History of Swatch watches

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History of Swatch watches

Choosing a watch alone and without any real knowledge of the history and market, meeting the delicate challenge of still being current in ten or twenty years is very difficult. Throwing oneself on the watchmaking sites present on the “web” to try to find the ideal model is more and more often the solution chosen by amateurs. However, after analyzing the content of the “net” in terms of watch aid, the conclusion is grim. Very few sites mention the importance of traditional watchmaking work in the appreciation of a watch. And it is very difficult to find information concerning on the history of watches that are set to increase in value over time or to become historically essential references.

The innovative concept of Swatch was realized in the early 1980s, under the direction of Ernst Thomke, then director of ETA Manufacture Horlogère, surrounded by a small team led by two watchmaking engineers, Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller.

To make an economical watch, they had the idea of ​​using the back of a case as a platinum, supporting all parts of the movement. They were inspired by the flattest watch in the world, the Delirium, produced in 1978 by ETA, saving many parts and simplifying assembly as much as possible.

Initially conceived as a simple new revolutionary plastic watch, Franz Sprecher, an external marketing consultant hired by Thomke to bring a “consumer” look to the project, quickly developed the project at the “brand” level, young and fun, with identity and the corresponding marketing concept, including the development of all models according to the brand image.

The creators of the Swatch design are Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Muller, independent and whose company, Schmid Muller Design, is located in Chézard-Saint-Martin in the canton of Neuchâtel.

The Swatch brand models are divided into six distinct families:

“Swatch Originals”

The “Originals” are made of plastic, as in the original. Divided into sub-families, they exist in various sizes, shapes and styles.

“Swatch Irony”

Metal watches, with or without a suitable metal strap, come in a variety of sizes, shapes, styles and time displays.

Swatch skin

It is divided into two sub-families: the “Original Skin” and the “Skin Chronograph”. The first was introduced on October 6, 1997 as an ultrathin version of the original Swatch, only 3.9  mm thick, hence its name. It was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the flattest plastic watch in the world. The chronograph version adds specific functions to it, using two push buttons placed on either side of the crown.

“Swatch Beat”

This family was launched in 1998, incorporating digital display in various models of the three existing families, with the Internet Time system.

“Swatch Bijoux”

The jewelry line was introduced at the start of the new millennium, in partnership with the company Swarovski.

“Swatch SISTEM 51”

The mechanical revolution of Swatch. The SISTEM51 is thus an “automatic” or “self-winding” watch. Even when it is not worn for a long time, it continues to operate for up to 90 hours.

“Swatch Bellamy”

In October 2015, Swatch launched its first connected watch enabling contactless payment.

The growth of the Swatch watches

In a quasi-monopoly situation until the 1970s , Swiss watchmaking suffered a severe crisis with the arrival of Japanese competition on low-end models. Nicolas Hayek, then an industry consultant, then merged the two large Swiss watchmaking companies, developed a marketing strategy and took the helm of a company that today symbolizes a successful exit from the crisis.

In this context of recovery, the Swatch watch was marketed for the first time in 1983. It is designed in such a way that its manufacturing cost is much cheaper than what has hitherto been more competitive. For this, the number of elements used is minimized and the plastic is chosen to make the bracelet. As early as 1984, 3.5 million Swatches were sold, while the symbolic number of 100 million sales of the flagship product was reached in 1992 . Given the success of this creation, the Microelectronics and Watchmaking Company, directed by Hayek since 1986, took the name of Swatch Group in 1998.

Leaving the main technical innovations to the competition, Swatch Group focuses on marketing by offering products covering all possible ranges, in order to attract a wide audience. Thus, there are very affordable low-end watches (the Swatch or the Flik Flak, intended for children), medium range (Tissot, Balmain), high range (Longines) and luxury watches like the Tourpillondiamonds by Blancpain , sold at 1.6 million euros. The aim is to make the watch a real fashion accessory, even a jewel. The products are highlighted by the rapid use of the watchmaking group in flagship stores, namely department stores located in strategic locations (Times Square in New York, Place Vendôme in Paris) dedicated exclusively to a single company and offering the whole range thereof. There are now Swatch Group subsidiaries in 47 countries .

Behind the marketing success of the iconic Swatch watch, it is luxury watchmaking that has become increasingly important. Despite everything, there is no question of lowering the flag on the entry level for Swatch Group because it is, unlike the crisis in Swiss watchmaking in the 1970s, in this sector that competition is now the least pressing for the firm Swiss. Thus, the connected watch market, in which Swatch Group launched in 2015, remains strongly dominated by the digital giants, in particular by the Apple Watch.

Swatch Group therefore illustrates the rebound of a company thanks to product and marketing innovations carried by Nicolas Hayek, then by his children, Nick and Nayla, who succeeded him. In 2015, the group thus recorded 7.6 billion euros in turnover and employs 36,300 people.

Since its creation in 1983, Swatch has made art one of its founding pillars. A pioneer in artistic collaborations since 1985, Swatch is committed to democratizing art to make it accessible to all. In addition to collaborations with contemporary artists, Swatch has recently partnered with museums.