Those who innovate


Swatch’s new plastic

INNOVATION

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December 2021


Swatch's new plastic

In 2020, Swatch began converting its collections to use a new bio-sourced plastic derived from castor oil. This new plastic is also combined with ceramic to create “bioceramic”. Carlo Giordanetti, member of Swatch’s Product and Design Committee, updated us on this major development.

S

watch is never really where you expect it to be. In 2013, the brand launched the Sistem51, a watch equipped with a mechanical movement, produced using a fully automated assembly process, at a time when the watchmaking trend was all about “manufacture” and a handmade aesthetic.

Seven years later, when the world was expecting a strong move towards the smartwatch segment, Swatch launched itself headlong into materials research. The brand is now taking the opportunity to return to the designs of its very first models, as it prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2023.

“We are working to create surprises,” says Carlo Giordanetti, member of Swatch’s Product and Design Committee. “The brand’s adventure actually began with a big surprise: at that time, quartz movements were associated with a digital time-reading system.”

Swatch's headquarters in Biel, Switzerland
Swatch’s headquarters in Biel, Switzerland

Swatch’s recent detour into bio-sourced plastic was not primarily about ecology: it was prompted by pure industrial research. In fact, as early as the 1990s, the brand was experimenting with prototypes made from plastic based on corn, for example, but the technology was not mature.

Carlo Giordanetti, member of Swatch's Product and Design Committee
Carlo Giordanetti, member of Swatch’s Product and Design Committee

“We’re not betraying our industrial roots”

“In the 1980s, plastic was perfectly in tune with the times, with its strength and water resistance,” says Carlo Giordanetti. “In recent years, we have been looking for a new plastic, without betraying the values of the industrial project that is Swatch. Indeed, we didn’t want to abandon injection moulding or the basic shape of the original watch.”

With its 1984 Reloaded collection, Swatch combines original models from 1984 with bioceramic.
With its 1984 Reloaded collection, Swatch combines original models from 1984 with bioceramic.

The brand had to find the right material: if it was too soft, the plastic would not hold; if it was too hard, its properties would change when it cooled, causing it to break. After several years of research, the Swatch Group’s R&D teams and laboratories settled on a very special biomaterial: castor oil. This has the properties required to produce an alternative plastic material and, above all, the ability to be produced in a range of colours.

The famous automatically assembled Sistem51 mechanical watch is now also available in bio-sourced materials.
The famous automatically assembled Sistem51 mechanical watch is now also available in bio-sourced materials.

“We tested several other materials, but there was always a problem with the injection point in the mould,” says Carlo Giordanetti. “If the material is not homogeneous, you will see the injection points in the finished product. This is a characteristic of cheap products. You will never see them on a Swatch!”

When the world was expecting a strong move towards the smartwatch segment, Swatch launched itself headlong into materials research. The brand is now returning to the designs of its very first models, as it prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2023.

Rapid transition to bioceramics

This bio-based plastic is the starting point for a new generation of Swatch watches. It will gradually be introduced throughout the collections. “Today, the expression of the brand is as much about a diversity of colours as it is about a diversity of materials,” Giordanetti continues. The packaging of this new generation of models is made from an innovative mixture of... potato starch and tapioca.

The 47mm Big Bold Bioceramic models are made from a compound of two-thirds ceramic and one-third bio-sourced plastic derived from castor oil.
The 47mm Big Bold Bioceramic models are made from a compound of two-thirds ceramic and one-third bio-sourced plastic derived from castor oil.

Within six months, this development led to another innovation: bioceramic, which combines two-thirds ceramic with one-third bio-sourced plastic. “It’s the best of both worlds: the material is injectable, so it doesn’t need to be treated like the materials used in luxury goods, and the plastic provides additional strength,” Carlo Giordanetti points out.

The new material gives the Big Bold Bioceramic models a silky touch.
The new material gives the Big Bold Bioceramic models a silky touch.

After plastic, a new steel?

Since April 2021, almost half of the new references Swatch has launched have been equipped with a bioceramic case. Some models incorporate both bioceramic and bio-sourced plastic. The former is used to make the case and the buckle; the latter is for the strap, the strap loop and also the crystal.

The Gent and New Gent models in bioceramic are available in a variety of colours.
The Gent and New Gent models in bioceramic are available in a variety of colours.

“Without a doubt, we are only at the beginning of this research. Our teams are continuing to work on integrating other bio-sourced or associated materials in the long term,” explains Carlo Giordanetti. One new area of R&D is the production of Swatch’s famous printed designs in bio-sourced plastic. Metal, which accounts for a significant proportion of the brand’s output, and is currently produced in the form of injected steel, is also part of the research.

Since April 2021, almost half of the new references Swatch has launched have been equipped with a bioceramic case.

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