At first glance the Swatch YIS403 Irony Sistem 51 Arrow might look like an expensive Swiss timepiece, but the price is low enough to indicate that some of the components might not be high end. It’s a casual watch that would be good for everyday wear and almost looks a little sporty like a diving or aviator watch. The movement and design both have pros and cons and this watch is definitely worth taking a closer look at.
The movement of the Sistem 51 can be seen through the exhibition window on the back, painted with a smart looking checkerboard pattern. It’s an ETA C10111 automatic movement with 19 jewels. Thanks to the acrylic material of the rotor, the rotor itself is transparent and a lot more of the movement can be seen through it. And with a 90 hour power reserve, it will keep time even if you don’t wear it every day.
As great as all of that sounds, the ETA C10111 is a somewhat controversial movement. Swatch considers it a revolution in modern watch manufacturing because it’s made entirely by machines and has only 51 parts. However, some people feel that since no humans had a hand in its manufacture, the heart of this watch has no soul. Another concern amongst more serious collectors is that it’s not well made, especially by Swiss standards. For example, the escapement responsible for the movement of the hands is made of plastic, something that many horologists consider to be an affront to the fine art of watchmaking. Also, many of the parts are soldered together, so if anything within the movement stops working, the entire thing would need to be replaced rather than repaired.
The YIS403 Irony Sistem 51 Arrow is simple and easy to read despite there being a lot of elements packed onto the dial. Part of what makes it so easy to read is that it’s a larger watch at 42mm in diameter and 13.8mm thick. The white font and indicators pop against the black dial, and that combination looks slick next to the stainless steel of the bezel and case. Strangely, the bezel has a notched design that looks like some diving watches where the bezel is able to turn, but the one on this watch is immobile. Another curious choice for this timepiece is the plastic crystal on both the dial and the exhibition back.
Around the outer edge of the dial is a stainless steel ring attached to the bezel by spokes at five minute intervals. Inside the ring is a detail that adds interest to the dial without adding clutter; white stick indicators mark the minutes but are broken by a thin black ring about one-third of their length toward the outer edge. On the inner edge of the stick indicators, Arabic numerals mark every five minutes with the exception of 15 and 60. In place of the 15 is the date display in the somewhat standard three o’clock position. Where you’d expect the number 60 to be at the 12 o’clock position is an upward pointing arrow, cleverly symbolizing the name of this watch. In addition to the Arabic and stick indicators marking the minutes, the middle of the dial shows the hour with Arabic numerals. The middle of the dial is demarcated by a thin white ring, making it almost look like a sundial.
The hour and minute hands are sword shaped stainless steel with inlaid lumination. The sweeping fils second hand also has illumination, but don’t count on it to help you see what time it is in the dark. One of the biggest complaints about this watch is that the luminosity isn’t very bright and doesn’t last very long.
Finishing off the design is the rubber strap with an Ardillon buckle. It’s all black, but there’s a pinstripe texture that adds some detail to the otherwise plain strap. It’s 21mm wide, proportional to the large design of the case while also being suitable for most wrists. One thing to note about this strap is that it attaches to the lugs with three tangs. This design is proprietary to Swatch, so if you were thinking of switching out the rubber strap for another material, it might be difficult to do.
Whether you think that this automatic movement is the latest in cutting edge technology or you think it belongs in the trash, one thing that can’t be argued with is the price. The relatively low price of the Swatch YIS403 Irony Sistem 51 Arrow may make those on the fence about the quality of the movement overlook its weaker points. The stylish design also makes this a good candidate for daily wear, especially if you don’t mind not having all the bells and whistles that come along with pricier watches.