Article By: Logan Hannen

What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to take a look at the most recent watch to grace my collection, the Swatch Sistem51 – more specifically, the thing’s revolutionary movement.

If we care about simplicity the way we’re amazed by complications, I think the watch world would be a very different kind of space. Oftentimes we go out of our way to see how many complications we can fit into a single piece without making it too thick, and we even regard a movement being thin as a complication in its own right. But nobody really gives much of a damn about how simplistic something is. Really, it’s hard to do a movement with no extra frills or fuss, let alone one that takes it beyond the ultra-simple Seiko NH35. Yet, Swatch did exactly that.

Several examples of the Swatch Sistem51
Source: Swatch

So by now you’ve probably seen, heard of, or maybe even owned a Sistem51. Most of us know the basic principle, that they took a mechanical watch movement and boiled it down to 51 essential components, and removed everything else, and that they then had everything assembled by machine and, with the plastic ones, everything hermetically sealed so it could never be serviced. The Irony models have since updated this feature, now allowing the movements to be serviced by specially trained watchmakers who are familiar with the piece’s design.

The Swatch FLY, of the Sistem51 “Irony” Collection
Source: Swatch

The movement, with its 90 hour power reserve and only 51 parts and one central crew holding the whole thing together does have some drawbacks, though. A trip inside the movement does reveal some slightly horrendous construction choices, including a plastic pallet fork and escape wheel that have, I’m sure, contributed to the slightly questionable timekeeping that the piece has become slightly notorious for. Is plastic the end of the world? No, of course not, otherwise Swatch wouldn’t have produced it. However, it might be responsible for some of the performance issues people have experienced.

Now, with all of that said, that doesn’t make the Sistem51 a bad watch at all. The plastic models go for about $150, the steel for just under $200, and with that, you get a Swiss made automatic watch with a movement that, faulty choices aside, is still REALLY cool to look at and does generally keep time well enough that you won’t find yourself thinking it’s 3 in the afternoon when, in reality, it’s 8 in the morning. Slight tip, though: if you pick one up, remember that it hand-winds, but you have to turn the crown counter-clockwise instead of clockwise like you would normally. I spent almost half an hour when I first got mine thinking it was broken because I couldn’t get it to hand wind in a decent way. I ended up spewing profanity in everything from English to Swedish until I finally got it right, so don’t be me – keep it classy, watchfam.