The Swatch Group is famous for changing watchmaking forever as it salvaged multiple companies from the wrath of the quartz crisis. Since the company took its stand as a Swiss giant, its name became synonymous with affordable yet excellent timepieces. After 30 years of excellence, the company was challenged to release a watch that best described its heritage while also dictating its future. So, in 2013, everyone was treated to a modern icon — the Swatch Sistem51.
What is the Swatch Sistem 51?
The Swatch Sistem51 is quite a sight to behold. When it was first launched, it was conceptualized as a plastic watch. Plastic watches are actually quite typical for Swatch. However, what made the Swatch Sistem51 truly impressive was that it is a mechanical watch, unlike Swatch’s usual quartz-powered pieces.
To put things into perspective, a simple mechanical movement typically has 130 components. The Swatch Sistem51’s self-winding mechanical movement truly outdid itself, with just 51 parts, and all of its cogs mounted on a single screw. In addition, it is also a true powerhouse caliber, with features like 90 hours of power reserve and top-notch accuracy.
5 Best Swatch Sistem51 Watches
Swatch has a plethora of Sistem51 watches you can choose from. So, to help you decide which one to pick, we gathered 5 of the best Swatch Sistem51 watches for your perusal.
1. Sistem51 Sistem Pilote YIB404
The Sistem Pilote stands out with its unique all-black design. This model comes with a sunburst black dial that features a cut-out in the shape of a crescent. This allows wearers to view the movement at work through the face of the watch.
This 42mm stainless steel watch also innovatively plays with blacks of various hues. From its dial case to its hour indices and hands, each of these comes in contrasting hues of black that allow for better legibility. In addition, this Swatch Sistem51 piece also has a silver second hand and a circular date window at 3 o’clock. With a comfortable black leather strap, this watch would make a fine everyday accessory. You can purchase the Sistem Pilote for just $245 USD.
2. Sistem5 Sistem White SUTW400
From a black Swatch Sistem51 watch, let us head to the other side of the color spectrum with a white edition. Also measuring 42mm in diameter, this watch, like most Swatch watches, is made mostly from plastic. The white strap comes in very durable rubber material.
This Sistem White piece also has a circular date window at 3 o’clock, but this one comes in a bright lime shade. On the white dial are vibrant, multi-colored dots that give the timepiece more personality. Even the caseback and movement of the watch are brightly colored in a variety of different hues, spicing this watch up. This bold and bright Swatch Sistem51 piece has a price ranging from $100 USD to $110 USD.
3. Sistem51 Irony Sistem Soul YIS402
For those who prefer stainless steel watches, check out the Sistem Soul. This is a monochrome watch with a very minimalist design. The dial of the watch comes in white, while the stainless steel case bears a cool silver hue. The white dial also boasts an intricate geometric design that is sure to draw your eye in. Unlike the previous two models, this Swatch Sistem51 piece has a square date window. It is also marked with 60-minute markers in 5-minute increments and has a 24-hour layout to boot. In retail, this watch costs around $245 USD.
4. Sistem51 Sistem Thought
The handsome Sistem Thought stands out as a contemporary take on military watches. This 42mm stainless steel watch in black also bears a striking black dial. It has a cut-out in the middle of the dial that gives you a glimpse of the caliber running underneath. It also boasts 12-hour markers and a peculiar date scale on the inner ring of the dial. This watch comes with a classy brown leather strap, so you could easily bring it to dressier occasions too. This Swatch Sistem51 piece retails at around $245 USD.
5. Sistem51 Sistem Col-Ora SUTB408
Much like the Sistem White, the Sistem Col-Ora boasts splashes of color in an otherwise simple, monochrome watch. The markers of this watch come in bright colors, with the caseback striped diagonally in the same hues. The strap of the watch also comes with vertical ridges for a little bit of texture. This is a plastic watch and costs around $150 USD in retail.
History of the Swatch Sistem 51
The concept of the Swatch Sistem51 takes people back to the history of Swatch. Today, the company is better known for its colorful and popular designs, collaboration with artists, and marketing that targets the masses. However, Swatch is also remembered as a company that changed the way the Swiss watchmaking industry was run forever.
Swatch was created in response to the horology industry’s quartz crisis. Prior to the 1970s, the industry was comprised only of mechanical timepieces. However, this all changed in the late 1970s, when there was a quartz watch boom. Quartz is cheap and can be mass-produced, and this greatly threatened the mechanical watch business, which is what the Swiss watchmaking scene is mostly composed of. This crisis completely overtook the Swiss market, so much so that James Bond — known for his Rolex watches at the time — even switched to using a digital watch from Seiko for a while.
Nicolas G. Hayek is the person responsible for turning the Swiss watchmaking industry around. He created a company that was known as the Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries. This company, better known as SMH, became a merger of prominent brands including Omega, Tissot, and Longines.
This company, which was funded by Hayek himself, reformed the watchmaking industry. Eventually, SMH was renamed the Swatch Group. Through this company, Hayek introduced the modern age of machination and continued to mass-produce Swiss masterpieces.
Launching the Swatch Sistem51
In 2013, Swatch celebrated its 30th year in the industry. Creative director Carlo Giodanetti was asked to create a brand new Swatch timepiece for the brand’s 30th anniversary. Indeed, this was quite a challenge as he had to come up with something spectacular that still remained true to the idea of what Swatch is all about.
At the 2013 Baselworld, Swatch pulled the curtains back on their Sistem51. Deemed as a spectacle and one of the most exciting launches of that year, the Swatch Sistem51 was a worthy tribute to Swatch’s 30th anniversary. The Swatch Sistem51 was notable for two reasons: firstly, it was a new, unique mechanical timepiece from a company that lived primarily on quartz movements. Secondly, the Swatch Sistem51 watches are sold at around 100 CHF to 200 CHF. This makes the Swatch Sistem51 the cheapest automatic Swiss watch on the market.
Building the Swatch Sistem51
A mechanical movement follows some basic principles that need to be preserved for it to function well. Firstly, the mechanical caliber should have a mainspring barrel. It should also be wound by a peripheral rotor that powers the gear train. The gear train then functions at a rate controlled by the oscillating balance wheel as well as the ticking level escapement. What is impressive about the Sistem51 is that they kept all these intact with just 51 parts. Considering the average mechanical movement has around 130 components, the Swatch Sistem51, which has been slimmed down to just 51 parts, is truly a mechanical marvel indeed.
In addition, the Sistem51 movement does not have any screws. All of its components are held together by metallic pins. You can see this through the clear caseback of a Swatch Sistem51 watch. Finally, for efficiency reasons and to stay true to the idea of a Swatch watch, the escape lever of the Swatch Sistemt1 also comes in plastic! There are some polarizing views about this but it helps make this watch truly affordable.
The process of building the Swatch Sistem51 is also a technological marvel in itself. This is because the whole process is entirely robotized. ETA, Swatch’s movement manufacturer, put up an innovative facility in Boncourt, Switzerland for just this purpose. According to reports, the facility has a total of 400 machines installed that work non-stop, 24 hours a day, up to six whole days a week.
These machines are responsible for creating the components in the Swatch Sistem51 movement. They are also in charge of fixing the movement into the main plate before moving on to the decoration of the watch. Using digital printers, each Swatch Sistem51 piece gets decorated according to different themes that best reflect Swatch’s affordable yet flamboyant design philosophy.
Although Swatch does not share how many watches it makes a year, estimates suggest that around 4,000 Swatch Sistem51 are made every day. In 2016, Swatch built a second facility, doubling its production capacity. Combining the prowess of these two facilities, we are looking at an estimate of two million watches made every year. That is way higher than even Rolex!
On the whole, there are some polarizing views when it comes to Swatch. Watch enthusiasts have gone into endless debates over the brand’s use of plastic and flamboyant, loud designs. That said, you cannot deny that it has achieved an efficient marvel with the mechanization of the Swatch Sistem51’s production process. The Sistem51 is a true testament to Swatch’s ideals of affordability, efficiency, and innovation, and continues the legacy of Swatch’s colorful and accessible plastic watches.
Photos courtesy of Swatch Group.