Populist Mechanics: Reviewing the Swatch Sistem51

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.

Swatch Sistem51 - front-back

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.

Click here to download our full test of the Omega Seamaster 300, including complete specs, scores and prices, for just $2.99 from the WatchTime online store.

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  1. Since my uncle owns a plastics manufacturing plant in Leominster MA, I can tell you that the term plastic refers to many different variations on a theme and that appropriately and judiciously used specific plastics can be extremely durable and have properties that make them a very long lasting no maintainince free material that can be a superb choice for a component in many devices including watches when properly selected for a specific job and function. With the long history of the Swatch company in designing and producing such superb mechanical movements as the ETA 2824, ETA 2892 etc, I am confident that they know enough about what materials are totally suited and appropriate for specific movement components.

    • I am fully confident that just as Swatch/ETA chose their newly developed ARCAP metal alloy for use In the new SIstem 51 movement for a specific benefit in avoiding magnetic issues, Swatch/ETA chose specific types of plastic to use for a specific component totally appropriate for the newly designed no maintainince long lasting Sistem 51 ETA movement.

  2. It is also 100% SWISS made. It has a 90 hour power reserve vs 42 found on many $3,000 watches. It has a high level of magnetic resistence due to a new alloy and was designed to be maintenance free for at least 20 years. The new alloy is called ARCAP which has a combination of ZINC, Nickel and Copper designed for anti-magnetism. Furthermore, there is no need for oil lubrication or regular interval maintenance. It is also the first 100% fully robotized machine made and assembled movement. The movement is also hermetically sealed for dust and water resistance. As a result, this new technical marvel has over 17 new process patents. Add the guaranteed +/- 7 second per day accuracy (mine is no worse than +3 seconds a day accuracy) and then tell me about Chinese cheap movements.

  3. My recently released and purchase Green faced Swatch Sistem 51 is no more than plus 3 seconds off in a given day.
    The older last generation Blue Sistem 51 watch that you have tested (as seen in your review images) was from the initial batch released in the United States last year. There is also a new Blue Sistem 51 version available now.
    The Green Sistem 51 watch that I have is from the newly released version, and perhaps it’s better accuracy is a result of Swatch having refined the method of the laser adjustment during the automated assembly.

  4. I have been getting a deviation no worse than plus 3 seconds a day. Keep in mind, I have one of the newly released green faced models and perhaps Swatch has refined their laser set accuracy since the Sistem 51 was introduced last year in the Umited States.
    The blue faced model that you have tested was released in the earlier batch dating back to the first release last year in the United States.

  5. srhardy

    goo.gl/eP55Bo Reviews a tear down. You can buy better $12 watches from China is my thoughts on the matter….

    • I will sum up my reaction to that so called tear down …to one word. Nonsense.
      Anyone who honestly believes that the Swartch conglomerate would risk it’s hard won long term reputation by producing an unacceptable movement is living in a delusional state.

      • jim, are you saying that you think the teardown was faked like the moon landings? or do you approve of the plastic components used?

        • John,
          See my response(s) to your query about plastic components at the top of the comment listing above.

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