A brief look at the history of Swatch from 1970 until today.
The Amazing Adventures of the «Second Watch»
In the late 1970s, when our story begins, a Swiss watch was a work of artful craftsmanship, a uniquely valuable timepiece meant to be cherished for a lifetime. Equipped with a hand-made mechanical movement, it was the product of centuries of traditional expertise handed down from one generation to the next. In a few short years, however, the value of Swiss watch exports was cut in half, the Swiss share of the market dropped from over 50 to 15 percent, and competition from Asia slashed the number of watchmaking jobs in Switzerland from 90.000 to fewer than 25.000. Swiss watchmakers were suddenly an endangered species.
Enter Nicolas G. Hayek, whose radical proposals and revolutionary ideas were to lead the industry from its near-death experience to unprecedented health today. Chief among Mr. Hayek’s big ideas was that of a «second watch (Second WATCH)» – not an expensive piece of well-crafted jewellery, but a new, fascinating, plastic (!) way to say who you are and how you feel: elegant, for example, and attractive, emotional, spontaneous, provocative, seductive. And because it didn’t cost a fortune, a customer’s second watch was soon followed by a third, a fourth... and the rest is history. One of the biggest brand names in the world today, Swatch has produced more than 350 million Swiss Made «Second Watches» – colourful, exciting accessories in tune with the latest trends in the streets, sports and fashion.
Along the way to brand-name stardom, Swatch has established an enviable reputation as an all-around innovator, applying its creative smarts to everything from research and technology to product design and manufacture, marketing, communication and retail distribution.
From craft to high-tech design and manufacture
Responding to consumers’ preference for inexpensive quartz watches, a group of engineers in Fontainemelon (Neuchatel, Switzerland), a subsidiary of what would later become the Swatch Group, developed a super-thin, gold luxury watch known as Delirium Tremens – the thinnest watch in the world. Presented in 1979, it was a first response to the Asian challenge, as the thinnest watch (1.98 mm) ever produced and its secret lay in its radical simplification. The traditional division into three parts (bottom plate for the movement, case, and frame) had been abandoned in favour of a one-piece case, the bottom of which also served as the bottom plate for the movement. But a thin, expensive watch would not be sufficient to stave off competition from the cheap quartz watches flooding the market. A more radical approach was needed, and the drive to simplify was soon complemented by a search with a development group at ETA, another ASUAG subsidiary, for new materials and methods that would allow the production of an entirely new kind of Swiss watch – one made of a synthetic material, shock-proof, accurate, perfect for mass production, inexpensive, and available in a wide range of colours...
And the first Swatch watches were just that – quality Swiss watches, made of plastic (!)– and beginning in 1983 they took the world by storm. Swatch has continued to push the limits of technology, introducing an astonishing range of materials from plastic, stainless steel and aluminium to synthetic fabrics, rubber and silicon. The company continues to find new ways to impart texture and colour to an expanding range of shapes, and inventive designers take advantage of everything technology offers. The radical reduction in the number of parts known as Revolution 51 enabled innovative assembly methods, and a variety of «special packaging» technologies makes it possible to deliver the products in a pleasing and captivating package. Advanced microelectronics and software technologies have brought new functionality, too, everything from digital displays (.beat) to embedded RFID chips for easy Access to ski resorts, stadiums or public transport.
Swatch + Art
Right from the start, Swatch connected with contemporary art. Like the pop art of the modern times, Swatch watches were inspired by popular culture, and Swatch itself soon became a canvas for world famous artists, musicians and fashion designers. One of the first major artists to collaborate with Swatch was the Keith Haring, and the relationship between Swatch and art has since produced a fascinating series of Swatch Art Specials by Sam Francis, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Mimmo Paladino, Phil Collins, Akira Kurosawa, Pedro Almodóvar, Ágatha Ruíz de la Prada, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Ted Scapa and Vivienne Westwood, to name only a few. Recent collaborators include the performance artists and musicians known as
Blue Man Group, and Norma Jeane, the contemporary artist who designed Once Again, Again, the 2008 «Club Watch» for members of the worldwide community of Swatch fans, friends and collectors known as Swatch The Club
Marketing and Communication
Nicolas G. Hayek’s «second watch» was never just a watch. It was always also a way to communicate, a «talking piece» designed to let the wearer show just who she is and how she feels. It’s no surprise, then, that Swatch places great importance on communication with its customers. Swatch The Club has evolved from a club for enthusiasts and collectors of Swatch watches to a worldwide community. Today, with more than 12’000 Swatch points of sale around the world, creative retail is the name of the game. In addition to existing shop-in-shops, kiosks, monobrand Swatch stores, and flagship Swatch Jellyfish stores, Swatch now sets up «Instant stores» – temporary Swatch stores that can be set up quickly at an event or in a trendy new location. An Instant Store may stay for a few days or a few months, the key thing is flexibility – the need to keep moving at all times. And a new look in retail outlets is coming soon – a theatrical display of creative mobility designed to turn Swatch stores into stages for the product as protagonist.
The creativity and limitless innovation that characterize Swatch watches are just as evident in the wide range of events that bring more and more people into the world of Swatch. From product launch events and celebrations of Swatch watch number 100 million and 330 million (!!!) to high-visibility sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, Swatch has shown the world it knows how to party, too. Extreme sports and other forms of positively provocative behaviour remain a part of the Swatch identity. The huge Swatch hung from a bank in Frankfurt in 1984, for example, or Geraldine Fasnacht’s base jumps, Swatch FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, freerider «Outlaws» and members of the Swatch Pro Team, FMX champ Mat Rebeaud’s dare-evil acrobatic feats
... They all represent the spirit of Swatch – the determination to challenge the limits of performance and to embrace the joys of life.
From plastic Originals to Chrono Plastic in only 25 years
In the twenty-five years since the first «Original» Swatch watch «Once Again» caught the world by surprise, the Swiss watchmaking wizards have introduced the Maxi Swatch, Pop Swatch, Scuba, Chrono, Automatic, Loomi, AquaChrono, Irony, Solar, Access, Skin, Irony Scuba, .beat, Fun Scuba, Fun Boarder, Swatch Jelly in Jelly, and now, the Swatch Chrono Plastic – an all-plastic, lightweight, rugged and colourful sports watch for active men and women of all ages.
Supremely inventive, exciting, and always provocative, Swatch today is at the heart of a world that thrives on creativity and constant change. And the man who has come to be identified as «Mr. Swatch» remains the driving force behind the brand. Never one to rest on his laurels, Nicolas G. Hayek has recently startled the market with yet another unpredictable move. Embracing the dark side of the James Bond myth, N.G. Hayek has launched the Swatch 007 Villain Collection – 22 new Swatch watches celebrating the villains Bond fans love to hate.