From novelties by the usual suspects like Rolex and Tudor, to independent brands like Christopher Ward punching well above their weight, 2022 marked a return to form for a watch industry hit hard by the pandemic.
But it wasn’t any of those brands that created the biggest watch story of the year. That accolade – by some margin, in our opinion – goes to the Swatch MoonSwatch.
It could have been dismissed as a parody; perhaps an April Fools joke mistakenly released a couple of weeks early. But no. Instead the Switch Group asked the two bookends of its brand catalogue to play nice and produce a watch with the affordable plastic-and-quartz build of a Swatch, but the premium look of an Omega.
And not just any Omega – for many, the Speedmaster is the Omega. The so-called Moonwatch that blasted into space on the wrists of Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The watch whose chronograph helped the crew of the stricken Apollo 13 return to Earth.
Swatch ripped apart the horological rule book back in March, but on the 26th of that month it failed to launch. Thousands of watch fans (and plenty of scalpers looking to spin a quick buck) queued overnight to get their hands on the boutique-only MoonSwatch. Stores were hopelessly ill-equipped to cope, with no queue management, no security and hardly any stock on the shelves.
Stock vanished almost instantly, while safety issues meant some stores failed to open at all, with staff telling shoppers who had queued for 24 or even 48 hours to go home empty-handed.
Dumbstruck by hitting the watch hype jackpot, Swatch couldn’t produce MoonSwatches fast enough, and not by half. Speaking to Wired in the summer, Swatch Group chief executive Nick Hayek Jr said how the company wasn’t rushing to build millions to quickly satisfy demand, but would regardless install new manufacturing equipment to reduce bottlenecks.
Swatch asked for patience, promising: “We do our best to fulfil demand and we hope that anyone who is moonstruck by this Omega x Swatch collaboration will soon be able to lay their hands on one of these watches."
The company increased the number of stores stocking the MoonSwatch, each earning the right to display a briefcase showcasing all 11 colourways, each named after and inspired by the planets of our solar system. The company later took MoonSwatch on a summer tour of Europe, selling watches from the back of a fleet of Fiat 500s.
After this, and still running as of December, Swatch began selling the watches at pop-up stores appearing seemingly at random worldwide. Private Facebook groups exchange info on where these are, and how much stock is available; some models of MoonSwatch are more difficult to find than others.
Over 270 days later, and as I write this, the MoonSwatch still isn’t available to buy on the Swatch website. Prices on eBay have tumbled significantly from their four-figure high in the spring, to barely scraping clear of the £218 retail price today. At the time of writing, MoonSwatches listed at £250 have zero bids with mere minutes remaining; others are falling short of the £240 barrier, suggesting that even on Christmas Eve demand for the must-have timepiece has jettisoned its rocket boosters.
But that isn’t to say the MoonSwatch has fallen out of favour with watch lovers. Hodinkee has named it their Watch of The Year, and you can bet your bottom dollar that online stock would sell out in a heartbeat, should it ever actually arrive.
The MoonSwatch launch must surely go down in history as a key moment in horology, branding and retail. There are thesis to be written about the humble plastic timepiece from each of these angles, and probably many more too.
As the year draws to a close, we wonder what Swatch’s next move might be. A huge ramp-up in production and online sales would of course be welcome, but would demand be sustained once the floodgates are opened and the bottleneck cleared? Was the enormous demand we saw back in March merely a flash in the pan; more the actions of opportunistic scalpers branching out from PS5s and Nike Dunks than real watch fans?
Swatch will undoubtedly be considering a followup to the MoonSwatch. How about a spin-off of the Omega Seamaster? Swatch has already said a successor is possible, after all. We’ll see you in the queue.