The Swatch Revolution
The story of Swatch is the story of a revolution. In 1983, the unexpected appearance of an affordable, Swiss made, plastic (!!) watch turned the watch world upside down. Suddenly, a watch was much more than a way to measure time. It was a new language, a way to speak from the heart without words. A Swatch watch was an expression of joy, a provocative statement, a warm smile delivered with a flick of the wrist. Today, the revolution continues: Swatch talks, and everyone understands.
It wasn’t always that way.
The adventure begins
In the late 1970s, a Swiss watch was a work of careful craftsmanship, a uniquely valuable timepiece handed down from one generation to the next, to be cherished for a lifetime. Fitted with a complicated, hand-crafted mechanical movement, it was the expression of a culture in which changes took place, if they took place at all, only after slow deliberation, and at the speed of glaciers racing down the Alpine valleys. New models were introduced, but changes in how watches were made were few and far between. And then? Then came the crisis—not entirely unexpected, but serenely ignored for much too long. Overnight, it seemed, the market was flooded with watches from Asia equipped with quartz movements. They kept good time—most were at least as accurate as even the best mechanical watches—and they were cheap. You didn’t have to save for months or years to afford one. Worst of all, people were buying them! Even the Swiss were buying cheap watches, in the thousands!
It didn’t take genius to see what was happening. In a few short years, the value of Swiss watch exports had been cut in half. The Swiss share of the market dropped from over 50 to 15 per cent, and competition from Asia slashed the number of watchmaking jobs in Switzerland from 90,000 to fewer than 25,000: Swiss watchmakers were 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 Nicolas G. Hayek’s big ideas was that of a ‘second watch’ — not an expensive piece of well-crafted jewellery, but a new, fascinating way to say who you are and how you feel: elegant, emotional, provocative, seductive… And because it didn’t cost a fortune, a second watch was soon followed by a third, a fourth... and the rest is history. In 2006, Swatch celebrated the production of the 333 millionth Swatch watch, and today Swatch is one of the biggest brand names in the world, known everywhere as a maker of colourful, exciting watches in tune with the latest trends.
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 slow, patient craftsmanship to high-tech design and high-speed manufacturing
In the late 1970s, faced with the growing popularity of inexpensive quartz watches, a group of engineers in Fontainemelon (Neuchatel) developed a super-thin, gold luxury watch known as Delirium Tremens – the thinnest watch in the world (1.98 mm) at the time. An initial response to the Asian challenge, 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 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, affordable for everyone, and available in a wide range of colours...
The first Swatch watches were precisely that — quality Swiss timepieces, made of plastic. In the weeks and months following their launch, Swatch took the world by storm. The brand has since continued to push the limits of technology, introducing an astonishing range of materials from plastic, stainless steel and aluminium to synthetic fabrics, rubber and silicone. 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 pleasing and captivating containers. Continuing advances in design, materials and production technologies have enabled the brand to make even mechanical watches accessible to a much broader range of customers.
Marketing and Communication
Founder 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. Today, creative retail is the name of the game, and Swatch has monobrand Swatch stores, megastores, shop-in-shops and kiosks all over the world. New Swatch points of sale make use of highly modular environments to provide a clean, simple setting in which the watches, their colours and creative design are the centre of attention, allowing them to speak for themselves. The new concept has been implemented in New York City at the prestigious Times Square megastore and more recently at the 5th Avenue location, in Shanghai at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, in Paris at the Champs-Elysées megastore, in Beijing in WangFuJing Street and in Hong Kong in the Luk Hoi Tong Tower...
The Swatch Club began as a way for collectors and fans of Swatch watches to get together and share their enthusiasms—to show off, exchange and talk about the latest Swatch watches. Today, the Swatch Club has evolved to become a worldwide community. The Club helps market Swatch through social networks and engages with its members and fans through web sites in a different markets and languages. Swatch Club brings people together, 24 hours a day—fans who love art, follow sports and keep up with the latest trends in lifestyles and communications. They share the fun and the brand experience with fellow members all over the world, enjoying the Swatch experience online and at live events, where they meet athletes, artists and VIPs. They live the world of Swatch through Swatch.tv, special Swatch watches, insider news and exclusive previews of future launches. Club members receive their own copy of the Voice magazine and follow the latest happenings in Swatch Club’s online community.
Every year Swatch offers a new watch to its members, often designed by an artist with the worldwide Club community in mind.
Everyone knows a Swatch when they see one. There’s clearly something that makes Swatch different from every other watch brand. What is it? The look, the colours, the plastic? The design, perhaps, or the fact that it’s Swiss made and versatile enough to be worn with almost anything. There are Swatch watches for people of all ages, and a Swatch for every occasion. But there’s more to Swatch than market coverage. Swatch is an attitude, an approach to life, a way of seeing. The sight of a Swatch excites emotion. Wearing one is a way to communicate, to speak without speaking. Heart to heart.
Right from the start, Swatch connected with art. Like the pop art first seen in the 1960s, Swatch watches were inspired by popular culture, and Swatch itself soon became a canvas for world famous artists—painters, sculptors, musicians, filmmakers. It isn’t the medium that counts, it’s the act of making something different, the creative impulse and its expression. The first artist to collaborate with Swatch was Kiki Picasso in 1984, less than a year after the first Swatch watches made their appearance. American painter Keith Haring created a number of prototypes in the mid-1980s, and four Swatch watches with Haring’s designs were produced and launched in the United States, among them the watch Milles Pattes (1986). The relationship between Swatch and art has since produced a fascinating series of creative collaborations between Swatch and artists from a broad range of disciplines.
Among the many memorable works designed for “the world’s smallest canvas” are Swatch watches by Alfred Hofkunst, Jean-Michel Folon, Sam Francis, Mimmo Paladino, Mimmo Rotella, Nam June Paik, Not Vital, Akira Kurosawa, Spike Lee, Renzo Piano, and Moby, to name only a handful. An integral part of each Swatch Art Special edition is the packaging, frequently as entertaining and inventive as the watches themselves.
The relationship between Swatch and art took on a new dimension with the partnership agreement between Swatch and The 54th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, presented to the press in Venice in June, 2011 prior to the opening of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art show. Swatch will serve again as main partner in support of contemporary art at the 2013 editon of La Biennale di Venezia.
Among the artists whose work has enriched the story of Swatch & Art are those whose creativity is often seen first on the catwalks and runways of the world’s coolest cities, from Paris and Milan to London, Tokyo and Shanghai. Swatch has worked closely with leading designers to create Swatch Specials and new collections. Among the most well received work for Swatch have been timepieces designed by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, David LaChapelle, Cassette Playa and Jeremy Scott. Swatch has also celebrated the art of haute couture in a fruitful collaboration with high-end Swiss fabric makers Jakob Schlaepfer, and through new work by China’s Uma Wang.
Permanent innovation – new products
In the nearly 30 years since the first Swatch Gents caught the world by surprise, the Swiss watchmaker has introduced an extraordinary series of innovative products, from the first Swatch Originals to the Skin and an amazing variety of Swatch Irony watches—including the extraordinary Chrono Automatic. The signature Swatch material, plastic, is back in a big way (Chrono Plastic) with all kinds of exciting and trendy new colours, shapes and sizes. The Colour Code collection presents a seemingly infinite variety of colours, and the New Gent Collection combined the brand’s signature flair for colour in plastic with a big case offering plenty of space for designers to play with eye-catching dial visuals. The New Gent Lacquered gives Swatch transparency a twist with cut-away dials revealing watchworks components of many different colours and assembled: the colours are chosen at random from a broad range, and assembled in combinations that make each watch unique. Another recent expression of the innovative Swatch spirit is Swatch Touch, a colourful new line of trend-setting timekeepers with big-screen LCD dials and a touch-sensitive zone in place of pushbuttons. Swatch Touch brings streetwise trends to the wrist, showing inspiration from urban rhythms and electric sounds, and from the sheer exuberance of sports.
Sports are an essential component of the Swatch identity. Swatch has been promoting and supporting action and lifestyle sports since the very beginning—sports that challenge young men and women to make the most of themselves. Swatch shows its support through official timekeeping and sponsorships of a wide range of projects and exciting events all over the world. The 2011 debut of the Swatch Skiers Cup, held in Chile, added another exciting event to the roster of Swatch-backed sports events. Women’s surfing enjoyed a big boost in visibility—with the help of Swatch’s full support for the Swatch Girls Pro France and—an absolute first—the Swatch Girls Pro China. No official ASP surf event had ever taken place in China before Swatch made the move.
Swatch and its long-term partner, World Snowboard Tour, have established a unique collaboration that celebrates freestyle snowboarding in a creative and engaging new way: Athletes, fans and designers everywhere can partake of the excitement by submitting their designs for the World Snowboard Tour Trophy to the Swatch Art Rules Design Competition.
Swatch’s long-standing commitment to action sports also finds expression in its role as Title Sponsor of the Swatch Freeride World Tour for 2012-2014. The brand’s close association with these thrilling competitions (Freeride Snowboard and Skiing) began with the Verbier Xtreme event in 1996 and evolved to a partnership beginning with the launch of the Freeride World Tour in 2008.
Swatch and Beach Volleyball have a long history together, and the brand has built a worldwide reputation as a strong supporter of the sport as it spread from its origins on the sandy beaches of Southern California to today’s purpose-built stadiums around the world. Since 2003, Swatch upped its support of the sport to a full-blown partnership with the FIVB, and in 2012 celebrates its tenth year as Title Sponsor of the FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH WORLD TOUR.
The Swatch Proteam brings together top athletes from a wide range of challenging, exciting and creative disciplines such as snowboarding, freeskiing, FMX and surfing as well as beach volleyball. Like the Swatch Proteam members, Swatch loves to push the limits and dares to make the impossible happen.