In the modern era of watch-as-cultural-phenomenon, a timepiece can be reviewed in at least two different fashions (pun intended). You can focus on the actual merits and faults of the thing, or look at it in the greater context of social messaging, group identity, resale value and long-term desirability. In this case, we’ll do both to the Swatch Sistem51 Hodinkee Generation 1986. One of these reviews will be extremely, almost brutally, short.
Marcus Aurelius (via Hannibal Lecter): “Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself?” This is a Swatch Sistem51 rendered in plastic – it’s a sealed-case automatic self-winding mechanical watch assembled by a specialized machine. It can’t be serviced and isn’t intended to be serviced. When it breaks, you throw it out.
Power reserve is a claimed 90 hours. Like all Sistem51 variants released lately, the Hodinkee Generation 1986 features a super-trick Nivachrom mainspring. Virtually all the parts of the movement are plastic and designed to be somewhat self-lubricating. These watches are not known for being particularly accurate, running as much as ten seconds late or early per day.
As you’d expect from a silicone-strap watch with virtually no metal inside, the Hodinkee Swatch is almost unnoticeable on the wrist. One reviewer compared the Swatch Sistem51 Hodinkee Generation 1986’s size to a Tudor Black Bay. That’s true by the numbers but in no way true in terms of actual day-to-day use. The Sistem51 is like wearing nothing at all.
Hodinkee’s collaboration is not a terribly legible watch. The date window at six-o’-clock can be a bit hard to see even when the hands are not directly obscuring it. Deep-sea divers, race car drivers and Everest climbers should look elsewhere – in no way is this watch anything but a fashion piece, ultra-trick movement aside.
Bottom line: The Generation 1986 is sold out and is likely to remain so, which is fine. There is no reason to buy it over any other Sistem51.
Alright! That’s the main review. Now let’s discuss the more interesting aspects of this thing.
Marcus Aurelius (in his own translated words rather than a screenwriter’s summary ) said “This thou must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole.”
Start with what the Sistem51 is: an attempt to fuse the Swiss automatic and the fashion watch, landing squarely on the side of being a disposable trinket. It costs more than a Seiko 5 but you can’t fix it, regulate it or improve it. It looks cheap, even in its metal-cased varieties. The rotor makes a scraping sound as if it’s broken. As a technological feat of design and assembly, the Sistem51 is just short of a miracle. As a watch, it’s not terribly desirable.
To that add what Hodinkee is: a site that started off as a tastemaker before switching to flat-out retail sale of fully-priced-and-then-some watches. To many, Hodinkee exemplifies the worst aspects of the hobby — snobbery, deliberate excursions into the recherché, love of form over function.
Hodinkee’s excursions into selling higher-priced or limited-edition versions of plain-Janes like the Sistem51 and the Seiko Alpinist haven’t endeared them to the buying public. Their lower-cost offerings are almost exclusively purchased by “flippers,” filtering through eBay and other outlets shortly afterwards with a few Benjamins added to the original ticket.
Put the two together and you get something that could easily be characterized as a disposable pseudo-heirloom ticking down the seconds to the day when it is worth less than nothing, an outrageous exercise in weapons-grade cynicism. The fact that the Swatch Sistem51 Hodinkee Generation 1986 isn’t even the same color as the watch which “inspired” it is further evidence of this. Hodinkee had to make it plain black so it would sell through, rather than keep the interesting deep blue of the original.
The Generation 1986 has one true purpose: a group marker. You buy this thing so other Hodinkee people will ask you about it. More specifically, you buy it because you want to “floss” on the folks who didn’t click “Add To Cart” fast enough. Like Funko Pops or Furby toys at Christmas, the value of the watch is in the timely possession of it and the subsequent display to the initiated cognoscenti.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. The Swatch Sistem51 Hodinkee Generation 1986 has some other virtues. It’s a real Swiss watch made in a country that pays a living wage. Compared to truly ephemeral garbage like the various Apple and Samsung watches, it might as well be a 1969 Daytona. The big Swatch requires no special care – it can be bashed about without guilt. Of course, all of these virtues are also present in the rest of the Sistem51 line.
I’m sending this watch to our founder. Will it see much wrist time? Would you choose this over an IWC or Rolex to wear on any particular day? I will remain content with another Aurelius-ism: The only wealth you will keep forever is the wealth which you have given away.
Swatch Sistem51 Hodinkee Generation 1986
Price: $150 (Street Price $275)
Case diameter: 42mm
Case Thickness: 13.9mm
Movement: Swatch Sistem51 automatic
Water resistant: 30M
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * *
Even uglier than the original quartz Swatch, and that’s saying something.
Legibility * *
Don’t use this on your next tour of Afghanistan, or anywhere the lighting isn’t very strong.
Comfort * * * * *
If condoms wore this lightly the human race would already be extinct.
The Sistem51 is a two-star watch. Charging more for a less attractive variant gets you a one-star demotion, and may God have mercy on your soul.