Bauhaus is a very very very fine haus. That said, I doubt many buyers eying Swatch’s Bau collection watches are celebrating the German design movement’s 100th anniversary — or recognize the song lyric from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 70’s masterpiece Déjà Vu. But the album’s worth a listen and the $120 Swatch BLACK-ONE Chronograph is pretty damn cool. But is it Bahausian? . . .
According to Wikipedia, “The Bauhaus style was marked by the absence of ornamentation and by harmony between the function of an object or a building and its design.” You know: form follows function and . . . that’s it. Call it a day.
Fans of elegant two and three-hand watches get the less-is-more gestalt. Owners of more complicated pieces like the Omega Speedmaster or IWC Spitfire Chronograph could also argue that their watches fit the minimalist remit. Several of the Swatch Bau Collection are obvious adherents to the German aesthetic. But it’s gonna be tough to make a case for the Swatch BLACK-ONE Chronograph.
Not literally, of course. The B1 houses its brand-standard TICK-TICK-TICK quartz movement in the same flyweight plastic case as all other Swatches. A structure whose reverse side constantly says “Brother can you spare a dime? I need to change my battery.”
Despite Swatch’s current marketing campaign — hawking frisbee-sized wrist candy — the B1 has the perfect dimensions for a small chronograph: 42mm wide, 14.03mm thick, 50.1mm tall. The B1’s slightly curved lugs and hinged strap make the piece a comfortable fit for all wrist sizes. But maybe not Bahaus-seeking “radical functionalists.”
Color isn’t the problem. Yes, it’s true: Bahaus buildings tend to be morosely monochromatic. (The example above kicks out the jams with grey.) But plenty of Bauhausian objects are fashioned in primary colors. I reckon the B1’s blue, yellow and red pushers aid function differentiation and activation location. And who says German design can’t be fun?
Utility is the issue. The B1 is only slightly easier to read than Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. In the original German. First up: the B1’s bright yellow minute and hour hands . . .
The Swatch BLACK-ONE chronograph’s thick hour hand’s ends with an arrow filled in with black. The narrower minute hand ends with an empty rectangle. While both hands are infilled with white lume, the shapes create cognitive confusion. They’re hard to read at a glance, especially with that second hand confusing matters.
It is, in fact, a disaster. The second hand partially disappears when the tip crosses over one of the large indices. It totally disappears when it crosses over either main hand. At that point, the only thing visible is the hand’s back end — which is the same size and shape as the lume inside the hour hand.
The frames circling around the B1’s top sub-dials kiss the 11 and 1 indices, overlap the 12 and 2 indices, and rest on the 9 indices and the date window. An aperture with a completely unnecessary hint of white indices on either side of the box. As James Taylor sang, damn this traffic jam!
It gets worse. The bottom sub-dial (small seconds) is ringed with yellow, drawing attention away from the yellow hands. The yellow numbers 15 and 45 inside the left subdial, and the blue numbers 10 and 5 inside the upper right subdial are yet another distraction.
In short, the Swatch BLACK-ONE splashes blue, red and yellow around the dial for the sake of ornamentation and visual excitement, rather than operational efficiency. That’s a major deviation from the Bahaus aesthetic, as is the non-rotating bezel with numbers above the indices.
The ironically named BLACK-ONE Swatch sold out. No surprise there. The watch’s crayon-colored accents create a fresh ‘n funky look that set it apart from a world of limited-color-palate timepieces. As a watch to tell time, as a chronograph, as a reflection of the Bauhaus aesthetic, the BLACK-ONE is a fail.
Model Name: BLACK-ONE
Reference No.: SUSB416
Case Material: Plastic
Case Dimensions: 42mm wide, 14.03mm thick, 50.1mm high
Water resistance: 3 bar
Strap: smooth black silicone
Clasp: black plastic buckle
Functions: time (sweep second hand, small seconds subdial), date (window at 3:00 position). chronograph (tenths of seconds subdial, 15 minute increments subdial)
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Design * * *
Missed the Bauhaus minimalist mark by a mile, but bright and cheerful in its own right. (If you really want color, check out the orange Seiko Diver.)
Legibility * *
Forget to coordinate the colors for functionality. Crowded. Bit of a dog’s breakfast really.
Tactility * * * *
It’s a SWATCH innit? The top of the strap is silky smooth, the bottom striated for grip. The pushers have a surprisingly positive engagement and emit a satisfying click. A cheap watch that feels like a toy — in a good way.
Customer Service * * * * *
Friendly folks answered the phone quickly, helped source a sample to buy from Mall of America.
Overall * *
The Swatch BLACK-ONE Chronograph has all the Swatch values you’d expect and a certain clown-colored charm. But it fails to live up to its model line’s name, and makes a lousy choice for a cheap practical chrono.