By Stephen J. Pulvirenti (HONDIKEE, THURSDAY MAY 2ND, 2013)
One of the most exciting releases at Basel World 2013 came from Swatch, which isn’t exactly the most talked about brand here at HODINKEE. The Sistem51 is the world’s first mechanical movement with entirely automated assembly. It has only 51 components, all of which are anchored to a central screw, a 90 hour power reserve, and, oh yeah, it’s 100% Swiss made. While there was one Sistem51 prominently displayed in a glass case at the center of Swatch’s Basel exhibition, here we have an exclusive hands-on look at this revolutionary watch. Seriously guys, this could be a game-changer. Back in 1983, Swatch launched with the mission of making Swiss watches mass produce-able and available to everyone in the wake of the quartz crisis. By reducing the number of components in a quartz movement from the typical 91 to a much more manageable 51, Swatch was able to fully automate production. This, combined with the brand’s commitment to popular culture, led to Swatch becoming the giant we know today, selling millions of watches per year. And today, starting with that all-important number 51, Swatch developed the Sistem51, hoping to do for mechanical watch production what they did for quartz production 30 years ago. There is a lot going on here in a relatively simple looking package, so let’s look at this watch’s innovations one by one. In addition to being assembled entirely by machine, one of the Sistem51’s greatest innovations is the movement architecture itself. All 51 components link to a central screw, meaning fewer components require lubrication and wear-and-tear will be much less over time than it would be with more conventional architecture. The Sistem51 is also automatically winding, has a 90 hour power reserve, and features a peripheral bi-directional rotor. This allows you to see some of the movement components through the caseback. These components are also printable during production, so designs and colorways can be customized over time. This first design is inspired by the Copernican revolution, to which Swatch compares this revolution in watchmaking. By this point you might be wondering what this is going to cost, right? Final pricing has not yet been set, but when the Sistem51 hits the market in the final quarter of 2013 the price will be somewhere between 100-200 CHF (though official Swatch communication says it should be on the low end of this range). While others could only see the Sistem51 in the vitrine or on screen, we had the amazing opportunity to go hands-on with this new marvel. Like any Swatch you’d pick up these days, it has a lightweight plastic case and the signature three-prong rubber strap. It sits comfortably on the wrist, and while no one is going to mistake it for something from a high-end manufacture there is something undeniably cool about the Sistem51. This inaugural dial is a little funky, but the translucent blue and black color scheme is really nice and this is definitely a Swatch that real watch nerds can get into.
PS: Please, read also the italian official Swatch communiqué: “Baselworld: Swatch Sistem51” in the column “NOVITA'”