A Mechanical Revolution

Mechanical watches are often pricey, and it goes without saying that Swiss-made ones are even more so.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room
Swatch SISTEM51 Irony

Mechanical watches are often pricey, and it goes without saying that Swiss-made ones are even more so. But that all changed in 2013 when Swatch unveiled the first of its SISTEM51 watches. The SISTEM51 is so-called because the movement consists of just 51 components.

What’s even more amazing is that the entire movement is held together by a single screw. Yes, just one screw. But that’s not all, it is assembled entirely by machines without human intervention. Also, it is powered by the movements of your wrist, and when fully wound, can keep going for a whopping 90 hours.

To put that number in perspective, most mechanical watches have a power reserve of around 40 to 50 hours. The aim of SISTEM51 watches is to make mechanical watches affordable and accessible, in the hopes that owners would then be interested to find out more about mechanical watchmaking.

The Swatch Group is after all, the largest watchmaking group in the world that also owns more prestigious brands like Tissot, Omega, Breguet and Blancpain. The first SISTEM51 watches were priced at just above $200 and had plastic cases, a defining feature of Swatch watches. Now, they are available with swankier stainless steel cases as part of the new SISTEM51 Irony collection.

There are seven new models in total and they have distinctively different dial designs, and are available with rubber and leather straps or stainless steel bracelets. Our favorite of the bunch has got to be the SISTEM Arrow. It has a 42mm wide case, so it wears rather large on the wrist.

However, its standout feature is its black dial, which has a design that is clearly inspired by the Flieger Type B dials of vintage pilot watches. It also comes with a soft rubber strap that makes it very comfortable to wear. And like all other SISTEM51 watches, the SISTEM Arrow comes with a transparent case back that lets owners see its inner workings. It’s mesmerizing to see the balance swing back and forth, and as the rotor spins, you can clearly see the mainspring being wound.


An accessibly priced mechanical watch that makes for a good introduction to the world of mechanical watchmaking.


Number of parts 51 components.

Power reserve 90 hours.

Water resistance 30 meters.

Price From $279.

My Reading Room

A transparent case back allows owners to peer into the fascinating movement that powers the watch.