One of the most buzzed-about new watch launches in recent years is the Sistem51, a new mechanical watch from the Swatch brand. First released in Switzerland, the Swatch Sistem51 became available at U.S. retailers in 2014. In this article, we explore what makes these watches fascinating.
There are three main features that make the Sistem51 noteworthy. First, like the original Swatch quartz watches, it has only 51 components, whereas most mechanical watches have upwards of 100. Also like the original Swatch, its assembly is entirely automated. Finally, it will cost just $150. The four models are Sistem Red, Sistem Blue, Sistem Black and Sistem White. The red and blue models have translucent plastic cases and black silicone straps with accent-color stitching. Their dials are black with a red or blue central seconds hand, respectively. The bezel is in black plastic with white Super-LumiNova hour markers. Through the caseback, a transparent crystal rotor is visible, as well a printed “star-burst” pattern. The Sistem Black has a black leather strap and a different printed pattern on the dial. Its back features a “vortex” pattern. The Sistem White has a more minimalist dial design with brightly colored dots and no hour markers on the bezel or the dial. It comes on a white silicone strap.
Swatch designed the Sistem51 from the ground up: it uses no components from other watches, and the company has applied for 17 patents for its design. Each watch is constructed on a 20-meter-long assembly line in a clean-room environment, then hermetically sealed. No human intervention is necessary. Even the regulating of the movement, traditionally a time-consuming manual process, is hands-free: a laser adjusts the movement to an accuracy of +/-7 seconds a day. One key to the automated assembly of the Sistem51 is the fact that the movement is composed of five distinct modules. There is a mainplate to hold the wheel train, gear train, hand fitting and the date mechanism; a module for the stem; an escapement module; an automatic-winding-device module; and a transparent oscillating weight. All five components are held together with a single central screw, which can be seen through the caseback. The movement has 19 jewels, and red dots on the dial mark the placement for six of them. The constellation-like pattern of other dots, which are multicolored on the dial of Sistem White and white on the other three models, mark the places on the movement where the five modules are welded together. Sistem51 has a 90-hour power reserve and runs at a frequency of 3 Hz. The movement is 30 mm in diameter, with a height of 4.8 mm. The case is 42 mm wide.
This article was originally published on March 15, 2014, and has been updated.