Review: Swatch Sistem51

Sistem51 Black Front  Sistem51 Red Flat

After a few weeks with the Sistem51 I am ready to write my final opinion on the piece. As a fan of innovative mechanics, I was incredibly anxious to get this watch on my wrist. Fortunately I have some wonderful family in Geneva who helped me out in this quest. While we unfortunately live in a world where people don’t get excited too excited over reasonably priced watches, and “innovation” usually comes with a price tag of over $20,000, it is refreshing to be able to write (positively) about a new piece that every watch lover can (and should) enjoy.

At first glance these watches, packaging and all, are indistinguishable from regular Swatches. Initially I expected more, but then again, most people don’t really care for the innovation, they just want an automatic Swatch. Only nerds like me really care about the movement inside. I will first cover the nerdy parts and then delve into hands on experience of the watch. Should you not care for the engineering part you can go right down to the section titled “On The Wrist.”

For those who do not know the details, the Sistem51 is the first mechanical watch assembled entirely by machine. In this day and age that sounds like an odd concept, but when one sees the intricacy of mechanical watches, it becomes clear just how tough of a feat this was to accomplish. Watchmaking is one of the few industries where people are absolutely necessary for the very fine and iterative micromechanical movements needed to assemble a watch. Wheels and pinions need to be precisely aligned, the balance wheel needs to be lined up perfectly in the pallet fork, and several tiny compound movements are required to assemble and properly fit mechanisms. Because all the parts are dynamic no two assemblies are exactly the same, making the process nearly impossible to automatize. What is further impressive is that Swatch included a date function on the watch, meaning that there were several functions back and front to be assembled by a machine. All of these components are held together by a single screw visible on the back. This whole package is then hermetically sealed. There is no way into the watch for service. It is expected to run for 20 years without intervention.

Sistem51 Red Rotor Sistem51 Black Rotor 2

Engineering aside, this movement solves a growing problem for the Swiss watch industry. As price points for mechanical movements decline mostly due to the low costs of labor in Asia, Swiss manufacturers find themselves in a market where they cannot compete for mass quantity cheap mechanical movements. In a world where cost has won out over quality, the Swiss have found themselves in a losing battle, but this new low-cost, high-quality mechanical movement that allows a fashion watch to say “Swiss Made” has the potential to change the market entirely. Because the movements are made without human hands, they can achieve scale without offshoring or needing to up labor costs drastically. While this is total speculation, this is my hypothesis for why this movement was finally made. As there is no more valuable single attribute to a watch, the Swiss are banking on their name and some innovative manufacturing to recapture a market in which they have lost ground. As Swatch CEO Nicholas Hayek said in an interview with watch insider (found here: controlling the lower market segment allows for a better command of the middle and upper segments (as well as making your business much healthier.) As the most dominant force in all market segments, he clearly understands the importance of his company’s creation. The Sistem51 will hopefully allow them to truly recapture this segment from further international encroachment and give consumers a confidence in the quality of lower cost automatic watches. The precision and quality of Swiss manufacturing has been the gold standard for centuries, and the more that that quality can be brought to the broader market, and accessible to all, the better.

On The Wrist

When I first got this watch the first thing I did was to check all the functions. The manual wind spins in the opposite direction one would expect but there is nothing bad about that, it just takes some getting used to.  The quickset date is always a great function and works perfectly. The only thing I noticed that was consistently off (I got three watches) was when the date changed. The date flipped more than one hour and 40 minutes late. This was a frustrating thing to be so off. The movement is entirely sealed there is no way to change this problem. Looking past this however there is plenty to like about this watch.

The rotor is clear allowing for an unobstructed view of the mechanics. Swatch also made the rotation visually stunning by adding patters to the back of the movement and the perimeter of the rotor creating a very nice sight as the rotor moves. The constellation patters on the dial makes for a unique and eye catching front as well.

Sistem51 Black Rotor

Sistem51 Red Dial Close-up   Sistem51 Black Flat

The size of the watch is normal by today’s standards and is very well suited to both a man’s wrist or a woman who prefers timepieces on the larger side. Because of the plastic construction (Similar to the Tissot 2250) the weight is incredibly light. The slight downside to this low weight is that vibration is very easily detectable on the wrist and as a result you can occasionally hear and feel the rotor winding

Sistem51 Rotors

The band comes in either leather or on a silicone. The latter is unbelievably comfortable. As an everyday or a sports watch it wears lightly and comfortably. The slightly dressed up black version that comes on a leather band has a less pronounced constellation design on the front making it blend well in a more dressy setting.

Sistem51 Black Angle

The Sistem51 is the most wearable piece of horological innovation in a long time. If you don’t care for innovation, it is still an attractive and comfortable Swatch. While its not super fancy, its innovation definitely makes it a staple for any watch collection. With a price tag in the $200-300 range this watch is affordable on almost any watch budget.

Sistem51 Red Angle   Sistem51 Black Angle

6 comments on “Review: Swatch Sistem51

  1. ep says:

    How do you wind the Sistem51, from up-to-down I was told.

  2. Edgar says:

    I gave my girlfriend one and was worried about the date flipping at 1:40 … but reading that you had the same with three other watches it seems to be normal. However I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out .. why?

    • aberlow says:

      Interesting to hear someone who clearly bought it later and in a different place experience the same issue. To be honest I’m not positive why. Usually hand setting is a human process and so deviations are identifiable and correctable on the fly. Given that these are done by machine, and that people are consistently seeing the date flipping with around the same deviation, I would hypothesize that there is about a 1:40 delay between movement assembly and the hand setting part of the assembly line, and the manufacturing engineers didn’t compensate.

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