Introducing the Swatch Sistem51, the first ever first mechanical movement with fully automated assembly – perhaps the most important watch of Baselworld 2013

The Swatch Sistem51 is probably one of the most significant timepieces presented at Baselworld 2013. It is the world's first mechanical movement which has an entirely automated assembly.

Since time immemorial mechanical watches have been produced by hand. Even if it’s the tiniest bit of manual labour, during assembly or regulation, the human element was still present. In contrast, the Swatch Sistem51 has an automatic movement that is entirely put together by machines, an extraordinary technical achievement for the Swiss watchmaking industry.

The movement of the Sistem51 has 51 components, which have been welded together to form a single assembly centred on one screw. In addition, the movement has no regulator and does not need regulation, instead the rate is adjusted by a laser during assembly. Despite its extraordinarily, it still manages a 90 hour power reserve.

And after it is put together, the movement is hermetically sealed inside the case. That means no dust or moisture can get in, and I assume also that nothing can get out, meaning this watch cannot be serviced or repaired. The bridges of the movement are made from ARCAP, an alloy composed of copper, nickel and zinc, which was used for the first time in watchmaking by Richard Mille several years ago. The Richard Mille watches of course cost several thousand times as much as the Sistem51. And it doesn’t end there, the Sistem51 also has a bidirectional mystery rotor made of a transparent plastic disc weighted on one side.

The motif on the dial is a reference to the Copernican Revolution which brought forth the idea that the sun is at the centre of the solar system. Swatch says the Sistem51 is a Copernican idea in watchmaking, which is a somewhat grandiose claim, but it might be true with regards to Swiss watchmaking.

Both Seiko and Citizen of Japan, and Chinese manufacturers like Seagull, already make incredible numbers of low cost mechanical movements, though they are not entirely automated in production. This watch further proves the Swatch Group’s unrivalled mastery of the industrial processes in watchmaking.

Swatch has not set the price yet but it will be in the region of CHF100-200, though likely closer to the lower figure. Swatch says this watch is “100% Swiss Made”, which likely makes it the only mechanical watch at this price to be able to claim this. I would expect more elaborate movements, similarly assembled by machine, to eventually make their way into the slightly more upscale but still entry level brands of the group like Tissot and Longines. The official launch date is 13 October 2013.

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