As Swatch’s 40th birthday was approaching, I started to think of what to do on this blog. I knew I had to do something. I almost felt pressured to, with people asking me what I was planning. Of course, I didn’t mind, on the contrary, I was looking forward to it. But also, I was a bit nervous: what could I offer that brings any value, any extra insight, considering not only all the literature that exists but the large coverage we can expect from watch and even mainstream media on the special day?
The idea of interviewing Andreas Wiethoff actually came indirectly from someone at Swatch. At the Swatch museum, specifically. As we were discussing the upcoming anniversary, she mentioned something related to Stay Tuned To Swatch, the reference when it comes to the brand’s unofficial past and present. That is when I thought: of course! If he is up for it, why not interview the collector who has been passionately chronicling Swatch for over a quarter of a century?
Andreas not only kindly accepted, but also gave me answers that exceeded my expectations. His passion and knowledge are highly communicative. Beyond that, he provides a fascinating insider view into how the Swatch collector community was formed and interacts, both among itself and with the brand. His words are a testimony and a reminder that for any success in watchmaking, it is the people behind the product, both those who make them and those buy them, who are at the center of the adventure.
For those who don’t know yet… What is Stay Tuned To Swatch?
“Stay Tuned To Swatch” is probably the longest running Swatch collectors website on the internet, it was started in 1996 and has been updated non stop ever since. The website aggregates news, rumors, photos, information about upcoming and older Swatch watch releases. Additionally, I try to provide photos and reports about Swatch Club events and other Swatch happenings in local markets, both with and without my participation. Someone said a few years ago: Stay Tuned To Swatch is the “CNN of the Swatch world”.
How was the project born?
In 1992, I was infected with the “Swatch virus” when a friend showed me a few Swatch Chronos and Scubas. He was a team member of “Team Telekom” (the professional cycling team) [1-2 years before Jan Ullrich] and he often swapped and sold Swatch Chronos and Scubas to his Italian team mates. This was at the height of the first Swatch craze. In the following years, I bought a few Chronos, Gents and Scubas and I participated at my first Swatch event (Lake Constance with the “Bodensee glass bottle” in 1994). All of this was not very spectacular until…
It all changed in 1996 when we participated at the “Access To Space” event at the Verkehrshaus in Luzern where I met quite a few Swatch collectors from Germany and Switzerland. The internet was about to “take off”, still mostly at universities back then (anyone remember the Netscape browser?). I decided to publish a small report with a few photos about the event (hosted on the webserver of the University in Karlsruhe). Earlier in the year 1996, I had also participated at net.hunt, the first ever online game by Swatch. Through this incredibly tough game, I had met Brian, also a Swatch collector from the USA, who is still a very good friend of mine after all these years.
After the “Access To Space” event, I started a “News” section on my website which has been growing with information snippets on an almost daily basis since then. As eBay was not yet really born, my website was also a good contact point for Swatch collectors from all around the world. We swapped parcels with local Swatch specials across the globe, only based on trust… This helped to avoid inflated Swatch prices at auctions or Swatch fairs (who remembers when “Swatch fairs” was a thing?). Back then, the overall Swatch collectors community was bigger compared to today, with many local specials released in editions of 500 to 2000 pieces.
What have been the key milestones since Stay Tuned To Swatch was created, 27 years ago?
The design of my website is unchanged since day one (I added “mobile friendliness” only last year) so it looks a bit plain. But it still attracts a few hundred visitors every day, so it still makes sense to invest the effort. Throughout the years, there have been many Swatch collector websites, almost all of them looked better than mine. But it is hard to keep a website alive for more than 2-3 years. So many of these other Swatch collector websites are gone now, unfortunately.
So “keeping the Swatch news alive and kicking” during all those years is what I am most proud of, even it is not really a “milestone”.
“Meeting all those crazy Swatch collectors” is really the biggest asset in this awkward Swatch collecting hobby (yes, it is also about Swatch watches). Lots of friendships across Europe and the rest of the globe, we met at so many different places via Swatch Club Gold and Pioneer and Xmas events, “Swatch takes you places” as they say.
In the “museum” section of the website, there is a list of 185 Swatch events which were documented and photographed since the early 90s. I guess that I have participated in about 80 to 100 of these events. The most memorable events I will always remember:
- EXPO’98 Lisbon one of the top 3 events ever with a fantastic and super friendly organization by the Portuguese hosts. Portugal has been one of my favorite countries since then.
- Laax’99 Boarder X finals getting my first autograph by Swatch founder Nicolas G. Hayek sr. on my orange Swatch down vest. A photo of this autograph on the vest is now the “logo” of the Stay Tuned To Swatch website since 1999.
- Grenchen club swatch launch in 2000. My first visit to a Swatch factory, overwhelming!
- Kiruna Xmas event with a night in the world famous Ice Hotel. Best Swatch event ever and a Swatch collector friend got married in that hotel…
- Biel Goldmember event 2001 my first Gold member event after trying to become Swatch Club Gold member many times
- New York Xmas 2009 Event snowball fight on Times Square during a blizzard – priceless
- Shanghai / HK Xmas Event / Blum auction in 2011 – four Swatch collector friends (myself included) purchased the right to design their own Swatch in a limited edition of 100 pcs: Our Swatch Quattro (SUOZ194S) was finally released in 2015. The whole story of this watch (including factory visits, many design sessions, …) is documented on www.lot7.de. Surely the “key milestone” of Swatch collecting for me.
- MoonSwatch experience with Nick Hayek, Gregory Kissling (Head of Product Management at OMEGA watches) and 130 Swatch Club members, being among the first to hear the “MoonSwatch” story directly from the source, in May 2022.
What has been the relationship between Stay Tuned To Swatch and the Swatch brand, over the years?
Great (with very very few exceptions 🙂 There is no “official” or “commercial” relationship to Swatch as Stay Tuned to Swatch has nothing to sell and no commercial interests. Hence, Stay Tuned to Swatch will always try to report in an independent way, with constructive criticism if necessary.
During all those years, Swatch has always taken good care of the Swatch collectors community, in some years better than others. There were many many different and fantastic activities and events which were organized by Swatch. I have often encountered a love and enthusiastic passion for the Swatch brand and the Swatch product among the employees of Swatch and Swatch Club, similar to the enthusiasm of the “crazy Swatch collectors”. If you look at the details of the www.lot7.de story, you can see that Swatch didn’t have to do all of this (test producing marbled watch cases, factory visits, great packaging, …). All of this effort was about having a great final product in the end.
What has been the role of Stay Tuned To Swatch among the global community of Swatch fans and collectors?
There is an almost constant number of visitors to the Stay Tuned to Swatch website during the years: Several hundred every day. After the bigger Swatch Club events, I often get an email: “When will you publish your report about the event as I was not able to participate but I would love to see the photos?”. So it is an enjoyable and meaningful task to update the website with the latest Swatch gossip and reports and photos of Swatch happenings.
Sometimes, I am the first one to report about an upcoming Swatch and my website shows up at a good position in the google searches when looking for this Swatch. During this time, Stay Tuned to Swatch might get a lot of hits:
The Stay Tuned to Swatch website is not only visited by Swatch collectors but also visited by Swatch employees, e.g., Swatch store employees who want to get some information bits which can be told to customers later:
Some Swatch collectors are checking out the website on a daily basis, some less frequent.
About 5 years ago, I also started a @staytunedtoswatch Instagram account which has widened the audience for our awkward “Swatch collecting” hobby. So I guess that most of the Swatch watch collectors know about Stay Tuned to Swatch in one way or another…
40 years ago today is remembered as the official birth of Swatch. Can you tell us more about what happened on this special day?
No “first hand experience” for me as I was not (yet) into Swatch collecting. Quite a few details of the early Swatch years were shared by Swatch in 2013 during the Swatch Club Gold & Pioneer Event Strasbourg / Basel. Check this out, there are a lot of interesting details. The 30th anniversary celebrations also included a big Swatch exhibition during Baselworld 2013 (there was no permanent Swatch Museum back then!).
The presentation by Swatch in 2013 shows that twelve different Swatch Gent watches were released on March 1, 1983 during the official launch in Zurich, with sales starting in Switzerland, USA, Germany and quite a few other European countries. Back then, the cost of a Swatch watch was between 39.90 and 49.90 CHF. The presentation also states: “There are many dates where we could celebrate the birth of our brand – we decided that we celebrate 1983”.
This is the “official” version of the Swatch story. Be sure to check out two independent books about the early Swatch years as well:
- 1981 La Route De La Swatch et après… by Marlyse Schmid, Bernard Müller and Philippe J. Silaci
- Swatchissimo (1991, ISBN 9782940019007)
You will discover a lot of similarities to the official version but also some subtle differences…
I often see some confusion around this anniversary date, given the earlier test launch in the US, in October 1982. Can you tell us more about that first launch, and why it is not considered the official one?
According to the presentation by Swatch in 2013, this earlier test launch in the USA took place in Texas in November 1982, with 25 different Swatch Gent watches (starting with 10,000 watches, manufactured by hand back then). Some of these 1982 Gent Swatch watches were not part of the official launch later in 1983 (at least not in Europe), so these earlier US only Gent watches are very much sought after by collectors now: GT701, GG100, …. Apparently, this test launch in Texas was not very successful, so the marketing strategy and also the design of the Swatch watches was changed in the subsequent months and years, leading to the successful colorful 80s Swatch watches that we all know and love so well.
When you look back at Swatch history over the past 4 decades, what would you consider to be the key “eras” within it?
It definitely starts with the “birthday” years until 1984 as outlined earlier. Besides mentioning Hayek / ETA / ASUAG / … , we should remember the engineers, designers, marketing and project leads who brought Swatch into life:
- Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller for the “51 parts” and figuring out the plastic injection molding technique for the Swatch cases
- Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Müller for the design of the early Swatch watches (dial, shape of the case, early Swatch logo, …)
- Ernst Thomke (project lead at ETA)
Afterwards, we have the age of “explosive growth” (1984-1989). This will be forever tied to the successors of Schmid/Müller who were responsible for the design of those super popular 80s Swatch watches: Swiss designers Käti Robert-Durrer & Jean Robert. You can see photos of their designs (incl. lots of unreleased Swatch prototypes) in my report of their 2011 exhibition: Robert & Durrer Exhibition Winterthur.
In the 90s, Swatch The Club was founded to accommodate the Swatch collecting craze. Lots of “limited editions”, many wonderful artist specials but the market was saturated after the mid 90s.
After several more or less failed product launches (does anyone remember Jelly In Jelly or Swatch Touch or the Stop watch?) Swatch went back to its roots in the 2010s with the launch of the New Gent. Exactly the same as the ever popular Gent watch but with a larger diameter (41mm). This allows a “bigger canvas on the wrist” for artist specials which is very welcome among collectors.
How do you see Swatch today? For the general public, but also Swatch collectors. Has the brand kept its DNA over the years?
For the general public, at the moment, “Swatch” is equal to “MoonSwatch” plus a few colorful (bio)plastic watches I guess. The overwhelming success of the MoonSwatch has changed everything (also internally at Swatch) for the foreseeable future. Several “normal” Swatch product launches have been pushed back for weeks, sometimes months due to the full attention at the MoonSwatch (more stores, more MoonSwatch promotion [summer tour], etc.).
As a Swatch collector, I am very happy that “Swatch” is now more in the spotlight due to the success of the MoonSwatch, which is an absolutely stunning product. It was a bold move by Nick Hayek and team to initiate such a product. Also, I love the fact that the MoonSwatch is only available in physical Swatch stores, not online. Due to the MoonSwatch, more Swatch stores have been opened and this is great as a lot of Swatch stores were closed before and during the pandemic. It is great to see customers back in the Swatch stores so that they can discover the other nice Swatch watches, besides the MoonSwatch.
I hope that the MoonSwatch product line will be carefully and slowly extended in the future. How about a “MoonSwatch James Bond 007” special, for instance? Some imaginary product pictures are already circulating on Instagram. This means that a “Swatch DNA” shift has already taken place with the MoonSwatch but also before as Swatch has issued a bit less colorful / playful / risky watches in the last few years.
Currently, I am a bit unsure how Swatch sees the topic of “Swatch Collectors”, now and in the future. Does it make sense for Swatch to promote the “collecting” topic? Does such a topic fit into the current sustainability discussions? How much revenue is generated with Swatch collectors? Those are big questions I guess.
Additionally, Swatch releases less and less “limited and numbered” specials right now. As far as I understand, this is an explicit wish of Nick Hayek (as the product should speak for itself, not a limitation number). For many Swatch collectors (myself included), the limitation number is important and a must-have for a collectable watch. Without the limitation number, Swatch can freely decide to produce additional watches of a certain model if it is successful. For example, the expensive SPACE COLLECTION EXCLUSIVE SET (SZS32) [the NASA special] only got the limitation certificate due to public demand of collectors; in the beginning, no such certificate was planned (the box set itself is not numbered).
So, as an active Swatch collector, I have been looking more and more at vintage Swatch watches and prototypes recently. I sincerely hope that Swatch is planning something “big” and “bold” for the 40th anniversary of the brand. Keeping fingers crossed for a surprise…
What has the MoonSwatch changed for the brand?
Anyone who was in one of the MoonSwatch launch queues on March 26, 2022 will never forget that day. It opened up the Swatch and Omega brands to a whole new audience. I was in Frankfurt that day with about 3,000 other watch enthusiasts. Very, very few Swatch collectors (I would guess less than 100), not so many Omega collectors, but a whole new (and young) generation of watch fans who suddenly have the chance to afford an Omega watch for a reasonable price. So this new generation of watch fans is now interested in owning and wearing a watch. I guess this was an important goal that Nick Hayek wanted to reach.
See also a video / photo album MoonSwatch (Omega X Swatch) launch queues around the world.
The most astonishing fact about the MoonSwatch project was that it surprised everyone. I have some connections into Swatch but like everyone else I had no clue when the mysterious newspaper ads appeared on March 17. Only a company such as Swatch can pull off such a project because a) the big boss decides “forget about market research, let’s do this and let’s do it now” and b) the company owns the complete production stack so that leaks are much much less likely. Any early leak of e.g. a photo of the dial would have spoiled the surprise.
As Swatch collectors, we were lucky to get the full MoonSwatch experience with Nick Hayek, Gregory Kissling (back then Head of Product Management at OMEGA watches, now VP) and 130 Swatch Club members later in May 2022. Seeing those early MoonSwatch prototypes and hearing the details of such a project was really fascinating.
If you were to name just 5 models, what do you consider to be the most iconic Swatches produced since launch?
A restriction to “just 5” is very hard. The wide variety of colors, topics, designs, themes, art, sport, …. is one of the reasons why I love Swatch. It leaves room for everyone and everything (but each and every Swatch watch has an individual story of how the design came into life).
Anyway, here we go (in no particular order):
- Sam Francis (GZ123) art special from 1992. Best Swatch ever. Period. Just look at the details of the watch face and the strap.
- GB100 (or any other 1983 Gent Swatch). Nothing beats the original.
- Rotor (YGZ101C) Irony artist special by Arnaldo Pomodoro from 1997. This watch is art.
- X-Rated (GB406) from 1987. “Youth Culture” statement piece since the 80s. In fact, the whole 1987 Swatch watch collection is an absolute highlight and it can be considered as “iconic”.
- Lookseasy (SUOZ212S) by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos. If you look at the details, this was probably a very difficult project (this explains the name of the watch). In 2022, together with a few Swatch collector friends in Portugal, we visited the workshop in Gondomar where the dial was manufactured. So much manual effort went into each dial of those 999 Swatch watches… A perfect example of “yet another unexpected and crazy Swatch project”.
Finally, where do you see Swatch heading for the next 40 years? Or at least, the next 10?
“Innovation, Provocation, Fun. Forever.” – Nicolas G. Hayek sr. Not much to add I guess.