Forgive me if I’m in a somewhat bleak state of mind, it’s only partly from listening to Radiohead consistently for over 20 years. I have what’s known as MoonSwatch Fatigue, and it’s spilled right over into the release of the newest bioceramic mashup, the aforementioned Scuba Fifty Fathoms (which some are calling the Scuba Fifty – it’s a little confusing), the latest collaboration between Swatch and an unlikely corporate sibling.
I’ll say right up front: I have not handled this watch. Maybe in hand and on the wrist it’s absolutely magnificent. I have to leave that door open. But as an idea, frankly, I don’t like it. The MoonSwatch was fun for a minute, and as a kind of tough to get (but not really) souvenir, it had some charm, at least at the start. But spending some time with one reveals that at the end of the day, it’s an inexpensive profit machine for the Swatch Group. Something that can be made on the (relative) cheap by one of the biggest watchmaking firms in the world, and sold at exactly the right price in exactly the right quantities so as to extract maximum cash from those long lines at Swatch boutiques. Why wouldn’t Swatch try to repeat the formula as often as possible? There have been jokes about Swatch x Breguet possibilities, but I think it’s only a matter of time until we actually see it.
So, yes, this strikes me as a somewhat cynical cash grab play by Swatch. But, I mean, that’s honestly not so bad, right? We’re certainly used to it. All watch brands exist to make money. What I find completely absurd about the Scuba Fifty Fathoms is the head spinning, crazy-making logic behind use of the Sistem51 movement. We know that marketing materials from Jean-Claude Biver’s days at the helm of Blancpain proudly claimed that no Blancpain watch would ever use a quartz movement. All well and good, it’s fine to take a stand, and this was in the aftermath of the Quartz Crisis, and a smart marketing play to underscore the luxury and exclusivity of mechanical movements. But it’s 2023, and the thinking on quartz vs. mechanical has evolved somewhat.
The thing about the Sistem51 is that this movement was designed to be disposable. They are not serviceable, and if you wear the watch with any frequency, it is almost certain to need a service before too long, speaking from personal experience with my own Sistem51 watches, which I’ve happened to enjoy. The fact of the matter though is that this is mechanical caliber made in a largely automated process, held together with a single screw. They’re just not very robust, and it blows my mind that anyone at Blancpain would think this movement was more in line with their values than a modern quartz caliber, the likes of which run in an incomprehensible number of Swatches without incident every single day.
The complete disposability of this watch, combined with what is sure to be a MoonSwatch-like hysteria for it at launch, makes me a little queasy. The argument I’ve heard in the last few days that this kind of thing brings more people into the hobby is undermined in my view by the hype and flipping factor (will anyone who is first in line not have an eBay listing ready before the doors open at the boutique?) and the simple fact that a Sistem51 powered watch might not be the best choice to bring new blood into our world. It’s like the old saying: you never really own a Sistem51, you just look after it, until it winds up in a landfill, with all the green plastic watering cans, and fake rubber plants. Swatch