iW Magazine
On the Wrist

Robo Chrono: Swatch Sistem51 Sistem Blue Showcase and Perspective

In 2013, Swatch Group stunned the crowds at Baselworld with a product launch that literally caused worlds to collide: the Swatch Sistem51.

Built and adjusted entirely by robots, the Sistem51 merged the technology of Swatch's bedrock "fashion watch" brand with the automatic mechanical signature of the Group's flagship luxury brands. With 51 movement parts, 19 pivot jewels, five modules, and only one (!) screw, the Sistem51's ETA caliber C10111 flew in the face of convention within the conservative domain of mechanical watchmaking.

The Sistem51 Sistem Blue (ref. SUTS401) featured herein was one of the launch models when the watch began to reach consumers in the fall of 2013 (Europe) and mid 2014 (North America). Its 42mm translucent blue plastic case measures 13.5mm thick and 50.5mm from lug-to-lug. 30M/3ATM water resistance provides protection agains splashes only and precludes waterborne use.

The dial features a constellation motif anchored by five red "stars" the mark the location of pivot jewels in the movement below the dial itself. Luminescence is provided for access to the time in reduced or zero-light conditions. A monotone date disc sits at three o'clock, and it can be advanced for corrections with a quick set function that engages in the second crown position.

Technically, the ETA caliber C10111 is a unique case. While most mechanical watch movements employ dozens of screws to affix bridges, plates, levers, and to enable adjustment, the C10111 is assembled - permanently - with soldering of all five of the caliber's primary modules.

The balance assembly is a case study in minimalism and cost-effective engineering. A full balance bridge provides a measure of shock protection; exceptionally, the hairspring is affixed to the balance on one end and the base plate of the movement on its other extremity. In a fairly direct nod to the 1970s Tissot Astrolon plastic calibers 2250 and 2270, the escape wheel and anchor are molded from a synthetic polymer and bereft of metal and pallet stones. However, the use of ARCAP alloy in the bridges and plate is a eyebrow-raising distinction. This anti-magnetic metal is better known as the basis of calibers issued by URWERK in its avant grade output and Corum in its Ti-Bridge tourbillons.

The ETA Caliber C10111 runs at a 21,600 VpH beat rate; the slightly slower-than-standard rate and large mainspring barrel enable the automatic watch to store up to 90 hours of power reserve when fully-energized.

Swatch's robot assembly line regulates the Sistem51's movement by dynamically poising the balance with lasers that remove material from the balance until it runs to specified tolerances. Once regulated, the movement is sealed into the case for life. Structural adhesive secures both the acrylic crystal over the dial and its opposite number on the display caseback.

Ultimately, the Sistem51 is a watch that engenders STRONG feelings. For the most part, traditional watch enthusiasts have embraced it with cautious enthusiasm. As an alternative to Swatch's more common quartz calibers, it appeals to traditionalists, and most regard the Sistem51 as an ideal gateway to propel younger audiences to the world of mechanical watches.

Nevertheless, enthusiast trepidation arises from the use of automation in every phase of the Sistem51's production, the removal of human hands and a watchmaker's loupe, the reduction of traditional materials and workmanship in the movement, and the potential for these techniques to slither upmarket into the world of luxury watches.

Three-and-a-half years after its launch, one fact about the Swatch Sistem51 remains beyond dispute; this watch gets people talking.

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