the Swatch Sistem51

Thirty years ago Nicholas Hayek, a Swiss entrepreneur of Lebanese-American descent, created a then-revolutionary new brand, he named it Swatch. Back in 1983, the first Swatch quartz watch had 51 components who are held together with one single screw. For the watchmaker 30th anniversary celebratory piece, Swatch took up the challenge to make a mechanical watch with the same number of parts. Other than normal Swiss made timepieces, nobody is touching the Sistem51 until at the end of the assembly line. The sistim51 is a fully automatically timepiece, so no batteries needed. And with a case made of plastic, the Sistem51 is a light and comfy watch to wear for just € 135.

“Swatch (which stands for ‘second watch’, because of its affordable price and casual look) was born in the early 1980s, just in the middle of the ‘Quartz Crisis’. At that time, the actors of the watchmaking industry in Switzerland were all intensely affected by the arrival of cheap Japanese quartz watches and production numbers became lower than at any time before. However, a very simple but clever idea saved the industry. If we can nowadays enjoy Haute Horlogerie, luxury watches and independent watchmaking, it’s only because of a simple and cheap quartz watch that made its debut in 1983: THE SWATCH!

Swatch was born under the leadership of ETA’s CEO, Ernst Thomke, helped by a small team of engineers. Using the concept of the Concord Delirium (the thinnest watch in the world), Thomke designed a watch with a caseback used as the main plate of the movement. The Swatch was devised as a Swiss-made plastic watch with a fully integrated and in-house built movement. Compared to mechanical watches, a Swatch was 80% cheaper to produce due to fully automating its assembly and reducing the number of parts to only 51 components.

The first collection was introduced in March 1983 at an initial price ranged from CHF39.90 to CHF49.90, a price similar to Seiko or Citizen collections, but now available for a watch developed and manufactured in Switzerland. Helped by an aggressive marketing campaign, sales were huge and overcame the targets of one million pieces for 1983 and 2.5 million the next year. Nicolas G. Hayek, with a group of Swiss investors, bought Swatch in 1985 and founded the base of what is known now as the Swatch Group.

Because of the Swatch’s success, the whole Swiss industry took advantage of this creation. The renewal of many brands and the birth of our favourite independent watchmakers are partially due to the Swatch. It may be a simple and cheap plastic timepiece but it is an important one.”