The History of Swatch

The invention of the “Swatch” watch

One of the most popular watch brands in the world today, Swatch is based in Bienne (or Biel), Switzerland — the country known in the world for its timepieces. These colorful, fun and unique designs have helped Swatch find a  place in the world of watch fashion.

Dr. Ernst Thomke (who was then the CEO of another watchmaking company ETA SA) and his small team of watch engineers invented a kind of watch that used far fewer components than the traditional mechanical watches. This was in 1983, and the new watch they invented was called “Swatch.” (a coined name from the words “Second Watch”). The same engineers had also invented the thinnest wristwatch in the world at that time, the Concord Delirium.

You can’t blame these watchmakers regarding their decision to create timepieces that would be cheaper than the traditional mechanical watches that elevated the country in the first place. At that time Switzerland was mired in a watchmaking crisis, due to the advent of the quartz watches in the 1970s that mostly originated from Japan (such as Citizen and Seiko). The popularity of the quartz eventually eclipsed those of the Swiss mechanical watch, which left Swiss watchmakers and companies struggling. The birth of Swatch came as a right smack because by the time the crisis had reached a severe and critical point.

Swatch as a major factor of the Swiss’ resurgence in the global wristwatches market

Lebanese-Swiss businessman Nicolas G. Hayek enters the picture. He was asked by a group of Swiss bankers to oversee the liquidation of the two failing watch companies ASUAG and SSIH, which led to the merger of Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie. This merger which Hayek spearheaded coincided with the invention of the Swatch watch that Dr. Thomke invented; Dr. Thomke was later made as the first president of the newly formed conglomerate. Hayek and his other group of investors took a major shareholding of the Swatch company in 1985, and the SMH would later be re-named the Swatch Group.

Under Hayek’s decisive leadership and brilliant, innovative marketing strategies as well as the watches themselves, the Swatch watch helped the Swiss recover from its sluggish performance in the last few years. These Swatch watches were used with fewer mechanical components as well as outer synthetic parts such as the plastic watchcases and watch straps which came in a wide array of colors, designs, and artwork — even some of the world-renowned artists have contributed to the designs of these Swatch watches.

These very materials made Swatch watches less expensive to produce, therefore translating into higher profitability. Because of these factors, Swatch became really popular with the lower end of the wristwatch market which the Swiss eventually managed to re-capture after having lost it to the Japanese makers.

Although Swatch watches were primarily seen as casual fashion timepieces because of their colorful, fun designs, the company would otherwise like to maintain that their watches themselves were serious products of craftsmanship.

Hayek’s determination and innovative leadership, as well as the company’s unique marketing expertise, brought Swatch as one of the biggest wristwatch makers in the world. The success of the company also restored Switzerland’s position as a major global player in the wristwatch market. Swatch had also begun manufacturing stainless-steel watches and chronographs in addition to their famous plastic wristwatches.

The legacy of Swatch

Hayek became Swatch’s Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO in 1986. His son Nick Hayek took over the CEO position in 2003, while the senior Hayek remained as Chairman of the Board until his death on June 28, 2010. Only two days after his death, his daughter Nayla assumed the Chairman of the Board of Directors position.

The history of this great plastic Swatch watch has left lessons of perseverance, ingenuity, overcoming difficulties, and the fact that originality and luxury don’t have to come with a big price. When you think of a fun and colorful casual watch, you’d automatically think of Swatch.

The types of Swatch design styles

  • Originals – the most common and most popular Swatch design, these watches come in plastic cases and feature several different shapes, sizes, colors and designs
  • Irony – the metal watches
  • Skin – introduced in 1997, this is the even thinner version of the Original Swatch watches, at no more than 3.9 millimeters thick. The Skin watches are so thin that they even hit the record books as the thinnest watches in the world ever. The Skin design come in two subtypes: the Original Skin and the Skin Chronograph.
  • Beat – formally known as the “Swatch Internet Time,” the Beat measures time in a decimal method.
  • Bijoux – Swatch partnered with luxury crystals maker Swarovski to introduce crystal-encrusted models.