Swatch SISTEM51 IRONY hands-on review
Two years ago, Swatch made quite a splash at Baselworld when they unveiled the Sistem51 collection, automatic watches powered by a movement composed of incredibly few, only 51 components, assembled automatically. Mechanical watch movements would usually have at least twice as many components, yet the Sistem51 manages to run for 90 hours when it is fully wound, with a precision of +/- 10 seconds per day. I was among the first here in Canada to have my hands on a Sistem51, it was a loan for a review that you can read here, and I was so impressed with it that after I returned the loan sample, I bought one for myself. In the past two years, I wore it quite often, it is my go to watch when I want something light, casual and with a good power reserve.
If the first generation of Sistem51 watches had a plastic case, this summer, Swatch introduced the Sistem51 Irony collection using the same movement but with a higher end, 316L stainless steel case and even some models that come on a stainless steel bracelet.
For this review, I could have borrowed any of them, but given the wide selection of models, I needed to make a quick visit to the nearest Swatch boutique to help me decide. I really like the two models that have a blue dial, the Sistem Boreal on a bracelet and the Sistem Fly with the brown leather strap, but the shape of these watches is all rounds and curves that with their polished surface look too feminine for me. I finally opted for the Sistem Arrow (YIS403) model, it really stood out from the lot, because of the sandblasted finish of the case and I also liked the old-school B-Uhr dial layout.
If my Sistem51 is so light, it almost feels like a quartz watch, the Sistem51 Irony is getting a lot closer in weight to a regular mechanical watch, offering that reassuring feeling of having a solid timepiece on your wrist. Reading the time too got a lot more serious, the playful solar system dial layout is replaced with a serious B-Uhr layout. B-Uhr is actually a short way of saying Beobachtungsuhr, which is German for observation watch. These were highly reliable, precise watches that were developed for German pilots during WWII, being part of their flight instruments. They were produced only by a handful of companies and they are easy to recognise because of their dark dials with high contrast numerals, indexes and hands, plus the typical arrow at 12 o’clock, all painted with luminous coating. These days, B-Uhr dial watches do not serve as navigation instruments anymore but are sought after by watch aficionados for their fantastic legibility.
It’s really nice the way the designer at Swatch created the transition from the watch case to the dial, using the gear-shaped bezel. The black top of the bezel continues the same divisions as the hour indexes, giving the impression of a larger dial. Continuing toward the centre of the dial, the black chapter ring features the minute and hour divisions, that continue on the dial. As with B-Uhr watches in general, the main numerals are actually marking the minutes, and the hours are printed in smaller characters — for a pilot minutes were more important than the hour.
Since you opted for an automatic watch with only 51 components, you want to see all the miracle happening under the hood, and for Swatch this is yet another opportunity to be creative. With every Sistem51, the movement becomes a canvas for the watch designer to play with. The movement of the Sistem51 Irony is decorated with grey checker pattern that gives the illusion of a sphere.
On the wrist, the Sistem Irony has a serious presence, I would say, it comes with unusual proportions for a unisex watch. This impression does not come from the size of the watch, but the lack of lugs gives the case a rather bulky allure. It never really occurred to me with my plastic Sistem51, but with the steel version, the 50.6 mm in length takes up the entire wrist, without the break a watch case with conventional lugs would offer.
The Sistem Arrow is matched with a black rubber strap that feels sturdy and comfortable, almost inviting to take it for a swim, but be careful, the case has a water resistance of only 30 meters (3 Bar), meaning that it is splash resistant, and it is not recommended for swimming or diving.
Now that I’m about to return the Sistem Arrow to Swatch, the breakup is still difficult. I have my Sistem51, which I find special because it was one of the first models, but the new Sistem51 Irony feels a lot more like a serious timepiece, it’s the Sistem51 for the grown-ups. The Sistem Arrow reminded how cool it is the long power reserve that this movement can offer, I would put it down and after more than two days, I would find it still ticking and keeping a decent time.
Here in Canada, the price of a Sistem51 Irony will range from $240 to $290, depending on the model of your choice, slightly more than the $180 that a plastic Sistem51 will cost.
For more about the Sistem52 Irony and to buy one, visit http://shop.swatch.com/en_ca/