For the last couple weeks, Omega and Swatch ads have been popping up in my social media feed – teasing the launch of something new. I take ad campaigns like this with a grain of salt because as past track records show; Swatch group releases have been nothing short of underwhelming and lacklustre (in contrast to the endless praise that mainstream media outlets seem to throw at whatever products come out of those Swiss megafactories). The general consensus within the horology circles I follow is that Omega has become something of a “one trick pony” – endlessly releasing the same rebadged Speedmaster line up and showing no signs of slowing down. I don’t blame the execs at Omega; why would you look a gift horse in the mouth? If a product sells well and there’s a high demand for it, it doesn’t make commercial sense to risk it all by radically changing up the formula. I was ready to dismiss this mysterious new launch entirely, but there was a tiny part of me that was damn curious to know what the Swatch involvement had to do with the project.
I’ll be honest, that introduction paragraph was drafted a few days ago and I got distracted before I managed to finish the whole post. By now everyone has heard about the collaborative release between Omega and Swatch: The Moonswatch.
I’m going to spare you the carefully curated press release fluff and provide you my own quick summary: It’s a super entry level quartz powered Speedmaster that will be sold within the Swatch product line – priced at just over £200. Oh, and there’s this magic new material which they call “Bioceramic” which is intentionally vague in the details of what it exactly is. I’ve seen a lot of supporters claim that this will the cheapest way of getting a ceramic timepiece. This is all I could find from Omega: “BioCeramic, which comprises a mix of ⅔ ceramic and ⅓ bio-derived plastic using the seeds of a castor plant”.
Here’s what I think that actually means: It’s a watch made with a ceramic powder (possibly something Zircon based?) bonded with resin. I can see that Omega has been cautious to highlight the castor plant as the saving grace, but from my existing industry knowledge and experience involving making my own composites; I suspect that the true binder holding everything is most likely a Polyurethane or Epoxy based resin – though I’m open to having one of my readers proving this theory wrong. The basis of my theory is that the plant-based resins don’t offer the durability of conventional thermoset resins. They’re quite sensitive to moisture and UV radiation (IE sunlight) and most existing products on the market that seem to emphasise on the plant based aspect seem to omit the inclusion of other materials. The use of a plastic based material also means that Swatch doesn’t have to go through the expensive process of sintering ceramic powder and going through the painstaking process of manually finishing the cases – traditional injection moulding methods should suffice. However, should it be the case that Swatch group has actually developed a castor-based resin that can match thermoset plastics, then they’re a major pioneer in a multibillion dollar global industry with applications that go far beyond the realm of watches.
The actual watch itself:
Well, it has definitely got the hallmarks of a Speedmaster. From a distance, you’ll be able to identify what it is. I think Swatch group is trying to tread a very thin line so that this release doesn’t over conflate the existing Omega Speedmaster ethos with this new collaboration (see? I can barely manage to keep the two concepts separate in this blogpost). I think the designers have done a cracking job at balancing the swatch design language with this new collaboration piece – without taking it too far and making it childish. Omega has been hellbent to ensure that any mentioning of space exploration is associated with their label – shown here with Jeffo Bezos adorning a *proper* speedmaster during the Blue Origin launch
I’m not on board with the criticism that this MoonSwatch diminishes the Speedmaster legacy. If anything, the Speedmaster family needed a fun jumpstart to a tired concept. I can see problems with “exclusivity” as there will be a flood of tens of thousands of Speedmaster-esque timepieces. The pricing of the watch makes it an excellent entry point for new customers into the Swatch Group ecosphere and revitalises interest in the Speedmaster family (at this point the ‘dead horse’ is an unstoppable zombie boss from a video game). The sheer number of watches sold will prove to be very profitable for Swatch Group and we can expect future releases following similar patterns coming soon. I think the collection is really fun and shouldn’t be held to the same levels of horological critique applied to much more incumbent watch models – though the memes are absolutely glorious.
The hype factor:
Putting the watches aside, there is definitely an area of criticism in the consumer reaction to the MoonSwatch: hype. Upon the announcement of the release, there was a manic reaction from two particular consumer categories:
- Folks who genuinely appreciate timepieces and saw a way of owning a watch designed around an iconic model at a very attainable price
- Flippers who saw an instant cash cow that could be hoarded and sold on secondary platforms at ridiculously marked up prices.
So here’s the thing, whether we like it or not hype is here to stay. Modern marketing principles are conditioned to creating as much noise as possible for products and the internet is a hotbed to allow that to grow. It makes sense for business; generate as much interest for a product launch as possible and let the consumers spread the word through their own actions. In Swatch’s case, they can bank on having category A consumers line up to purchase their new releases and create new repeat customers. Though I cant imagine too many “watch collectors” wearing the thing on a regular basis apart from the odd #speedytuesday post.
EDIT: I got distracted when writing this blogpost and the MoonSwatch release has now passed – the release was a mess.
In a way, the crowds camping outside of Swatch stores across the globe is reminiscent of the early 2010s – where long queues outside Apple stores would make the headlines. I suppose this works in favour of Swatch, since the viral demand results in sales.
Heres the thing: the watches aren’t a limited run. They’ll be mass produced as part of Swatch’s regular product line and the store release simply enables you to own a watch a few weeks ahead of those who wish to buy a timepiece online. Perhaps there’s a FOMO factor? The idea that you can be part of the ‘in’ crowd who owns one of the first MoonSwatches or perhaps Omega might have a supply crunch and getting hold of a watch will be really difficult in the future?
What I think Swatch underestimated was the sheer presence of category B customers being present in the queues. eBay has been flooded with pre-release listings of the watch at ridiculously marked up prices. I’m guessing some of the five figure bids are just troll attempts, but the low four figure listings seem quite concerning. Naturally, this drew the attention of those wishing to make a quick buck and the resellers/flippers grew exponentially. Multiple Swatch stores across the globe had to shut down prematurely and police were called for crowd control and managing small riots that had broken out – reports of fights outside the NYC store don’t make for particularly good PR.
You have to bear in mind that Swatch doesn’t make any financial gain from the resellers and whilst the shoddy launch has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths, I expect this debarkle to be forgotten fairly quickly once supplies have normalised (though it’ll forever be immortalised in watch meme history).