Finally! A Swatch watch post that's NOT about the Moonswatch! Instead, I pose the following question: Sistem51 - A triumph of engineering or tragedy of industry?

So, as most of you probably know, a few years back, Swatch group used the engineers at ETA, and engineered the Sistem 51 movement - a Swiss Made automatic watch made with only 51 pieces and completely held together by a single screw. A movement which was able to be completely assembled by machine, without any human intervention whatsoever. As the Swatch website's marketing states: "Automatic and amagnetic movement, powered by your movement, with only 51 pieces and 1 central screw, and a 90-hour power reserve. Welcome to the Mechanical Revolution." But is it really a mechanical revolution for the wearer? Sure, in creating the Sistem51, Swatch created a truly cheap, automatic movement affordable by almost everyone, and one which still permits that coveted "Swiss made" to be printed on the dial. But this achievement comes at considerable cost - a cost which is arguably too high. The Sistem51 is specifically designed to be an unservicable, disposable movement, filled with plastic components that will grow brittle with age and time and will inevitably wind up in landfills around the globe. If the regulation fails due to a knock or some other reason, the whole watch is rendered useless garbage. Also, is there a point to an automatic mechanical movement made and built by computers and robots alone, with no human intervention whatsoever? Isn't the whole reason that many of us keep mechanical timepieces on our wrist the fact that we are amazed that human ingenuity managed to take the power of a coiled spring and get it to tell time with over 99% accuracy, despite the inevitable human imperfections? So, is the Sistem51 a true achievement? Do you think that the compromises incurred are worth it for someone who is just getting started on a budget but who wants an automatic watch with the "Swiss Made" label on the dial? I can see the pros and cons of the argument, but I'm curious as to what my fellow Crunchers think -- so let me know through the poll and your comments below. I'm genuinely interested to know your thoughts.

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Yes, it's soulless, but so is the 7S26 or NH35. Ok, there may be a human involved with those at some point, but they aren't monuments to human achievement. They're the cheapest movements Seiko could make that would fulfill whatever requirements they'd come up with. The bar might have been a little higher, but the goal of cheapness was still there.

And like quartz movements, maybe every watch doesn't have to be about "soul". Say what you will, but even nice quartz movements are still machine-made electronics with some decoration. So I think there's a place for stuff like this; it might not be on your wrist, but there's still a place for it. And let's not gloss over 90hr of power reserve. That's better than almost every watch I own, despite their dozens of screws.

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It is what it is as they say. A sub note in horology. And many more to come. Always good to have a healthy discussion. Remember all watches have a soul. It's just their souls are somewhat different but they all count time. Time doesn't care who counts it, it will march on.

Cheers!

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I think it's a nice tribute to the history of Swatch, and how they saved the industry. It does have good accuracy at +-7 spd and 90 hr reserve. And it's a $150 watch, so you can't expect too much. And the truth is that even high end Swiss makers are using highly automated production lines. Unless you are talking Patek Phillip and such. Even Rolex is highly dependent on automation.

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It's an interesting proof of concept. This is a plastic automatic movement. I mean, it's precisely what one would expect from Swatch.

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It’s the zenith of late twentieth century concept really. (Whenever it came out, it’s very much the miracles of disposable plastic and machine automated manufacture) It just exists in a time where people may not want or need it, and it terms of its serviceability and disposable nature, that’s some Swatch themselves could address if they wanted. (Recycling services, providing movement swaps if someone is sentimental about them)

I wouldn’t be against it, but this should be an every man’s watch, rather than a novelty time teller item — which Swatch has hewn ever closer to being over the years. Gone are the days when kids swapped straps like trading cards for their pop-swatches (well off kids even then…) so outside of hobbyists and collectors of various things, I am not even sure what Swatch is for these days.

But I kind of like some of them.

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Yea no, hard pass from me. Hate unfixable stuff, and plastic anything.

On the matter of soul: I like to believe a "soul" is awarded - granted - acquired - grown over time - it's not a factory option. What has more soul - a battered old Seiko 5 that has been on its owner's wrist since 30 years, a watch he travelled, graduated, married with, or a fine Patek that hasn't experienced anything but the inside of a safe? Thus, even a plastic Sistem51can acquire one, only to die after some years, like your pet did, and you're gonna be sad.

Unless you see your watch as just a fashion accessory - but is that the person you want to be, a guy that shows-off with a plastic throwaway, that ends up in a landfill, completely useless until the sun goes ker-flooey?

150 bucks buy you a nice NH35 ticker that can still be fixed in eons to come.

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It's an aesthetic outrage due to the ridiculous size. Were it a System34 or even 38 I'd be more charitable. There is no shortage of discussion saying that cheap movements are better replaced than repaired, so the disposability doesn't annoy me. Much. I similarly don't have delusions of little Swiss watchmakers hunched over with loupes in their eyes.

I wish I knew exactly why the design is inherently unserviceable. I suspect that could be remedied with minimal effort were they interested.

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Mechanical watches are a collectible, a luxury good, a status symbol, and an anachronism. But you can only modify an anachronism so much, before it ceases to exist. There is no real innovation in this space, as better options already exist, and just making watches less expensive is also no guaranteed success, as the entry-level market is notoriously fickle.

In other words, I have no idea what market opportunity the Sistem51 was trying to take advantage of. It's however obvious that the Swatch Group has learned from this.

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OscarKlosoff

It's an aesthetic outrage due to the ridiculous size. Were it a System34 or even 38 I'd be more charitable. There is no shortage of discussion saying that cheap movements are better replaced than repaired, so the disposability doesn't annoy me. Much. I similarly don't have delusions of little Swiss watchmakers hunched over with loupes in their eyes.

I wish I knew exactly why the design is inherently unserviceable. I suspect that could be remedied with minimal effort were they interested.

Um, 51 refers to the number of parts, not the size. They appear to be 42mm; sure, bigger than I like, but well in the realm of normal.

I've been told that Swatch swaps out ETA movements in cheaper watches when they're sent in for service, and it probably doesn't pay to have a $300 watch serviced, so they're in effect disposable.

The cases are sealed, so they're impossible to open without destroying the watch.

Yeah, disposable is wasteful, but in the scheme of how much plastic you throw away in a day, versus one of these every few years, it's negligible. If these get watches onto wrists, and seeing the movement tick and tock through the caseback turns people on to mechanical movements, these are a net good for the watch industry.

On a side note, I like Eco-Drive watches, but the Eco- part is more marketing than reality. Saving a little button battery every few years makes no appreciable difference to the waste stream.