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The Story of the Swatch Brand | How Swatch Watches Became a Thing

Bold, creative, affordable, Swiss-made, these are just some of the things that we love about Swatch watches. With hundreds of joyful designs that defy the rules of classic Swiss watchmaking, Swatch has created a canvas for artists and designers from all over the world: a Swiss-made watch with a message. Each model is different, each model is designed to convey Swatch's message of creative freedom, and joy of life.  

The Story of the Swatch Brand
Since we are huge Swatch lovers ourselves, we're excited to put together a short history of the Swatch brand and how it made its entrance on the watch market.
If you're a Swatch fan yourself, you'll surely find their story interesting as well, so let's find out more about the journey of the Swatch brand

The watch industry before Swatch

The Swiss watch industry up to the 1950s

In order to fully understand Swatch's success in the watch market, we have to first take a look at the watchmaking industry before the emergence of the brand.
 
Up to the 1950s, Switzerland dominated the worldwide watch market. Why? This was mainly due to their extensive expertise in terms of jewelry-making. Back then, watches were expensive pieces, often seen as financial investments, and it was usual to pass them on from one generation to the next. Swiss watchmakers specialized in assembling complex mechanical movements and sold their watches in upscale department stores. There was a world-wide consensus that Swiss-made watches are the only high-quality watches. 
Among the most popular Swiss watch brands at the time were Longines, Omega, Piaget, and Rolex.

Low-cost competitors and the Quartz movement

Timex was the first watch brand to significantly challenge the Swiss market. In 1951, US Time (the name of the brand back then) introduced a line of disposable watches on the American market. Their prices were very low, as Timex discovered a way to produce low-cost mechanical movements, by using alloy metals instead of jewels. Given how cheap they were, these watches could not even be opened and repaired, they were made to be disposable. Timex watches have enjoyed great success on the US market, which was until then dominated by Swiss watches

 Vintage Timex Watches

Check out our vintage Timex collection!

Another challenge the Swiss watchmakers had to face came when the Japanese watch market introduced watches with quartz movement, as opposed to mechanical, and standardized their production. Hattori-Seiko and Citizen are the brands that became extremely successful in the 70s. They created automated production lines, sinking their costs of production, so their watches were more affordable for buyers, and they still came with silver or gold-tone designs, resembling the luxurious Swiss watches

 Swatch Watch with Quartz Movement

The introduction of quartz technology and its success in the market was the greatest threat to the Swiss watchmaking industry. Quartz movement was, in fact, pioneered in Switzerland, but local watchmakers hadn't considered it sophisticated and reliable enough to use it for their watches. Their production was still relying on complex mechanical movements, carefully assembled by jewelers and experienced watch-makers. 

 

 Nicholas Hayek and how Swatch became a thing

In the 1980s, Switzerland's largest watch manufacturers (SSIH and ASUAG) faced insolvency. Nicholas Hayek, who was back then chief advisor of the nation's watch industry, suggested that the two entities merge. He became the CEO of the group and attracted investments in the company. Brands such as Omega, Tissot, Longines, and Rado were part of the entity that will later be known as the Swatch group. 

Hayek had to face a major milestone: creating an affordable Swiss-made watch that would save the Swiss watch industry. He was committed to building and assembling a low-priced quartz watch, entirely in Switzerland

The process was faced with a lot of resistance from Swiss watchmakers. Many of them considered that this would further damage the image of the Swiss watch industry and even refused to sell him parts. The cost of production was also a challenge, since creating an automated production line in Switzerland, the most expensive country in the world, was surely not easy. However, the Swatch team managed to overcome all challenges, they even dropped the number of necessary watch parts from 91 to 51, and soon enough Swatch came to be. 

 

The Story of the Swatch Brand | How Swatch Watches Became a Thing

Swatch Watches

The Swatch Watch

Swatch originally stood for "Second watch", yet many people associate it today with "Swiss watch" as well. The key attributes of the Swatch watch were the following: quartz-operated, affordable, Swiss-made, and most importantly, a watch with a message. Swatch watches have enjoyed instant success because they conveyed an emotion, as Nicholas Hayek stated in an interview, the secret behind their success was the feeling imparted by the brand: “embracing the fantasy and imagination of your childhood and youth”. 

Scuba Swatch Watches

Discover this Scuba Swatch watch!

As you may know, if you already own a Swatch watch, or if you ever wandered into a Swatch store, Swatch watches come in a huge variety of vivid, creative, intriguing designs. They are unlike any other watches, and ever since 1983 when the Swatch group was founded, the brand releases constantly ever more creative watch collections. 

 

Original Message, Original Marketing Strategy

This is probably the most exciting part of the story of the Swatch brand, and that is how they introduced their products to the world. With boundless creativity and innovation, the Swatch marketing strategy was truly remarkable for its time, focusing on very exciting below-the-line events and campaigns. 

In 1983, the Swatch watch was released in the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, and a few months later it was available worldwide. Swatch watches enjoyed huge success from the beginning. The largest customer group: young people who hadn't shown any interest in watches before. 

An interesting campaign that marked the launch of Swatch watches in Germany, was carried out in Frankfurt. Hayek convinced the CEO of Commerzbank to allow them to hang a giant Swatch watch on the tallest skyscraper in Frankfurt. A functional 13-tone, 500 feet high, giant Swatch watch has been hanging on the headquarters of Commerzbank, making an original entry for the brand on the German market. 

The DM60, the giant Swatch watch in Frankfurt

Swatch watches broke the pattern with their out-of-the-box, witty designs, yet the Swatch group has also introduced new, creative ways of distribution. Swatch watches were not sold in upscale stores like other brands, but in other original, unexpected locations. For example, the "Veggie Line", a series of three Swatch watches designed by the Australian artist Alfred Hofkunst, could be purchased at the time in fruit and vegetable markets. Can you imagine?

Even today, Swatch employs rather different sales channels than the norm. For example, they don't have an online store. They help you locate their closest store, so you can head over and live the unique Swatch experience, as it is still designed and conveyed by the Swatch group.

Over the years, Swatch has sponsored a large variety of cultural, arts and sporting events all over the world. They even issued special edition Swatch models in honor of the Olympics. This has significantly increased the visibility of the brand and its number of fans all over the world.

 

The Swatch Design Lab

You're probably wondering how the Swatch group came up with such witty, original designs for their timepieces. Well, the Swatch Design Lab was located in Milan, which is a hub for creative industries, style and fashion. Designers from all over the world have collaborated over the years with the Swatch brand, to develop exciting Swatch designs

Some of the most popular limited-edition Swatch watches have been designed by artists such as Kiki Picasso, Keith Haring,  Mimmo Paladino, and Alessandro Mendini. And you can see below some of the timepieces that have become collectibles and are now sold for thousands of dollars. 

 

 Kiki Picasso and Keith Haring Swatch models

 Why the Swatch brand remained successful

According to Nicholas Hayek, the founder of Swatch, the success of the brand lies in the fact that it conveys a message, a culture, rather than style or fashion: 

"High quality. Low cost. Provocative. Joy of life. But the most important element of the Swatch message is the hardest for others to copy. Ultimately, we’re not just offering watches. We are offering our personal culture.”

Shop this Swatch watch

The Swatch brand has revived the world's trust in Swiss watchmaking. Following the success of Swatch watches, the group has put together different rebranding strategies for the other brands under their umbrella as well.

Thanks to Swatch, Omega was a brand that was able to reinvent itself as well, with a different strategy and for another price point, and it is one of the most beloved Swiss watch brands today. 

The Story of the Swatch Brand | How Swatch Watches Became a Thing

Shop this Swatch watch

 

Find your Swatch watch on Vintage Radar

We at Vintage Radar are huge Swatch fans. We've assembled a vintage collection of hundreds of Swatch watch models, from the 80s until today. If you want to check it out, head over to our Swatch collection and discover the models that bring you the most joy. Most of these vintage pieces are no longer available in Swatch stores, as they are part of old collections.

Use the 10% Coupon Code: Vintage10Radar at check out to get an extra 10% discount!

 

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