In April, the president of the Swiss Confederation (and de facto head of state), Ignazio Cassis, visited Japan to hold talks with the country’s prime minister, Kishida Fumio. As is customary, gifts were to be exchanged, and Cassis’ office requested an example of what had just become the hottest Swiss watch to launch in years, if not decades: the MoonSwatch, a $260 Swatch-produced version of AAA UK replica Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatches, the chronograph famous for being worn by NASA astronauts on the moon.
The Swiss president, however, was out of luck. “We were pleased, but we told them, the only way that he can get the high quality fake watches is if he sends someone from his office queueing and hoping that at the Swatch shop in Bern they can find it,” says Nick Hayek Jr., chief executive of Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch producer, which owns both the Swatch and Omega brands.
Hayek, a 67-year-old billionaire who drives himself to work in a Mini and has a pirate’s flag flying outside his office, prides himself on the fact that privileged access—a feature of the luxury 1:1 replica watches world—is entirely absent with the MoonSwatch despite the intense demand. “It doesn’t help if you have deep pockets. The Patek Philippe and Rolex client, the Breguet client, the Richard Mille client, they all rang. They all want one. But even if you give us $10,000, it makes no difference. You have to wait, you have to buy it in the store. That’s the game changer.”
But finding the MoonSwatch at any Swatch shop anywhere has been a question of luck, timing, and sheer endurance since its launch on March 26 to scenes of pandemonium around the globe.
News had been dripped out gradually during the preceding week. On March 17, cryptic ads appeared in select newspapers with blank pages bearing the legend: “It’s time to change your Omega … Swatch” and “It’s time to change your Swatch … Omega.” Social media feeds hinted at something with a planetary theme before the timepieces were announced on March 24: eleven Swatch watches faithfully resembling the iconic best Swiss copy Omega Speedmaster Moonwatches, but battery-powered, in bright colors, and made from Swatch’s ecoplastic alternative, Bioceramic.
The colorways were inspired by planets in the solar system: there was the Mission to the Sun in bright yellow, the Mission to Neptune in deep blue, the Mission to Jupiter in beige and orange, and of course the black Mission to the Moon, closely resembling the Omega original.
As a mash-up of high and low, luxury and affordable, legendary and novelty, the MoonSwatch follows the blueprint of ultra-hyped, worlds-collide collaborations that have become a staple of the fashion world: Gucci x Adidas, Tiffany x Supreme, Balenciaga x Barbie. In fact, it’s a model that Swatch itself pioneered: Its collaborations with artists, designers, brands, institutions, and more (including NASA itself last year) have been central to its identity—“joy of life, and positive provocation” as Hayek defines it—since the 1980s. But bringing this to the austere world of luxury Swiss movements replica watches, with a riff on one of the most collected, lionized, and theoretically untouchable models ever made, had little precedent.
“These are two brands known worldwide, two brands with a clear message on the opposite side of the scale, and a total surprise for everyone,” says Hayek when I ask him why the MoonSwatch has caught on so. “It’s simple to understand for everybody, whatever background you have. It was straight to the heart of the people.”
The Dark Side of the MoonSwatch
Once news of the product was out, along with the message that distribution would be limited to just 110 physical Swatch boutiques worldwide, the hype train took over. At Oxford Street in London, the queueing began soon after the announcement on March 24, even though the super clone watches for sale would not be on sale for two more days. Around the world tents were pitched, lines formed, and crowds grew.
On sale day, store managers found themselves facing throngs of thousands, many of them “scalpers”—seasoned resellers who ply their trade in the worlds of sneaker culture, street fashion, and PlayStations, intent on charging high markups. Swatch’s original plan to allow buyers two fake watches wholesale online each had by then been reduced to one each, hardly helping a mood that had reportedly changed, in several cases, from camaraderie to restlessness and agitation. It hasn’t changed much since.
At 9 am on March 26, stores opened. London’s Carnaby Street location lasted half an hour before police were called, and all three London shops were forced to shut. In New York, scuffles broke out amid rumors of a stabbing in the line. A Swatch shop in Singapore was forced to shut for 10 days in a bid to let the mayhem play itself out first.
At locations around the world, police were needed to assist staff as the vast majority of punters left empty-handed: most of the shops had fewer than 200 Swiss made replica watches available. Deals were done within queues as scalpers flipped watches for profit to those waiting outside. Within minutes of the first sales, MoonSwatches were hitting eBay and other platforms, attracting bids into the thousands.
“We informed everybody: It’s not limited; don’t buy on the internet from flippers; you will be able at some point in time to get your MoonSwatch,” says Nick Hayek when we meet at Swatch Group’s HQ in Biel, Switzerland, a couple of months after the launch. He rejects the idea that Swatch could have been better prepared. “We knew for sure this would be a success, because the product is beautiful, provocative, high quality, and the price is fantastic, and we kept it a secret. But what happened … I think nobody in the world could have expected that. It was really crazy.”
The crowds may have dispersed, but the MoonSwatch’s continuing lack of availability, with restocks selling out in moments and Swatch declining to make them available online, has led to widespread consternation. Some of the comments on Swatch’s Instagram posts, not to mention across Reddit, Discord, and Facebook, do not make pretty reading.
Except, that is, from those who happen to have gotten hold of a MoonSwatch. What could have been construed as a downmarket desecration of a legendary timepiece has received near universal enthusiasm: It’s imaginative, fun, expressive, and reaches across cultural divides.
“It’s very daring and very positive,” says James Marks, head of Phillips Perpetual, the contemporary watch division of the Phillips auction house. “It’s captivating the next generation of collector with a play on something that’s otherwise inaccessible to them. You now have all these people globally who have this bright fake watches shop site on their wrist that has history, intrigue, the connection to space.”
“I’d love to get one,” Marks adds, “but I haven’t even handled one.”
The targeting of this next generation is perhaps the most enterprising part of the MoonSwatch launch. Luxury watch buyers are not young: A recent study of 8,000 people by an insurance firm in the UK found the average age of the Rolex owner in the country to be 68. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch now outsells the entire combined Swiss watch industry, taking its biggest chunks out of the market for battery-powered perfect replica watches, where Swatch operates. What better way to expose a completely new, younger audience to Omega than through such an affordable collaboration? And it seems to be working. Hayek says that since the arrival of the MoonSwatch, Omega stores are seeing a spike in sales and footfall.
According to Derek Morrison, general manager EMEA for StockX, an online marketplace for collectible sneakers and streetwear, the MoonSwatch has had huge cut-through with the platform’s Gen Z audience. The site reported more than 2,000 MoonSwatch trades in less than a week after launch and had seen over 11,000 trades by June.
“It’s the best-selling watch release in StockX history, and it’s had the highest premium of any item released this year,” Morrison says. “There’s a lot of foresight, from a branding point of view. If this is a discovery point for best quality Omega fake watches, it compares with what Virgil Abloh [the late fashion designer and Off-White entrepreneur] did so well: using an approachable medium to shine a light on things that have been reserved for the elite, and inspiring them to learn more about them.”
More simply, Swatch will obviously benefit financially from MoonSwatch, which will give the brand a welcome revenue boost. In the early 1990s, Swatch sold 20 million top replica watches a year. But sales in 2021 are down to 3.2 million. Morgan Stanley estimates Swatch could sell up to 500,000 MoonSwatches this year alone, providing revenue of $128 million. If the MoonSwatch’s estimated gross margin is indeed approaching 90 percent ($115 million), it would restore the brand’s fortunes. And keep in mind MoonSwatch has not yet been launched in China. Once it is, total annual sales could hit one million units.