Sunday Ramblings: The MoonSwatch Problem

The watch world was taken by storm on 21 March 2022, when images of a collaboration between Omega and Swatch were leaked to an unsuspecting world. GQ UK may not have been the first to talk about this collaboration but the world surely paid attention when Hodinkee published an article about it on the 23rd. Then, it seemed, the world went mad. Lines formed outside Swatch boutiques the night before launch and the small number of watches available sold out within hours of the doors opening. What was the source of this craziness? Well, the MoonSwatch of course.

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

The excitement was palpable. The buzz was enormous. The secondary market was on fire. Day 1 MoonSwatches with dated receipts were the new thing. The watches are still in short supply and although a lot of buzz has subsided there’s still a lot to talk about. There’s also one thing that hasn’t been talked about; how the MoonSwatch poses a problem for Omega.

What is a MoonSwatch anyway?

The Omega x Swatch is a range of 11 models named after celestial objects in the solar system. The watches use a very close facsimile of the Speedmaster Professional case with a diameter of 42mm and a lug width of 20mm. They are three sub-dial, no date, quartz chronographs. The case is made from BIOCERAMIC. This is a blend of zirconium dioxide (2/3rds) and a polymer derived from castor beans/ricinoleic acid. This material can be coloured and has a soft, slippery feel. In general, each watch is coloured to match the latest images of the object it is named for.

Photo Credit: Swatch

They are a clear homage to the Speedmaster Professional. The sub -dials have moved a bit but the overall look is classic chronometer. The use of the Omega x Swatch with the Omega logo placed prominently at the top are a perfect reminder of the inspiration for the watch and who made it available. The case is a copy off the Speedmaster case and the use of coloured crown and pushers helps keep the design homogenous.

Photo Credit: Swatch

Swatch haven’t explicitly revealed what movement powers the watch but this is rather immaterial. We should all know that this is a quartz chronograph. It’s not a mechaquartz, they’re made by Seiko after all. Does the movement even matter? It tells the time and acts as a stopwatch. For a watch that looks as good as this what else does it need to do?

Why is it so exciting?

Professionally, I don’t like surprises. They generate a lot of work. For product marketing surprise has great value. The unexpected drives excitement. Excitement drives buzz, buzz drives sales. All of this is marketing 101. There was a lot of surprise elements to the MoonSwatch launch. It had Omega on the dial. It had the same case as a Speedmaster Professional. It had a range of great colours. You could buy something that looked like the “icon” at an affordable price. Did I miss any?

Scottish Watches and Bark and Jack

After two grim years the chance to go and buy something that had significant buzz and was accessible was unmissable for many. A fun, colourful Moon watch for $260? What could go wrong? The actual demand on launch day was a problem. The fact that Swatch was surprised and only had 100 or so watches per boutique was a problem. Flippers were undoubtedly a problem, and that a receipt dated for a day one purchase is worth more than the watch itself surprises me even more.

Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders

Most people would probably biggest watch event of 2022 was Watches and Wonders. However, Watches and Wonders leaves me cold. Very few of the watches launched or showcased are of interest to me. It’s a media event whose greatest service is to provide content for a month or so. Omega and Swatch completely dominated Watches and Wonders in 2022 and they weren’t even there. If a $260 watch can make the royalty of the watch industry irrelevant then I’m all for it.

MoonSwatch backlash

It was inevitable that there would be a backlash against the MoonSwatch. The Gartner media cycle shows that there are stages to social media hype. For the MoonSwatch the stages were Stage 1 leak, stage 2 is the hype (Peak of inflated expectations), Stage 3 is the trough of disillusionment, Stage 4 was when the watches became available for review and Stage 5 is the mature response which is where we are now.

Photo Credit: Gartner, Wikipedia

The building expectations phase was short-lived but the peak of inflated expectations was very high. Then came the trough of disillusionment. The response to the MoonSwatch has come in three main flavours. There are podcasters and YouTubers who were clearly upset that they weren’t top of the list for a review watch or couldn’t get one on day one. The second group was the secret watch snobs whilst the third group were the wait and see then give an honest appreciation.

As soon as the watches were on people’s wrists it became the “plastic” watch. You can argue whether “bioceramic” is a plastic material or not. I’d say not as the majority of the material is zirconium dioxide. At best it is a composite. It will not have the cold feel of stainless steel and the matt finish won’t reflect light like a polished ceramic bezel or case will either. Funnily enough a ceramic case doesn’t feel like a metal case either. Does anyone call a Seamaster 300M with a ceramic case a plastic watch? All too often plastic is used as a term of derision. “Plastic watch, plastic watch, plastic watch” was a common refrain and the delight from the MoonSwatch deniers when they found out that the battery compartment of some models stained the wrist was palpable.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey So

A fair assessment of the watch would be that this is a Swatch that looks like a Speedmaster Professional and is built to a budget. It may not be built to last like a Speedmaster but then again, it is only 5% of the cost.

Devaluing an icon

For those who had no intention of buying a MoonSwatch the loudest complaints were that Omega were devaluing an icon and devaluing the brand. When it comes to devaluing an icon Omega have been messing with the Moon Watch for years. There have been gold ones, cartoon character ones and all sorts of other designs that use the three-subdial/42mm case template. A quick look at Omega’s own website shows that they currently market 16 watches under the Moonwatch umbrella. Why should anyone care that Swatch does the same? Did it hurt the ego in some way that a similar looking watch can be bought for 5% of the cost of an Omega?

But it’s the moon watch and it has so much history. Really? Let’s take a look at that. How many watches have actually been to the moon? How many watches have even ventured beyond a low earth orbit? Let’s be generous. Each Apollo mission featured a three-man crew and there were nine missions that reached the moon’s orbit in some way. (Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17). Assuming that each astronaut was issued a different watch then there are only 27 watches that have been to the moon in some way. What you have on your wrist is a copy, homage, a facsimile of these watches. It’s not been to the moon!

Photo Credit: NASA Credit: NASA/NASA/Neil Armstrong/Reuters/Landrov

There are two groups of Moonwatch owners who may have some reason to be concerned with the Moonwatch. If you own a black dial Speedmaster Professional or a Speedmaster “Grey side of the Moon” specifically, then the Mission to the Moon and Mission to Jupiter MoonSwatches similar design might be cause for consternation.

Photo Credit: Swatch/Omega
Photo Credit: Swatch/Omega

That said, the number of people who own a Grey Side is likely to be small and would not be much of an issue to Omega as a brand. And while the Moonwatch owners may have a point, how  likely in one to be asked if one’s Moonwatch is a MoonSwatch when you’re at the pub or the theatre or on a plane? I doubt it, apart from perhaps at a watch meet-up. In any case, a real watch fan will know the difference straightaway.

Brand damage

There have also been concerns and discussions regarding whether the MoonSwatch devalued the brand because it was a cheap, plastic watch with Omega and Speedmaster on the dial. In my opinion, the presence of either labels doesn’t devalue the brand. In fact, all the attention, the queues outside Swatch boutiques and the coverage in the normal media were an opportunity for both Swatch and Omega. After all, how often do they have a chance to be visible in this way? The Omega x Swatch Speedmaster MoonSwatch represented a real chance for Omega. The watches stole Watches and Wonders 2022 and brought the Omega name to the attention of the general public in a way no sponsorship or product placement ever could. It’s just a shame that Omega is likely to squander this opportunity.

Photo Credit: Omega

It is a crucial point for Omega since it has been losing ground particularly recently. The 2022 Morgan Stanley report on the Swiss Watch industry stated that Omega have lost third position to Cartier in terms of turnover and they are very close in terms of percentage market share. While Swatch group as a whole seems to be doing well but Omega does not appear to growing as much as it should be and this could be a problem for them in the future. For many watch fans they are a two watch brand. They have the Seamaster and the Speedmaster. The Constellation, Globemaster and DeVille ranges might as well be invisible. To me, a lot of their marketing feels outdated and lacking in a consistent message. Can anyone say what the Omega brand represents? Could you write a brand statement for them?

In light of all that, the MoonSwatch presented the brand with the perfect opportunity to promote the brand in a meaningful manner. It could have been a chance to bring people to the boutiques to see these as well as the great watches that inspired them there. It is a shame then that they are not available in the Omega boutiques, since the opportunity for pull through and cross-selling is lost.

Omega’s MoonSwatch Problem

The Moonwatch launch was great for Swatch. Demand is still outstripping supply and they may never be available online despite claims from the brand. These will be hot items for Swatch but I fear that Omega won’t benefit enough. Despite the Swatch Group and Omega’s product planning and marketing communications, they risk failing to help one of their flagship brands enough.

In mathematics there is a principle called commutativity. It means that some operations can be moved around without affecting the result:

a.b=b.a but a x b ≠ b x a

A non-commutative result is one where you can’t move things about and get the same result. It has been popular to use “x” as a substitute for “by” in terms of collaboration and the MoonSwatch doesn’t differ. It is the Omega x Swatch for a reason. Would a Swatch x Omega work? I’m not sure but there were opportunities for Omega to benefit from these watches in ways that I doubt will ever happen.

And so, here is the real problem the MoonSwatch represent for Omega: A missed opportunity

Why can’t I buy these in an Omega Boutique?

Part of the reason the MoonSwatch was launched was to draw attention to the Omega brand and the Moonwatch. It certainly got the world’s attention but will Omega see a long-lasting sales bump if any at all?  What chance is there of someone going to a Swatch boutique to buy a MoonSwatch and then going to an Omega Boutique to buy a Moonwatch? Once the demand issues have been fixed surely it would be better to have these in an Omega boutique where there is the opportunity to buy a Swatch for a younger relative and an Omega for yourself.

Photo Credit Omega

Why can’t aren’t there Omega Speedmasters that look like these?

I own more than one Omega. I’m not Dave Sharp or Robert-Jan Broer but I do own more than one Omega. I have looked at the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch many times but have never bought one. Something just doesn’t click for me. The MoonSwatch on the other hand, clicked. When I saw the images upon their release my first thought was “Why can’t I buy a Speedmaster that looks like  some of these?”

The colour ways and design elements aren’t new. For example, the Speedmaster Tokyo “Rising Sun” and the Project Alaska may have been the inspiration for some of this range. It’s a shame that they are limited editions or buried in the Omega back catalogue.

Photo Credit: Fratello Watches

Why can’t I buy an Omega version of the Mission to Mars or Mission to Jupiter specifically? I’d love to. They might cost $8,000 – $10,000 but I’d save up and buy one. An Omega version of a MoonSwatch would have pulled me into a boutique with my credit card twitching to make a purchase even if there was a waiting list. I cannot imagine that I am the only one with such sentiments.

Conclusion

Perhaps down the line, we will see more Omega Speedmasters that carry similar colourways to the MoonSwatch. Perhaps Omega will open sales of these MoonSwatches to their own boutiques. Perhaps Omega has a grand plan on how to best capitalise on this lighting in a bottle release, that we just have not seen come to fruition. As things stand now though, Omega missed a real opportunity here and that’s a problem.

Photo Credit: Omega

With thanks to Misael Alvarez and Philologus Eio for their help with this article.