How the Secret ‘Project Galileo’ Gave Rise to the MoonSwatch

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 Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch, 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 watch 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 watch 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 Speedmaster Moonwatch, 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. 

Photograph: Swatch Group

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