About Time

Swatch has not only gone bold, it’s gone Big Bold. Better to ensnare the living-large influencer-shopper?

 

Swatch Big Bold

By Mao Shan Wang

Gosh, I don’t remember when I last looked at a Swatch. My father just told me that he bought Swatch watches when they were a single brand, not a luxury conglomerate—The Swatch Group. How many decades past was that? Thirty-four years ago, or in the year 1983, when Mario Bros debuted, pre-Pokémon! He then went to unearth a pair of Swatches, still in their clear cases, to show me. One is unambiguously inspired by the Kama Sutra, the other, similarly erotic (or perhaps just suggestive), sports hands that are two parts of a woman’s fully-naked body, both circa 1993—clearly a visual that’s way before #metoo and a particular NUS saga. Looking at the pristine straps, they have never been worn. Strangely, they do not make me curious about my father’s wrist-watch choice. Nobody looks at their father that way!

My lack of notice of Swatch is, I think, commensurate with their lack of notable timepieces, especially after the advent of the smartwatch. Until now. Launched today is a watch that is gigantic—by Swatch standard anyway. An eye-catcher no doubt conceived for the age of conspicuous wear. It is not certain why Swatch decided to launch the Big Bold, as it is known, but let me guess: The traditional Swatch—the one that disrupted the timepiece market in the ’80s—is a mere 25mm for women and 34mm for men, dimensions possibly considered minuscule by the needs of social media habitués. The Big Bold is almost double the size of the women’s style, at a generous and, more importantly, unmissable 47mm.

Swatch Big Bold P2

According to Swatch, the “Big Bold is an attitude, a mindset, a way of ‘being’ in the world”; it “longs for those that embrace being noticed”. You see! 🤭 And, to be caught sight of, it’s not enough to be bold, it has to be “big bold”. Since one is not synonymous with the other, it’s perhaps best that one augments the other. Big and bold, the way loud and proud, too, go together.

In terms of size, this appears to be as conspicuous as 2011’s Swatch Touch, one of the earliest digital watches and an oddity of a timepiece with a wide, rectangular screen in portrait orientation, predating smartwatches. Big Bold, admittedly looks more conventional then the Touch’s hard-to-place font; the numbers, although just four, are readable.

Look-wise, the Big Bold reminds me of the customisable Pop Swatch, but designed by a military type, possibly a pilot! The pop was gleefully infused with the Swatch aesthetic, but was too targeted at teens. I see the similarity perhaps because the Big Bold is just as resolutely circular! Launched in 1986 (and re-introduced in 2016, thirty years later), Pop was as playful as it was ingenious (or irreverent), but perhaps due to the (overtly?) fun leaning did not quite catch on with the serious fashion crowd, except Debbie Gibson fans.

Swatch Big Bold P3

However, the more I look at the Big Bold, the more it appears to me like a 3D-printed watch! It’s hard to say why. Perhaps it’s because of the simplicity of form, the modest styling of the bezel, and the dotted-bumps of the strap. These days, 3D printing is not churning out some figurine from your manga dreams. Anything can be 3D-printed. Jewellery, I have been told, are now popularly produced this way and sold. If bangles and such can be 3D-printed, then why not watches? Besides, Swatch is not new to the use of polymers.

In fact, when it hit the market back in 1983, Swatch’s thermoplastic-molded, weigh-next-to-nothing wrist watches were thought to be a life-saver of what the Swiss industry called a “quartz crisis”, one thought to be the result of the profusion of Japanese quartz watches such as those by the quickly rising Casio. Swatch took the world by storm, enthusiastically releasing delightful timepieces in all sorts of colours and, then, un-thought-of prints and patterns, and, in doing so, was the first brand at that price point to create collectables that drove those who hoard things such as McDonald’s Happy Meal figurines and stuffed toys quite crazy.

What will draw similar reaction this time round is Swatch’s pairing with Bape (aka A Bathing Ape) to make the Big Bold fancier, and simultaneously launch the collab when this hunk of a watch is released. I’m not sure if this will create the same buying frenzy as the recent KAWS X Uniqlo team-up, but I have no doubt the Big Bold X Bape (yes, I, too, spotted the delightful alliterative visual of the branding) won’t be around by the time you read this and head to the flagship store at Orchard Gateway, where it is rather discreetly launched today.

Swatch Big Bold P4Limited-edition collaboration with Bape

With Bape, Swatch, it seems, is riding on an icon of youth and reaching out to a new gen of watch users, which may be a small, small group, judging by the attendees at the launch event, held at the Substation yesterday afternoon. Of the 12 people around me, only two wore a watch. When I moved to another spot near the food wagon, among the 19 munchers there, nine wore a timepiece (one was an Apple Watch).

It has been reported in the past years that the watch has lost its appeal among smartphone users, since we now tell the time by just looking at a phone screen or be duly informed by the timekeeper, Google Assistant. Honestly, I don’t know how well for-millenials-by-millennials brands such as Olivia Burton is doing, but, apparently, they are making the young pick up watches in encouraging numbers. Perhaps Swatch is on to something.

Or perhaps celebrity-endorsement helps. A bespectacled, beanied, and prosperously-girthed, non-BTS fan Dee Kosh appeared; his presence visually and audibly felt. Indulging delightfully and loudly in nachos, the YouTuber-turned-radio-DJ gesticulated excitedly as he talked to a captivated audience. I looked at his bare, excitable wrist. The Big Bold can roost there—a striking face for an unabashed similar.

Swatch Big Bold, from SGD140, launches today. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Two Of A Kind: Block Party

Swatch & SonySwatch Touch (left) and Sony Smartwatch 3 (right)

Both have oblong faces and appear to wrap the wrist, and both allow touch-screen operation. But one is just smarter than the other. When Sony’s Smartwatch 3 made its appearance last month, and we had the chance to handle it recently, the device—better categorised by the fancier and geek-worthy name of “wearable”—immediately reminded us of the Swatch Touch. Put them side-by-side, however, the similarity immediately evaporates. Keep them apart, one reminds us of the other.

The Swatch Touch is clearly a piece of pre-Android Wear wrist fashion. With its curved digital display, and font that looks like an art deco take on Arabic script, the Swatch Touch was refreshing at the 2011 launch, given the tired looks of the standard Swatch offering. With Swatch’s fading popularity, the Touch appeared, even momentarily, like an attempt by the Swiss company to re-write the design of inexpensive fashion watches. Until Android Wear came knocking and gadget makers opened their doors.

Sony’s third iteration of the smart watch—this time, Android Wear-enabled—looks completely different from the previous two, just as the predecessor is unlike the debut piece. But while most of the competitors are making theirs look more like a watch (i.e. round-faced, such as Motorola’s Motor 360 and LG’s G Watch R), Sony’s is decidedly geeky, almost a toy, and rather Swatch-like. Not that that’s a bad thing. Far from it. For gadget that’s Dick Tracey-worthy, we prefer them to sport a rectangular screen in portrait orientation. If we’re going to use our watch to tell time as well as mirror some of the functionality of our smartphone, we really prefer something that comes across as an extension of our smartphone. Who really prefers to look at holiday shots or city maps cropped into a circle?

Time may be running out on 2014, but it’s only beginning for the smart watch. Okay, Google!

Swatch Touch, SGD195, and Sony Smartwatch 3, SGD298, are available at authorised dealers