This is a watch that represents a watershed in the world of Swiss mechanical timepieces. Before the quartz revolution, all watches were mechanical, and the price range went far lower than today. For example, the Omega chronograph that NASA bought back in 1965 for testing for use in its space programme cost $85, which was quite a lot of money in those days, but a value that corresponds to just $630 today. The Sistem51 currently costs $160, and it represents a huge investment by Swatch, with a new watch concept devised by the group’s finest watch designers, and a totally new automated manufacturing system launched in 2014. Click here to see a selection of the cheapest mechanical watches.
Sealed movement, not accessible for maintenance
It reflects Swatch Group’s desire to occupy all levels of the watch industry, from the cheapest quartz watches with its Swatch timepieces, to the area of cheap mechanical watches. Sistem 51 has some interesting design innovations, along with solutions that will not be popular with mechanical watch purists. For example, the successive bridges are not screwed together, but soldered; the pallet fork and escapement are in plastic; the balance hairspring is joined directly to the baseplate with a stud, and so frequency is adjusted in the factory by operating directly on the inertia of the balance wheel. Part of the communications for the Sistem 51 series includes the claim “one screw holds the movement,” but in actual fact, that one central screw visible on the back is simply the screw for the oscillating weight. The rest of the movement is basically soldered and so it’s impossible to perform maintenance on it.
Sistem51 and its constellation
The name of the watch, Sistem51, refers to the number of components in the original 1983 quartz Swatch, and this was the target set for the number of parts in the new mechanical watch. The new collection retains some of the design features of the first collection (2014), with dots on the dial, a reference to the Pleiades constellation in which there are supposedly 51 visible stars. Near the centre of the dial, six red dots correspond to the six rubies inside the movement. On the back, a transparent caseback reveals the oscillating weight, colourful and eye-catching. The movement runs at 3 Hertz, and this lower-than-usual frequency, along with other features (including the use of plastic for pallet fork and escapement, reducing friction), gives it a power reserve of 90 hours.
The manufacturing system is totally automated, the movement is sealed, and so the two-year guarantee means simply the replacement of the watch if it is defective. Watch life has been estimated by the manufacturer at between 10 and 20 years. The first collection comprised four models: today there are seven new models with a more classical dial design. Swatch Group and ETA are extending the technology used in Sistem 51 to other, higher-level watches, above all pieces by Tissot, and the Powermatic watches with 80 hours power reserve. Below, one of the first Sistem51 watches. Click here to read more about Sistem51 watches by Swatch.