It started in Australia. Three hours before opening, the 376-square-foot Sydney Swatch store reported a crowd of 5,000 people outside. They all wanted to buy a $260 Swatch-ified timepiece that looked nearly identical to the iconic Omega Speedmaster luxury watch — which starts around $6,000 retail — and there wasn’t nearly enough product to go around.

Similar scenes unfolded in Singapore, Bangkok and other major cities as morning crossed the globe on March 26, 2022, with pictures, videos and internet chatter stoking the frenzy. In some locations, riot police were dispatched and stores were forced to close.

“It was crazy,” remembers Nick Hayek Jr., CEO of the Swatch Group, which owns both Swatch and Omega. “We clearly communicated from the beginning, it’s not a limited edition.”

ceo of swatch group nick hayek junior
Nick Hayek Jr., son of the Swatch Group’s founder and its current CEO, poses in front of a MoonSwatch display.
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The MoonSwatch had landed, and it captured the world’s attention. Collectors were astounded; for everyone else, it was the hype product of the year.

As fans were left empty-handed, scarcity led to exploding secondhand prices. Demand was reminiscent of the market for sought-after Rolex or Patek Philippe watches, and so was the way this plasticky, $260 quartz watch became a flex for celebrities. It went viral. Fakes appeared in short order.

Almost as shocking as the reaction was the concept itself.

“It’s a provocative idea to put Omega and Swatch together on a dial and to sell a product for 250 Swiss francs,” says Hayek, the puppet master behind it all. “It’s still a Swatch, but it’s nevertheless also an Omega Speedmaster. It’s a copy but it’s also an original. We fight against the industry that makes copies.”

Provocative is an understatement: it was unfathomable. To conceive and actually go through with bringing such a product to market took serious guts.

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The red-and-white MoonSwatch Mission to Mars makes playful but specific references to the Alaska Project prototype watch Omega developed for NASA in 1969.
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Side by side with the original Speedy, the configuration of the MoonSwatch’s subdials differentiate it, but the dimensions and contours are identical. They’re produced in a hybrid plastic-and-ceramic material with a battery-powered quartz movement inside. Alongside “Swatch” is the same prestigious “Omega” and “Speedmaster” branding found on the original timepiece NASA sent to the moon with the astronauts in 1969. That one became known, of course, as the Moonwatch.

“In the watch industry, what has value is luxury. Everything has to be a limited edition and more expensive than before,” Hayek observes. “And this is just the other way around.”

I’ve written about watches for years and seen countless collab products, and I’ve never seen anything like the MoonSwatch. But how should it be understood? And how did such an audacious product come to be? To get the real story, I went to the source: Swatch’s factories in Biel, Switzerland, and the project’s mastermind, Hayek himself.

moonswatch launching on a rocket
Sophia Foster-Dimino

One Small Step

“What I’m telling you is not that I sat in my office and had an idea. It was a process,” Hayek reveals over lunch at the Swatch Group Headquarters in Biel. “At the beginning, it was a playful way to use Bioceramic.”

people working on the moonswatch in an office
Sophia Foster-Dimino

Bioceramic is the brand’s own concoction mixing ceramic and plastic — the latter of which it calls “biomaterial,” since it sounds better than “plastic” and comes from castor oil rather than petroleum. Pigments are added for color, and it offers some properties similar to ceramic, but it’s much cheaper.

You can get Bioceramic Swatch watches for under $100, whereas traditional ceramic watches command a premium even among luxury watches. Omega’s own Seamaster Diver 300M, for example, costs $3,000 more in ceramic than a similar watch in steel.

“Bioceramic was key in the operation,” Hayek explains. “Our brands wanted to use it with their own identities, but that is a no-go. It’s owned by Swatch, so the idea popped up: why not do a collaboration ourselves? And then, talking with people, it got more concrete.”

bioceramic pellets used to make the moonswatch
The product of mixing ceramic, castor oil-based plastic and pigments, Bioceramic takes the form of pellets before being molded into watch cases and other components.
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Hayek assembled a crack team to tackle the project — codenamed Project Galileo — in strict secrecy: “It was done here with us. From the details at the beginning to the tooling, the distribution, the pricing, the press release, just everything. I wanted and needed to have control over everything.”

“I showed him, and I saw his face. Yeah, he was scared. He’s a very good man, but he was a bit scared."

Initially, prototypes were made of other historic watches from the group’s brands. Hayek shows me Bioceramic versions of the Omega Seamaster 300 and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms dive watches and explains why they were rejected.

“Here, you have no identity of Swatch. It’s a copy. That’s it,” Hayek explains. “The fun and the provocation is not there.” With a quartz chronograph, however, the three evenly spaced subdials distinguish it visually from the Speedmaster — and recall another Swatch hit, the Chrono of the 1990s. It’s just different enough, and it can still leverage the Omega Speedmaster’s status.

Hayek recalls bringing a mockup to Petros Protopapas, the brand heritage manager for Omega and director of the Omega Museum. His enthusiasm was a key moment.

“I said, ‘You know all the Omega fans. You are not shocked by it?’ He said, ‘No. Mr. Hayek, if I take this prototype that you have here, what you did, it will just explode in desirability and also in auctions.’”

Not everybody reacted as positively. Take Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann, for one.

“I showed him,” Hayek recalls, “and I saw his face. Yeah, he was scared. He’s a very good man, but he was a bit scared.”

Aeschlimann seemed open to a Bioceramic loaner watch for clients who brought their Speedmasters in for repair, similar to what some other brands offer. But, of course, that’s not what Hayek had in mind.

“You need courage,” Hayek says. “At the end, Raynald had courage, even if he had no real choice.”

Ideation began in April 2021 and production began several months later in December. Even Hayek is surprised the secret stayed safe.

“We had 400 or 500 workers who started to make the things and, you saw their faces, they knew something magical was happening and they were proud to be part of it,” he says. “But nothing got out.”

Hayek credits the Swatch Group’s vertical integration — its ability to control every step of production — with keeping a lid on things.

moonswatch factory
We toured some of the factories where MoonSwatches are made. Every part of the MoonSwatch including dials is produced in-house by Swatch in Switzerland.
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“You will see the watch with other eyes after the visit,” I’m told on the way to tour a couple of the factories where MoonSwatch parts are constructed. “This is really high level. People say ‘it’s only 250 Swiss francs;’ you will see how deep we go in the details.”

He’s right. It was unlike any other watch factory I’ve visited. Although nearly every step of production is automated, the attention to detail — from hyper-precise printing to the Moonwatch-accurate “stepped” subdials — is impressive.

“This operation, the product itself, the distribution strategy, the communication strategy was really, point by point, planned, reflected on and totally consistent.” Hayek says. “We expected queues. But the impact, with 5,000 people waiting in front of the store — that was not foreseeable.”

moonswatch command center
Sophia Foster-Dimino

Ready for Liftoff

In mid-March, plain white Omega ads started appearing that read: “On March 26th, it’s time to change your Swatch.” At the same time came the Swatch ads: “On March 26th, it’s time to change your Omega.”

“We put it in all the newspapers,” Hayek says. “Traditional print where the high-end and luxury advertisements go. That’s where we launched it.” Only a hardcore Swatch fan would recognize the nod to a cheeky “It’s time to change your Rolex” Swatch campaign from around the time of the 1987 Wall Street crash.

moonswatch suitcase
The sealed suitcase containing all 11 MoonSwatch models was a big part of its launch.
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The public sensed something big, but only a handful of people knew what it was. The rest couldn’t have imagined.

Then, sealed suitcases began appearing in Swatch boutiques. “No store manager, no sales personnel, no country brand manager could look inside,” Hayek explains. Anticipation mounted, but even industry insiders and pundits could only scratch their heads.

When the announcement came on March 24, Swatch and Omega employees saw the MoonSwatch for the first time and received training before it went on sale two days later. But, perfectly timed to kick the excitement into hyperdrive, pictures were leaked online on March 23.

Swatch says it didn’t expect the massive turnout, but critics say it should have — at least when crowds started to swell ahead of the launch. There was confusion, chaos, a lot of disappointed customers and even isolated reports of minor violence and intimidation.

swatch store at the venetian
With the exception of Fiat 500-based mobile retail stations, actual Swatch stores are the only places you can buy MoonSwatches directly from the brand.
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swatch store in berlin
The photo on the left is of a shop located in Macau, while the photo above is of one in Berlin. 
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The watches weren’t available online, and the 110 locations around the world carrying the MoonSwatch mostly had only a couple hundred watches to sell. Originally limited to two per customer, Hayek reduced it to one when videos of the crowds started coming in.

It was high drama for the watch world, especially given the timing — just days before the start of the trade show Watches & Wonders Geneva, the biggest industry event of the year.

“I had a gut feeling,” Hayek says of shifting the release from the originally planned date in May. “I said, ‘That’s the right timing.’”

His team scrambled. “And then we did it.”

moonswatch watch face floating in space
Sophia Foster-Dimino

MoonStruck

“The last time this happened was never,” says Rober-Jan “RJ” Broer. “When we had meetings at Watches & Wonders, even the Patek [Philippe] people said, ‘Oh, you have the MoonSwatch. Show it to me.’ Everywhere you heard the Velcro. It was the talk of the town.”

As founder of the watch website Fratello and the popular #SpeedyTuesday hashtag, Broer’s got a deep perspective on the MoonSwatch. He’s also one of the foremost Omega Speedmaster collectors in the world. “I never saw this for a watch,” he admits.

The reaction, the media frenzy and the crowds were unprecedented, but the nature of the collaboration itself was equally surprising.

omega x swatch moonswatch color options
Each of the 11 MoonSwatch models represents a different celestial body in our solar system.
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“I’m a Speedmaster guy, so I really had to digest it a little bit because, yeah, you’re basically making a copy of an icon,” he explains. “When I saw that it said ‘Omega’ and ‘Swatch,’ and it said ‘Speedmaster,’ at first I thought, ‘Oh, why did you put Speedmaster on the dial?’ But then it struck me: if you don’t put Speedmaster on it, people will say it’s a cheap copy. But with Speedmaster on the dial, well, it’s a Speedmaster.”

In some ways, the MoonSwatch is made for collectors like Broer who know that watch well. “They put a lot of effort into the details,” he says.

“The last time this happened was never.”

You’ll need a loupe to appreciate some of them, like the “dot over 90” (as opposed to next to it) on the bezel’s tachymeter scale, signifying some of the earliest and most collectible Speedmasters. While the Speedmaster features a tiny Omega logo etched into the underside of the crystal, the MoonSwatch has a tiny S (for Swatch, of course).

The red-and-white Mission to Mars MoonSwatch recalls a famous prototype Omega made for NASA in 1969 called “Alaska Project,” with a red thermal shield and the same red “rocket” hands. The design itself is cool, but watch nerds who know the history appreciate it all the more.

omega alaska project
The Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project features a detachable thermal shield made of aluminum to protect it from extreme temperatures. 
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omega x swatch moonswatch mars
The Mission to Mars MoonSwatch features similar coloring and style but, not surprisingly, no such shield.
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Perhaps that’s why the MoonSwatch appeals not only to young, budget-oriented and fashionable crowds, but also to those who typically collect only much higher-end watches.

“We have many Rolex, Patek, Breguet, Omega clients that want these products,” Hayek says. “The first client in the morning on March 26 was an employee from Rolex.”

The hype fed on itself. “We were in Geneva, and we saw people queuing up,” Broer recalls. “At some point we asked someone, ‘Why are you queuing up?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, there was a queue.’”

“It’s good for the people who know, the fans of Omega,” Hayek observes, “but it’s really good for the people who don’t know. They will discover. And even if you don’t know, it’s still fun.”

It’s rare that a collaboration, especially one in the world of watches, brings a luxury item within reach for more people. Of course, actual availability is a different story. Lacking a chance to buy or repeatedly being told “no” brought a sour note to the MoonSwatch for many — though it simultaneously propelled its appeal.

moonswatch planets in orbit around the solar system
Sophia Foster-Dimino

The Dark Side of the MoonSwatch

“Bring the people,” Hayek says. “Bring the people to the streets. Have fun. Let the people queue.”

Many expected the MoonSwatch to be available online eventually, but he is adamant that the experience should involve more than clicking add to cart: “It’s the moment for social gathering again.”

Even months after the MoonSwatch’s release, there’s only one way to get one directly from the brand: Go to a Swatch store and see if they have any. The stores continually receive new shipments, but usually only a couple models at a time. People are still lining up, and the stock sells out quickly.

“Bring the people. Bring the people to the streets. Have fun. Let the people queue.”

At the only Swatch store in the Philadelphia area, where I live, a sign on the display-only MoonSwatch suitcase read “You just missed them,” but upon inquiring inside, I found two models were actually available. I walked out with the yellow Mission to the Sun and a little story about how I got lucky. A customer I met there said it was his third attempt.

“When Swatch launched the Chrono for the first time [in 1992], they were not limited editions and were only available in stores,” Hayek remembers. “It was exactly the same; the people were lining up and waiting for packages, and they never knew which models were coming.”

people finding empty shelves at the swatch shop
Sophia Foster-Dimino

The Chrono hype wasn’t like this, but “at some point, we lost control of the distribution,” Hayek says. The MoonSwatch was only made available in monobrand Swatch boutiques “because we needed to have 100 percent control.”

Those mobs at the Swatch stores of course include scalpers — and average prices on eBay, StockX and Chrono24 hitting $1,000 doesn’t look like 100 percent control.

“You cannot avoid it,” Hayek concedes. “You cannot control the parallel market 100 percent when demand is so extreme.”

“We knew it wouldn’t be ideal in some countries where our store coverage isn’t as good as in Switzerland, like the U.S.,” he adds, but “from time to time, it’s good to make a point and say, ‘Look, we are sorry, not every wish can just be fulfilled easily and instantly.’”

Hayek does want to put a MoonSwatch on your wrist, but “it’s not about maximizing our profits and turnover in the shortest possible period of time, otherwise we would’ve opened e-commerce.”

That said, the company has since ramped up production, with factories pumping out (an undisclosed number of) MoonSwatches 24/7. They’ve added dozens of new retail locations and there’s even talk of building new factories to meet the demand.

astronauts floating above a moonswatch earth
Sophia Foster-Dimino

The MoonSwatch Effect

Criticism, controversy, a chaotic launch, exorbitant secondhand prices and upset customers might not sound desirable. But together they make up the MoonSwatch buzz, and that buzz extends far beyond the product itself.

Naysayers who thought Omega would be damaged have been resoundingly rebuffed; sales of the original Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch are up 50 percent year over year. In Switzerland, sales at Swatch shops not carrying the MoonSwatch are up by 41 percent.

“We’ve seen the numbers: the Speedmaster is more attractive than ever before. So, win, win, win. It really is elevating both brands in a way that wouldn’t be possible for each brand on its own.”

On secondhand sites, the effect is even more striking. “Searches for the Omega Speedmaster increased nearly 100 percent and sales were up over 150 percent the week following the release,” says Tirath Kamdar, eBay’s General Manager of Luxury. “The ‘MoonSwatch effect’ absolutely drove increased interest on eBay for the Omega brand.” Platforms like StockX and Chrono24 report similar results.

Some of these numbers represent a short-term surge in interest, of course, but that’s not all.

“It’s an affordable way to test-drive a Speedmaster,” notes Roger Ruegger, editor-in-chief of WatchTime magazine. “And then in five years perhaps come back and buy the real thing.”

children watching moonswatch on the news
Sophia Foster-Dimino

“It made Swatch more attractive, and it didn’t hurt Omega,” he continues. “Au contraire, it also made Omega much cooler. We’ve seen the numbers: the Speedmaster is more attractive than ever before. So, win, win, win. It really is elevating both brands in a way that wouldn’t be possible for each brand on its own.”

Can you go even further and say the MoonSwatch has exposed new audiences to the brands? Or even raised awareness of watches in general? Ruegger thinks so: “The watch industry owes Swatch Group, once again, a huge deal of gratitude for showing how attractive this product [watches] still is. The last three years we had discussions that went from ‘Is it the end of the watch industry due to smartwatches?’ to ‘Is it the end of the watch industry due to the pandemic?’ to people queuing here. That is really amazing.

One Giant Leap?

In five or ten years, how will we look back at the MoonSwatch moment of 2022? Opinions differ.

“This will always be in the [metaphoric] hall of fame, on a very high shelf,” says Ruegger.

Broer is more blasé: “I think we’ll say, ‘Hey, that was a nice, disruptive little thing going on there.’”

“The last three years we had discussions that went from ‘Is it the end of the watch industry due to smartwatches?’ to ‘Is it the end of the watch industry due to the pandemic?’ to people queuing here. That is really amazing.”

They agree that reaching younger audiences will benefit everyone down the road — but both see danger in dilution.

“If they were to come up with the Swatch x Breguet, the Swatch x Blancpain, Swatch x anything, then it would obviously erode what has happened here,” says Ruegger. “But if they again manage to do something completely different and unexpected … that is the essence of Swatch.”

Hayek himself isn’t too concerned with how the MoonSwatch will be remembered. But you can’t miss the comparison to that ’90s Chrono, which was in production for 10 years. The MoonSwatch won’t go away anytime soon, and a new sensation might not be far behind.

Which brings me back to a phrase Hayek loves: “positive provocation.” He wants the MoonSwatch’s message to be one of “being provocative and having fun, because it was a fun project, also.”

Wearing a T-shirt and jeans, the Swatch Group CEO puts me in one of the fleet of tiny Fiat 500 cars Swatch bought and turned into mobile retail stations for areas in Europe lacking MoonSwatch distribution.

He opens the top and takes me from his office through Biel to the drive-thru Swatch store outside the company’s headquarters. He proceeds to order watches that come packaged like hamburgers or ice cream.

It’s quite ridiculous. But, point taken. In the end, it’s all about fun.

hayek in the moonswatch fiat
Nick Hayek Jr. behind the wheel of one of the fleet of MoonSwatch-vending Fiat 500s meant to reach areas not served by Swatch stores.
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Matthew Stacey