Another factor to consider is anniversaries. Not only is Blancpain right now celebrating its dive watch’s 70th anniversary with a series of special editions, this year is also the 10th birthday of Swatch’s innovative automatic movement Sistem51.
Swatch launched in 1983 and built its reputation churning out cheerful and colorful plastic fashion watches. By 2006, the firm was celebrating its 333 millionth Swatch. Inside each of these was a quartz movement at the time considered a technical marvel: it had just 51 parts, a little over half the number required by most quartz movements.
For the brand’s 30th anniversary in 2013 it wanted to replicate this technical feat, only with an equally affordable automatic (or self-winding) mechanical watch. Mechanical watch movements have around 130 components. Echoing the quartz, Swatch set about developing an automatic that would also have just 51 parts.
It took two years to perfect and shocked the entire watch industry when announced—not just because it dared to feature plastic escapement parts but also for the sheer achievement of creating an automatic watch movement with only 51 parts that boasted a 90-hour power reserve (the norm then was around 40 hours). Not only that, its claimed accuracy of plus/minus 7 seconds a day made it accurate enough to qualify for chronometer status—an honor at the time used as marketing leverage by the likes of Rolex, Omega, and Breitling.
Automatic for the People
It may be less well known that its stablemate, but it’s fair to say that Blancpain is considered to be a higher luxury brand than Omega within watch circles, which is why Swatch using its automatic Sistem51 movement in this collaboration, and not the quartz offering in the MoonSwatch, makes sense. Watch aficionados prize mechanical movements over quartz.
What’s more puzzling is that Swatch appears to favor repeating the questionable launch tactics it used for MoonSwatch last year. March 26 saw scenes of pandemonium around the globe. London’s Carnaby Street location lasted half an hour before police were called. In New York, scuffles broke out amid rumors of a stabbing in the line. In Singapore a store was forced to shut for 10 days in a bid to let the mayhem play itself out.
Despite this, Nick Hayek has confirmed that the retail rollout of the Blancpain collab will seemingly be exactly the same as MoonSwatch. This week, yellow display suitcases appeared in the windows of Swatch stores around the world, where the watches will go on sale on September 9.
The use of Bioceramic, Swatch’s patented ecoplastic alternative, a polymer made from the oil of castor beans with zirconium oxide, a ceramic substance used for scratchproof, robust, hypoallergenic cases in high-end watchmaking, is also of note. Hayek told WIRED last year that the manipulation of this material is by far the most onerous part of the process. Despite investment in new Bioceramic extrusion machines, as well as more manufacturing equipment, injection tooling, and printing machines, Swatch has seemingly struggled to produce MoonSwatch in volumes to match consumer demand. How it manages to meet MoonSwatch production expectations and Scuba Fifty Fathom ones remains to be seen.
When the Scuba Fifty Fathoms go on sale in Swatch stores on Saturday, perhaps eager buyers will have learned the lessons from the Omega collaboration rollout and exercise some patience. It may be some time before Blancpain’s MoonSwatch moment becomes widely available.
The $400 Scuba Fifty will be sold in the following US Swatch stores: Ala Moana in Hawaii, NY NY in Las Vegas, 5th Ave and TSQ in New York, Powell in SFO, Houston Galleria, Lincoln Road in Miami, Millenia in Orlando, and NorthPark in Dallas.