When the Swatch was born four decades ago, the plastic timepiece breathed new life into the staid Swiss watch industry, which was struggling to compete with cheap quartz models from Asia. By the early 1990s, Swatch sales soared to about 20 million a year as consumers snapped up the colorful designs that married Swiss-made precision with an affordable fun factor. That boost provided financial cover for the slow-motion comeback of struggling high-end manufacturers (Blancpain, Breguet, Omega, and others), building the Swatch Group into a powerhouse that today includes 17 brands and generates annual sales of about $7.5 billion.
But in recent years, the Swatch brand itself has languished, muscled out of the low end by fitness bands, smartwatches—especially the Apple Watch, now the top-selling timepiece of any sort—and smartphones, which millennials often use instead of wristwear. By 2021, unit sales of the Swatch brand were down to about 3.2 million, analysts estimate. “It had lost some relevance for the younger generation,” says Nick Hayek, chief executive officer of Swatch Group AG.