The secret design history of Swatch watches

A collection coming up for auction next month shines a light on the hidden design history of the iconic timepieces.

The first-ever sketch of the Swatch "Vulgaris" case, drawn on 27 Match 1980
The first-ever sketch of the Swatch “Vulgaris” case, drawn on 27 Match 1980

A collection being put up for auction next month shines a light on the secretive design history of Swatch watches.

The Schmid & Muller collection, which is being sold at Sotheby’s Geneva on 10 November, comprises watches, prototypes, technical drawings, sketches and diagrams from the archives of original Swatch designers Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Muller.

Schmid and Muller were part of a secret Swatch development team that was brought together in October 1981 to work on the new brand.

At the time, the Swiss watchmaking industry was being heavily hit by the “quartz crisis” – a trend for quartz watches rather than the traditional mechanical watches that most Swiss companies specialised in.

The Swatch team aimed to create a quartz watch that would, according to Sotheby’s “combine the highest Swiss quality with a new, trail-blazing attitude”.

Writing in the Telegraph, journalist Nicholas Foulkes said of Swatch: “Its genius lay in its apparently oxymoronic capability of being both simultaneously high-quality and disposable.

“And the way it looked was bang on trend… it was stylish and democratic all at once.

“The ‘S’ at the beginning of the name stood for ‘Switzerland’ and for ‘second watch’. Here was something radical: a Swiss watch for weekends and for fun,” he says.

In 1986 Swatch launched a new version of its "Jelly Fish" see-through watch, featuring a gold middle case
In 1986 Swatch launched a new version of its “Jelly Fish” see-through watch, featuring a gold middle case
The Pop Swatch model could be attached directly to clothing
The Pop Swatch model could be attached directly to clothing
Designs for Swatch's Savonette model
Designs for Swatch’s Savonette model
The 12 Flags watch launched in the 1984 Spring/Summer collection and was inspired by nautical flags
The 12 Flags watch launched in the 1984 Spring/Summer collection and was inspired by nautical flags

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