Swatch, the brand that is just about everyone’s first watch, celebrated their 40th birthday this week. On March 1, 1983, Swatch unveiled its first collection of plastic cased, battery powered watches, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it just might have saved the Swiss watch industry. After a long period of dominance in the mass production of watches, quartz watches made by Japanese companies at a massive scale radically changed the watchmaking landscape, putting the traditional mechanical watchmaking industry into something of a tailspin. The massive success of Swatch through the 80s and into the 90s injected cash and enthusiasm into Swiss watchmaking that the industry still benefits from to this day.
We write about anniversaries all the time in these pages. As we’re all fond of saying, “Every year is an anniversary year.” But in the coverage of the big Swatch 4-0 that I’ve seen this week, I’ve much more commonly heard it referred to as a “birthday,” and I think that’s important. Anniversaries can be joyous occasions, but the word implies a certain seriousness that isn’t right for Swatch. A birthday is different. It’s fun, there’s cake, and hopefully some color. That’s how I think of Swatch (minus the cake).