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Swatch: The Watch Phenomenon

Brian Eno, Kiki Picasso, Vivienne Westwood, Keith Harring, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Mimo Paladino, Jean-Michel Jarre and more recently, the Blue Man Group, Billy the Artist, Ted Scapa, Matthew Langille and France's Grems have all helped link the Swatch watch collection to an artist movment. Features in the Guinness Book of Records, the remarkable brand celebrated the sale of its 333 millionth timepiece in 2006 in Lugano and remains a reference in its sector. It will forever be remembered as the prodigy that revolutionised traditional watchmaking, giving it a new lease of life.

Swatch's name is said to be the contraction of two words: Swiss and watch. Be that as it may, the plastic watch has achieved unparalleled success thanks to the marketing genius of Nicolas Hayek, who realised that the first generation of timepieces designed by two talented researches, Elmar Mock and Jacques Muller, could trigger a global revival of the Swiss watchmaking market. The venture began in 1982 with the launch of the first generation of Swatch in the United States. At the time, Swatch's products were fun watches of traditional design, weighing only 20 grams and water-resistant to 30 metres. They were completely made of plastic and seemingly all in one piece. In fact, the Plexiglas crystal was ultrasound-welded to the case, which was initially moulded from ABS (a high resistance, easy to use plastic). The fifty-one-part quartz mechanism used throughout the first series was directly integrated in the case and could not be dismantled. The reasonable price and sturdiness of Swatch's models and their endless variations combined with targeting advertising underlining their collector potential did the rest over the 1980s.

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A child of the advertising years, Swatch and the enthusiasm it aroused were symptomatic of a time when the consumption of manufactured goods reached unheard of levels. Of course, all of the tricks that helped to increase sales were perfected during the first years. Numbered limited editions and variations on an artistic theme made Swatch watches a cult item for collectors. Today, they are collected less than in the past, but still have a particular appeal for those in their forties, who associate them with memories of their teenage years. As for the brand's variations, along with its other sometimes quirky ranges, it has recently proved its great sense of humour with a 007 Villain Collection series, each of whose twenty-two different collectable models is associated with one of the more memorable bad guys from the James Bond spy movies.

Today, Swatch products, which are still reasonably priced (with the possible exception of a few much publicised models, including the Diaphane One Turning Gold presented at the end of 2006, a kind of tourbillon made in a limited series of only 100 copies), are in the news again, this time because of the original distribution methods the brand is currently using on the internet. Perfectly suited to this type of retailing, Swatch's affordable products aimed mainly at a young, dynamic clientele at ease with new technologies certainly has many more surprises in store for us.

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