I remember when the Swatch Sistem 51 was first released, it was pitched as a revolution in Swiss watch making. Similar to the the original Swatch watches, the idea was to put watches on as many people’s wrists as possible, at a price point that allows for people to afford them, and collect multiples. However, as opposed to the originals being a response to the Quartz Revolution/Crisis, the goal was to put mechanical watches on wrists of more people. By sticking to the Swatch formula of plastic cases, silicone straps and affordable prices, Swatch created a fun and accessible way to get a mechanical watch, that was indeed Swiss made. The watch is completely assembled and timed by robots, and a human hand never touches the watch. The movement consists of 51 parts, and is held together by a single screw. While not impressive in the same way as high-end, hand finished pieces, it is impressive engineering feat for Swatch to develop such a piece.
The SistemRed that I have was part of the original release of watches. I ordered one as soon as they were available in the United Stated. The pieces measure 42mm wide, and 50.6mm lug to lug. The piece is comfortable and wears well, especially for the larger size, however on the larger end of what I would purchase. The silicone strap is pretty soft and flexible, and has managed to hold up all this time. That being said, like all plastic Swatches, it is incredibly loud. While you cannot hear the mechanical ticking of the movement while wearing it, any slight movement of the wrist produces a mechanical whirring sound that is the sound of the rotor going wild. That is really my only true complaint, however it adds to the charm. Things such as strong lume, movement finishing, and accuracy I think are secondary to a watch like this. This piece is either about showing off Swatch’s ability to produce such a timepiece, and/or having a fun and affordable watch that also is mechanical. I have had the watch since 2013, and the only thing that has happened is the silicone keeper has broken, and has been replaced with a hair tie (nothing like creative repairs).
Years later, in 2016, Swatch released the Sistem Irony collection. Serving as an upgrade to the original Sistem51 collection, the watches now feature heavier duty rubber straps, stainless steel cases, and a “serviceable movement,” as the plastic versions are sealed shut. I recently purchased the SistemArrow, after eyeing the watch for awhile, forgetting about it, and then finding a good deal on one online. The metal case adds a great deal towards making this feel more like a “real” watch. The rotor noise is greatly reduced, making the watch more appropriate for normal work environments, along with the brushed steel case dressing it up a bit. The movement is the same, but has a different decorated pattern printed on it. One difference between the movements is that the main spring gear on the SistemArrow is skeletonized, while the SistemRed main spring gear is not. I do enjoy the skeletonized main spring, as it serves as a pseudo power reserve indicator. I also enjoy the pilot styled dial, however there is a weird looking sub-seconds hand printed on the dial towards six o’clock, but it doesn’t do anything. Weird design choice, but I often forget about it so it is not a huge deal. I also appreciate the heavier duty strap, which has a notch for the first keeper as well. Not necessary, but appreciated. It is worth noting as well that the Irony cases wear larger than the plastic ones. In addition to the increase in mass, they do look visibly larger.
Overall, I think looking at these watches as bonafide legitimate timepieces is actually doing them a disservice. The enjoyment and glee I get from these watches is from the cheap and cheerful nature of them, which is the joy of Swatch. When I wear them, they put a smile on my face because they’re fun, not because of beautiful finishing and movement accuracy. If you are dying for a brightly colored watch, or want something as a beater, but do not want to give up wearing something mechanical and do not want to pay an arm and a leg for a brightly colored Hublot, I think these watches are great!
To see the current Swatch Sistem collections, visit Swatch.com