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Watch, GB 100, 1983
Swatch AG
Watch, GB 100,
Swatch AG,

Watch, GB 100,

Swatch AG
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Ausstellungsstrasse 60
8031 Zurich
Museum map
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 94
8031 Zurich
  • GB 100 Swatch AG Watch
Listen to the text

When Swatch debuted its watch in twelve colors in 1983, it changed the status and purpose of the Swiss watch. It was no longer a timepiece seen as a lifelong investment but rather a fashionable accessory that could adapt to new trends like a chameleon.

In the 1970s, the Swiss watch industry found itself at an unprecedented low point. From 1977 to 1983 the volume of exports declined by half. Although the world’s first electronic wristwatch with quartz crystal display was developed in Neuchâtel in 1967, Japan was quicker to bring the new technology to the mass market, and Switzerland ending up losing its leading position. The radical reinvention of the Swiss watch by Swatch (Second Watch) has an economic, a technical, and an aesthetic aspect, with all three equally determining the development and design of the Swatch. Simplifying production was central to the undertaking: the watch’s plastic housing (produced by injection molding) also serves as a mounting plate for the mere fifty-one components (instead of the ninety-one in typical watch movements), which are assembled in a fully automated process with ultrasonic welding technology. Despite this pared-down construction, the Swatch, available for only fifty Swiss francs, runs on its mini-battery just as precisely as a chronometer. In 1983, the Swatch was presented in twelve colors—with plans to produce a million watches. But it was not until the plastic watch was reconceived as a fashion accessory that it experienced its true breakthrough. In the period from 1983 to 1989, the visual designers Jean Robert and Käti Robert-Durrer came up with five different product lines displaying great graphic diversity—something for every taste. Swatch thus became a pioneer of individualized surface design, a trend that would go on to shape the product culture—from sneakers to toothbrushes—in the 1990s. (Renate Menzi)

Armbanduhr, GB 100, Kollektion Frühling-Sommer 1983
Entwicklung: 1980–1982; Produktion: ab 1983
Herstellung: ETA AG, Grenchen, CH
Produktion: Swatch AG, Biel, CH / ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizer Uhren AG)
Material/Technik: Kunststoff
1 x 3.5 x 24 cm
Eigentum: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich / ZHdK

Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Hg.), 100 Jahre Schweizer Design, Zürich 2014, S. 291.

Lorenz Häfliger, u. a., Stiftung Eisenbibliothek / Georg Fischer AG / SIG Schweizerische Industrie- Gesellschaft Holding AG (Hg.), Beiträge der Schweiz zur Technik. Schweizerische Erfindungen von internationaler Bedeutung, Festschrift zum Jubiläum 700 Jahre Eidgenossenschaft, Oberbözberg 1991.

Claude Lichtenstein, «Die Neugeburt der Armbanduhr aus dem Geist des Graphic Design. Zum Phänomen der Swatch: Robert & Durrer», in: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Hg.), 100 Jahre Schweizer Grafik, Zürich 2014, S. 206f.

Phillips de Pury & Company (Hg.), Swatch. The Blum Collection, Hong Kong 2011.

Swatch AG (Hg.), Swatch Watch, A definitive Guide 1983–2000, Biel 2000.

Image credits

Armbanduhr, GB 100, 1983, Produktion: Swatch AG, Biel, CH / ASUAG
Abbildung: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich / ZHdK

Armbanduhr, Coloured Love, 1988, Produktion: Swatch AG, Biel, CH / ASUAG
Abbildung: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich / ZHdK

Armbanduhr, Jelly Fish, 1985, Produktion: Swatch AG, Biel, CH / ASUAG
Abbildung: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich / ZHdK

Armbanduhren, Vegetable-Set, 1991, Entwurf: Alfred Hofkunst
Abbildung: Swatch Ldt.

Exhibition text

They not only keep time; as a decorative accessory they also keep pace with the zeitgeist. By following the development of Swiss watch brands and designers, the design history of the wristwatch can be traced from traditional heirloom to fashionable lifestyle product to high-tech status symbol.