Monday, April 29, 2013

Baselworld 2013 - Swatch brings disposability to Haute Horlogerie via SISTEM 51

Swatch brings disposability to Haute Horlogerie via SISTEM 51

First of all let's get all the headline features out of the way. It is an 100% Swiss made, mechanical automatic movement of 51 components, 90-hour power reserve made from ARCAP (alloy of copper, nickel, zinc), highly antimagnetic with an accuracy of 5 seconds a day and will retail for just over 100 Swiss Francs.

Also, let's just say this idea isn't brand new either. Here's a really good article written by Jack Freedman back in 1998, talking about Tissot's experiment with their all-plastic, mechanical and non-serviceable "Astrolon" watch. Amazingly some of the points are even more relevent now in light of Swatch's big reveal.

We at the Tarts have discussed this before about it being only a matter of time before the whole movement assembly became fully automated, given how the technology these days can manufacture items down to the nano level. I personally don't think this is as big a deal as everyone are making it out to be. I mean, the technology is there. Someone just had to apply it to mechanical watches and find a way to make it work, at a reduced cost.

However, a disposable mechanical watch? What is the point here, really, apart from "cuz we can?" Yes, it's accurate to within 5 seconds a day, but I thought the whole idea of having a mechanical watch is because you appreciate the craftsmanship that's gone into the making of the movement? The romantic notion of some grey-haired lady/gentleman in a white lab coat, hunched over a table in a little sun-lit attic somewhere amongst the Swiss Alps, putting together the tiny wheels and cogs and screws that never tell the time quite as accurately as your iGalaxyBerry but it's all ok because it's hand-made? It's about the history and the story and the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you wear your watch?

Granted, we know deep down that the vast majority of the mechanical movements are made by machines, with only the final finishing and assembly done by hand with the aid of some machinery, and only the extremely high end and the odd independent still make watches the old fashioned way. Is this a wake up call from Swatch, dragging all of us back to reality, to something we've always known, but refused to acknowledge? That the cost of servicing these mechanical wonders are no longer worth doing, and it's cheaper to just replace them? These days many of the mechanical watches with run-of-the-mill movements may be 'serviced' but in reality, the movement is taken out and a new one inserted in its place, and nothing is spoken of the old movement.

SO Swatch ushers in a new era, where one openly admits that the watch will work for  say, 10 years, more if you look after it. After that, you simply toss it away for a newer, younger, prettier model, all at the same time you can proudly boast that your watch is a 100% Swiss Made automatic mechanical watch. Pretty much what people do today with Apple devices. Anyone who's seen the tear-down reviews of the latest Apple products will know that once it's broken, you get a new one. They don't even design them to be serviceable/parts replaceable any more, and this is what Swatch has done. Again. (After the Tissot flop decades earlier, and the quartz version of said disposable watch)

I think, it's also a challenge to the rest of the Swiss watch industry, one that Hayek Senior has already shaken up by restricting movement supplies from ETA. To show that not only is it possible to make your own movements, but to do it on the cheap. Well, maybe if you have a lot of $$$ in the bank to roll the R&D.

It is quite likely versions of this movement will slowly make their way to power the lower end product range of other swatchgroup brands such as Tissot/Hamilton/Mido where in their case, the backs can be opened and the movement replaced, just as they are now, but for Swatch, a much, much lower cost, and hopefully, the savings passed on to the consumers. I suppose we'll be hearing a lot more about this new 'revolutionary' technical savoir-faire and more and more discussions/arguments about what this will actually do to the watch industry as a whole. (Not just the Swiss watch industry as this will direct affect the Chinese made mechanical movements)

Maybe the question that should be asked is not whether a disposable swatch automatic watch has a point (because Swatches has always been disposable), but rather, would you buy a watch with a Chinese made automatic movement when the Swiss made version is the same price, if not cheaper?


Unknown said...

"ARCAP" or "ACRAP" ??? yes , A Crap has been made. Truly I had to read it twice as my brain naturally picked CRAP over ARCAP!

I'm sad mechanical movement has been cheapen. It's no longer "romantic" anymore to own a mechanical watch, or even, to own a vintage mechanical watch! Typical consumer society where we just buy new when old die. sad sad sad...

horologium said...

Great post. The whole disposable aspect of it (a mere 10 year life?) bugs me a bit but unfortunately we do live in an increasingly disposable society where so much has an inbuilt obsolenscense. I know that Swatches have always been quite disposable but to make an automatic watch that is so disposable...I'm still mulling this over.

Anonymous said...

Such nonsense! Other ETA calibers (this is ETA) used by Swatch last decades, even the original Gents last about twentyfive years. The movement has become cheaper to produce, it hasn't lost any of its quality. How come you don't know this?

The Sydney Tarts said...

Dear Annoymous - I appreciate your comment but if you're going to criticise, please do not hide behind the anonymity of the interwebs. Be a WO(MAN) and do the right thing.

I beg to differ in regards to your comment. Granted, if a quartz movement is looked after, perhaps it'll last 25 years. However, most people do not see that sort of longevity from the quartz movement, and I have not seen any mechanical movement lasting 25 years without needing a service. you get stories about Rolex lasting that long, but that is Rolex, not ETA. If you have proper industry sources that proves the movement in the Sistem51 will last 25 years and can guarantee it, stand behind your words and prove it.