I'm an engineer, I'm quite eager to take a tour of their assembly line.
When it comes to automate a production process, herein included the movement fine tuning, two are the main results: production timing and costs are dramatically cut, thus boosting volume while lowering the price tag, and these factors are a must if you're making a Swatch. This approach however did not prevent engineers with equipping this movement with three high-end tech features: a bidirectional winding rotor, a fast change date device and at least 90 hours of power reserve, quite hard to find sometimes even on some very good mechanical movements. Parts are a mixture of synthetic materials, that are easy to be stamped and esthetically customizable and ARCAP, an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc which features good amagnetic properties and is usually adopted in independent haute horologerie.
The movement is fully sealed inside the case and this means you will never need to bring it to your nearest service center to fix it or regulating it (Swatch claims it gains/loses +/- 10 sec per day) especially for, would it happen, you're perhaps going to replace with a new one as it is already with any other Swatch. Hats off to the Swatch Group for their innovation capability: Sistem51 and caliber 8508 by Omega are two faces of how the companies inside the group co-operate and think “Out of the box” as no other watchmaking group is able to do out there. The Sistem51 has been realized in just 2 years.
The Swatch Sistem51 is a bigger revolution than what marked the first Swatch, for which I would have expected a bit daring design for; even if we are in front of a 100% Swatch design, it still reminds us of the original one that is strictly connected to the original one. What intrigues me even more is what to expect in the near future, as I do think this caliber is not a stand alone project to fit just a Swatch but rather the new entry-level base caliber of the entire group conceived from the very beginning as a base module for futher developments. Its features, technology, materials set in my mind new scenarios, included it could be adopted by other brands: it is so innovative I think it would not be a scandal to see it encased in a RADO D-Star's case for example.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Swatch; Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter - Watches & Luxury