In this article from WatchTime’s upcoming May-June 2015 issue, on sale May 19, we take a close look at the Swatch Sistem51, a Swiss-made mechanical watch that costs just $150.
The Swatch watch debuted 33 years ago. Thanks to the construction of the watch and its movement, which enabled the Swatch to be produced in huge volumes at little cost, it famously revived the Swiss watch industry during the quartz crisis. The Swatch Sistem51, launched in 2013, is also revolutionary. Its movement, which is mechanical, has just 51 parts (hence its name). Like the quartz Swatch, the Sistem51 is manufactured in Switzer- land using an innovative, cost-effective process. The watch is never touched by human hands. Assembly, finishing and regulation are completely automated. This allows Swatch to keep the Sistem51’s retail price low: just $150.
The watch is fabricated in 20 minutes on an assembly line almost 66 feet long in clean-room conditions. The movement components are assembled into five modules and then welded together. The central mechanical module is the plate, barrel, gear train and date mechanism. This module teams up with a subassembly for the manual setting of the functions, the escapement and self-winding module, and finally the rotor. The final step is to secure the rotor with one screw: the only screw in the entire construction.
The oscillating system is set at 3 Hz. There is no mechanism to finely adjust the rate. It is preset during the manufacturing process with the aid of a laser, after which the movement is hermetically sealed inside the case. This protects it from dust and moisture, but also isolates it from any human intervention. The manufacturer guarantees a “long life span” (which is not specified) and “absolute maintenance-freedom.” But if anything should go wrong with the movement, the entire watch is rendered useless. “Repair” means “buy a new one.”
Swatch guarantees accuracy of between +7 and -7 seconds per day. Our test watch upheld this claim on the wrist, but just barely. Although it occasionally gained 8 to 10 seconds per day, it posted an average daily gain of 5.9 seconds during our 14-day wearing test. It painted a very non-uniform picture on the timing machine: with a fully wound mainspring, the Sistem51’s balance knocked now and then in the dial-up position but in no other orientation. This knocking could be due to a very high level of torque in the barrel, which contains a correspondingly strong mainspring that stores enough energy for 90 hours.