Monday, February 3, 2014

On The Wrist: Swatch Sistem51 First Australian Impressions

Yes I am a sceptic and as you have probably read here and here, I really did not see the point of these watches. And yet I still bought one. (Got caught up in the hype) And no, not to resale, but really just to see what all the fuss is about, to see if all the hype is warranted, and really, for 150CHF, it's not that much of an investment. If you think about it, this is less than a pair of general release Air Jordan Retros and will last just as long, if not longer. It's also cheaper than an alligator strap from many higher end Swiss watch brands, and the Swatch will most definitely last longer than the strap. Anyway, that's how I'm justifying the purchase. Of course, your mileage may vary.

The first release of the Sistem51 came in 4 colours, blue, red, white and black. I believe the initial batch sold out, and were quickly restocked. For some reason the ugliest of the lot (the blue) is the one that is still sold out. Red, black and white could still be had from the Swatch Boutique on Rue Mont Blanc in Geneva as of last week. For me personally the black and white were the lookers and white was the one I ended up with. (Friend was in Geneva and asked what I wanted, I said either black or white and he made the call). I'm happy with the white, since I have too many all-black watches already, and it's something different. A fun looking watch.

More details have emerged since my previous posts, and the Sistem51 is supposed to last about 20 years, and it is laser-regulated to about 5 seconds a day. I'm not really fussed about accuracy as it won't be on my wrist continuously enough for the accuracy to make an impact. The 90 hour power reserve will be interesting to observe (see how close it comes**) but again, nice to have, but not necessary. Having said that though, it is vastly longer than the usual 40-odd hours from a regular automatic movement, and still longer than some of the more recent higher-end longer power-reserve watches of up to 3 days (72 hours). Another feature is that the movement is meant to be anti-magnetic. I really don't know how to test this (and I'm not about to leave the watch between speakers and magnets) so I'll take their word for it. The specs of the movement is mightily impressive and may be some cause for concern, and I think this is also what they are trying to do- to shake up the industry a little bit.

The life expectancy of 20 years is very interesting. Current mechanical watches have a service recommendation every 4-5 years, depending on how the watch is worn. Given the Sistem51 is sealed, and the movement is not designed to be serviced, one can read this as a mechanical movement having the possibility of a 20 year service interval. Sure there are stories that some Rolex watches have run that long without servicing but that's not the norm. Of course, we can't really test this claim for another 19 years and 11 months and a couple of weeks, but if this Swatch continues to keep relatively accurate time for that long, hmmmm...

Now, the watch itself. It is a plastic watch with a silicon strap. Nothing fancy. Having said that, this particular watch has already been dropped... well, actually, flung against the wall then fell to the carpeted floor. Don't ask. But the watch survived, fully intact, no scratches, no dents/chips nothing. Still ticking away. So that's a plus. The watch itself is nicely sized - at 41mm in diametre, and not too tall at 11mm. The watch sits on the wrist quite comfortably and light enough that you don't notice it. I like the idea of a see-through rotor, and that the movement and rotor are/can be printed. This is a great idea as I'm sick of seeing movements that really should not be shown. At least with the printing it covers the movement and they might even offer personalisation printing down the line. You can wind the watch up, but it's in a back-to-front anti-clockwise direction. The winding is rough, but then again, this is a 150 CHF watch. Not sure how efficient the plastic rotor is in terms of winding the watch up though given it's uni-directional, and spins freely in the other direction (much like the Valjoux 7750).

Over all it's an interesting watch (I keep using the term interesting, simply because I can't think of better, more fitting way to describe it.) and I'm sure the movement will be fitted to other brands within the Swatchgroup in the medium term, in the entry level models within say, Tissot, Certina, Mido brands. Who knows this movement may even replace some quartz movements (no battery changes every 2 years!!! Just shake it and go!) as it is really vastly more convenient, and you never have to be without your watch for 20 years. And after 20 years, when the movement dies, you just go and buy another watch. (Although I'm sure many will be looking to change the watch after about 5 years anyway).

So, consider the industry shaken, but hopefully not so much that all the romantic notion once associates with watchmaking is all shook out.

**I took the watch off in the afternoon of the 27th, the watch was fully wound. it stopped late on the 31st. So the 90-hour power reserve checks out. There are also reports from people whose Sistem51 arrived DOA. I have a feeling that the first batch was rushed and some pieces didn't pass muster. Good thing the there is a 2-year international warranty. It's just a bit of a hassle. My particular piece, although ran fine, had some very minor cracks in the plastic rotor which I'll keep an eye on.

1 comment:

horologium said...

As someone's whose Sistem51 was DOA, it's nice to read about a functioning one :) Fingers crossed I can get a replacement soon and test drive it. The 90 power reserve 'test' is interesting. The plastic rotor cracks - shame.