It only takes a brief glance at social media, let alone a trip to your local Swatch boutique, to ponder whether the launch of the MoonSwatch is going even vaguely to plan.
Rewind a month and thousands of watch fans the world over – plus plenty of hopeful resellers looking to make a quick buck – queued overnight to get their hands on one of the most unexpected timepieces in recent watchmaking history.
Announced a few days earlier, the MoonSwatch is a collaboration between Omega and Swatch that borrows the design of the former’s iconic Speedmaster, then injects fun colours, plastic cases and a low price befitting the latter. Available in 11 colourways named after the members of our solar system from the Sun to Pluto, the MoonSwatch was a massive and instantaneous hit.
Each model is a playfully designed take on the original Speedmaster, which in 1969 became the first watch worn on the Moon. The Swatch range has it all, from a faithful Speedmaster replica with a black dial called Mission to the Moon, to the bright red Mission to Jupiter, and the unfortunately-named but ‘Tiffany blue’ Mission to Uranus.
Fans queued up, in some cases for 24 or even 48 hours, to buy one. I joined a queue at the Swatch store in London’s Covent Garden at around 6 am on 26 March. It was two hours before opening time, and already the line wrapped around three streets, doubling back on itself and populating the Instagram stories of passers-by.
But the store never opened. A mass of shoppers at the front of the line had made it impossible, Swatch said afterwards, to safely open the door. Rumours of their being just a hundred or so in stock, plus news of examples already selling on the second-hand market for hundreds and even thousands of pounds, meant a rain check was the only option. Everyone was sent home empty-handed.
Fast-forward a month to the present day, and the MoonSwatch is yet to go on sale online – something Swatch said would happen after the botched launch – and stores rarely have much in the way of stock, despite assurances that production will not be limited.
The whole situation is angering watch fans who, quite rightly, might have assumed a month was enough time for supply to meet demand. A Twitter user called Nadine said to Swatch UK on 4 May: “Ridiculous scenes at your Oxford Circus shop this morning, people queuing two hours for MoonSwatch only for shipment not to arrive…What a waste!”.
Another Twitter user, called Morgan, said: “Really disappointed that these are still not available online. Made one trip to London (no stock) won’t be bothering again.”
Addressing both Swatch and Omega, Rainer Buechse said: “It is unacceptable how you treat your customers. I will never ever enter a Swatch store and ask for MoonSwatch. Do you think your customers are idiots?”
Sayed Ahmed tweeted: “The MoonSwatch might get you free PR, but it has left me with an experience of never re-entering the Swatch store ever again. The experience has been anything but great”.
And that’s just a snapshot of English-speaking Twitter users from half of one day. The situation has now dragged on for seven weeks, it’s the same across the US and Europe, and there’s no end in sight.
One wonders what the mood is at Swatch Group headquarters in Bienne, Switzerland. Omega is a part of the group – a fact that probably passes further beneath the radar of an average consumer than the way Volkswagen’s ownership of Skoda once did – and a queue around the block for a product bearing its name should surely be applauded. But with the Swatch shortages such as they are, it is perversely far easier to stroll into an Omega store and buy an actual Speedmaster.
As for Swatch itself, the company has earned a massive amount of attention and may well have sold other models of watch to brand newcomers picking up their MoonSwatch, if only they had been available.
It successfully earned an enormous amount of attention for a collaboration that should have lit the afterburners and propelled Swatch to newfound heights. It got people talking about watches like never before. To use political parlance, it’s a story that ‘broke through’ to the general public in a way any other watch company could only dream of. In a matter of days, the Moonwatch went from total secrecy to being as well known as Rolex.
Instead, Swatch somehow clinched failure from the jaws of victory.
It is not without irony that the Covent Garden queue I endured passed right by an Apple store, which has since the first iPhone landed in 2007 set the gold standard for managing a launch-day sales event.
They erect barriers, employ staff to organise the lines, ask which model of device everyone wants to ensure supply will stretch far enough, and even strike deals with nearby coffee shops to supply breakfast. Swatch failed to do any of this, and when staff arrived on that sunny Saturday morning back in March, faced with a mob reportedly threatening violence at the door, they had no choice but to pull the plug.
It isn’t clear why Swatch hasn’t been able to catch up with demand, given the MoonSwatch is, despite its Omega branding, a simple plastic timepiece driven by a battery-powered quartz movement. Why the company hasn’t opened online sales with virtual queueing systems to manage the digital rush is also unknown. Perhaps it has seen enough chaos caused by scalpers hunting down PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles with automated bots to doubt the robustness of its own website.
Now Swatch surely finds itself in a situation it hadn’t anticipated, where a £200 plastic quartz watch is as difficult to buy as a Rolex Daytona, when it should instead be a fun novelty for almost everyone to enjoy. Like all other Swatches, only with a marketing masterstroke on its side.
It also isn’t clear where Swatch goes from here. Will it eventually produce enough watches to meet demand, which will surely fade once everyone who wants a MoonSwatch has been satisfied? Is it suffering from unforeseen manufacturing difficulties? And what will happen with its closer relationship with Omega? The future could see more of its nameplates receive the Swatch treatment, putting the brand onto the wrists of younger buyers, like the kid in a Ferrari cap who might one day buy the real thing.
For now, it feels like Swatch made mistakes in failing to grasp just how popular the MoonSwatch would be, in failing to prepare its retail strategy, and ultimately angering its customers, many of whom had lined up to buy their first Swatch, yet were left empty-handed.
This article is part of The T3 Edit, a collaboration between T3 and Wallpaper* which explores the very best blends of design, craft, and technology. Wallpaper* magazine is the world’s leading authority on contemporary design and The T3 Edit is your essential guide to what’s new and what’s next.