The company behind Swatch Watches has a long history stretching back as far as 1848.
It was formed in 1983 as the result of a merger between two large Swiss manufacturers. Of the two companies, SSIH, who had originally been formed in 1930 by the merger of the watch making companies of Omega and Tissot was the more established household brand, whilst ASUAG, a manufacturer of timepiece components, was a well-respected industry name.
With the impact of Japanese quartz movements being felt by the majority of manufacturers in the Swiss marketplace, the company began to introduce new lines that could compete for the mass market whilst preserving their niche brands. The range introduced by the management was so successful that it became the new name of the company in 1998.
Element of fun
That line was Swatch Watches, originally launched as a local brand in the alpine nation in March 1983. It was originally conceived as a standard timekeeper in a plastic case, but marketing consultants suggested that bringing an element of ‘fun’ in to the brand and marketing it as a style item would protect it from Far Eastern competition.
The change in branding arrived at just the right time for the industry. Within a few months a standardised price point of 50 Swiss Francs (roughly £35 at today’s exchange rates) was set, but this low price point was matched by lower assembly costs.
Compared to conventional timepieces, a model from Swatch watches was 80% cheaper to produce. This dramatic cost reduction was driven by its’ fully automated assembly and by reducing the number of parts from the usual 91 or more to only 51 components in Swatch Watches.
A design icon
A great product though is nothing without great marketing and it is here that Swatch came in to its own. As well as traditional advertising, the business tapped in to the fan base of designers and artists to change the perception of the line from that of a reliable and affordable Swiss watch to that of an artistically styled designer icon. Notable amongst these early artists was the late Keith Haring.
The huge expansion of its marketing effort and its growth into a European brand came at a time of increasing availability of both cross-border and satellite delivered television in the continent.
New youth oriented stations, with a single feed seen from Moscow in the north to Greece in the south, such as MTV Europe lowered advertising costs and allowed the company to aggressively target youths in relatively high income households.
Alternative sports sponsor
The group also targeted a growing market that was largely untapped by advertisers – alternative sports. This tradition continues today and Swatch currently sponsors FIVB Beach Volley Ball, the World Snowboard Tour, UCI BMX Supercross, Motocross and various surfing competitions.
Swatch Skin: world’s thinnest plastic watch
Today, Swatch produce a range of watches including the metal cased Swatch Irony and the ultra thin Swatch Skin. The Swatch Skin later went on to enter the Guinness World Book of Records as the world’s thinnest plastic watch.
Swatch watch pictures courtesy of swatchandbeyond.com