As an engineer, it’s always interesting to me to think about what a watch is designed for. In some ways, it’s easy to make “The World’s Finest Watch” if cost and time are no consideration. It’s much harder, on the other hand, to make a world-class watch for the masses for under, say, $200. Engineering both low-cost and style into a mechanical watch is not a simple task.
Today I’m reviewing a watch that tries for just that. Say hello to the Swatch Irony Automatic “Body and Soul”. It’s a skeletonized mechanical watch where both front and back are clear to allow an unobstructed view of the ticking heart inside. The movement is an ETA 2841 which is a modified version of the hugely popular 2824-2. Beating at 21,600 VPH, it simply displays hours, minutes and seconds. (VPH stands for “vibrations per hour.” 21,600 means that the second hand moves five times per second — a medium rate.)
Swatch made a number of innovative modifications to the 2824-2 to lower costs and reduce part count. The beat was slowed, the date removed, the plates of the watch were integrated into the case, and the ability to “hack” (have the second hand stop when you pull the crown all the way out so you can set the time precisely) removed as well. Of course, you probably don’t need a hacking movement in a watch without markings on the dial — this is not a watch for the obsessively precise timekeeper!
Moving to the outside of the watch, it’s the usual size for a men’s Swatch: about 36mm across and 13mm thick. The bracelet is alternating 3 and 5-link, with the center links hollow and hollow end links (another cost cutting measure). The stamped clasp uses a friction-fit with fliplock, secured with split pins. Although Swatch has their own end design, you can easily find replacement bracelets and straps on the internet in a variety of styles and materials. The crystal and caseback are both plastic, and it’s rated as waterproof to 30 meters (about 100 feet), however since the crown doesn’t screw down, I’d be hesitant to get it wet.
As with all skeletonized watches, the main issue is readability. The detail, movement, and different colors of the movement make the hands harder to see, and the lack of hour or minute markers makes exact readings tricky. That’s not the point of this watch, however. The point is to enjoy the movement, and to be able to watch its tiny beating heart. You can certainly do that with the Swatch Irony as the bridges and plates have been modified to display more of what’s going on. The mainspring barrel is also opened so you can see at a glance how wound or unwound the spring is. The rotor spins merrily, visible even while worn from the front, and the balance at 12 o’clock is a blur of motion. The hands are thoughtfully filled in with white luminous material that doesn’t last very long in the dark, but during the day, the white color actually improves the visibility.
It seems to keep time to within a few seconds per day. I’d expect it to last many years, more if you get it serviced every 2-3 years. At 36mm, it sits very easily on a wrist and slides under dress cuffs effortlessly due to a low and beveled profile. If you like mechanical watches at all, this is a wonderful one to have. It’s inexpensive (under $150), well-made, contains a genuine Swiss movement, and it’s great fun to let people see just what’s inside a ticking mechanical watch.
By Paul Hubbard