Schmid & Muller’s Swatch collection sells for $1.3 million at Sotheby’s Geneva

 ’Serpent’ collection
Keith Haring, one of the first major artists to work with Swatch, captures the heart of 1980s Swatch design. He spent two years working on the six different designs, which made up his ’Serpent’ collection in 1986
(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

One of the most unique collections of watches from recent times went under the hammer as part of the Important Watches sale at Sotheby's Geneva earlier this month. The Schmid & Muller collection, which sold for $1.3 million (approximately £800,000) was a super lot of pieces from Swatch's early years. More than 4,000 pieces, including nearly 1,000 watches and hundreds of rare prototypes and sketches, offer a snapshot into what became a groundbreaking  moment in watch and design history.

The compendium of pieces was created and assembled in the 1980s by Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Muller, the two designers who were key in shaping Swatch's artistic development. At a time when inexpensive, mass-produced quartz watches were prevalent, they gave them a brilliantly pop identity, taking a conceptual approach and working with engineers to reduce the number of components and thus create a new and revolutionary visual identity for the wristwatch. Originally conceived as a Second Watch – hence the name Swatch – it allowed design to be more experimental, surprising and fun. Watches were made of plastic, in bright colours and with bold patterns, breathing new life into the watch industry.

Inspired by popular culture, Swatch's groundbreaking links with artists produced some striking and avant-garde results. Highlights in the recent collection included the collaboration with Keith Haring, one of the first major artists to work with Swatch, who spent two years on the six different designs that made up his 'Serpent' collection in 1986. Drawings to go alongside the watches show the possible changes of colour he considered on the dial.

Other collaborations, including with Kiki Picasso and surrealist artist Jean-Michel Folon, were anti-conformist, intelligent and rife with humour. All pieces represent a new type of design: 1983's 'Original Jelly Fish' watch – the first transparent watch – is tongue-in-cheek, while others, such as 1984's '12 Flags Watch' are interesting because of what they tell us of the design process; most notably the evolution of colour and style. Especially significant are the first sketches of the Swatch case, 'Vulgaris', which on 27 March, 1980, marked the beginning of what turned out to be a truly revolutionary horological movement.

’Swatch Design No.1’-Schmid & Muller’s Swatch collection

Pictured: Swatch Design No.1’, by Keith Haring, 12 April, 1985

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Muller

The Sotheby’s collection was assembled in the 1980s by Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Muller (pictured here in 1983). The two designers were key in shaping the playful spirit of the Swatch brand

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

design drawing of ’Vulgaris’, the original Swatch

Here we see a design drawing of ’Vulgaris, the original Swatch, which on 27 March, 1980, marked the beginning of what turned out to be a truly revolutionary horological movement

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

A letter from artist Kiki Picasso

A letter from artist Kiki Picasso was one of the 3,000 pieces of memorabilia that also went up for auction with the watch collection

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

Swatch Pop watch

Who doesn’t remember the Swatch Pop watch from the late 1980s, early 1990s...

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

’Savonette- brightly coloured wrist watch

Pictured: ’Savonette’, an example of the early, brightly coloured wrist watch that breathed new life into the timepiece industry

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

The ’Original Jelly Fish a watch from the Swatch brand

The ’Original Jelly Fish’ is a great example of the ’more experimental, surprising and fun’ design that characterises the Swatch brand

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

The ’Cycolac’ Swatch - Schmid & Muller’s Swatch collection

The ’Cycolac’ Swatch seen here alongside its colour swatch (which was also auctioned), provides insight into the way the desginers decided on prototype colourings

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

The ’Au Gent’ watch-Schmid & Muller’s Swatch collection

Here, the ’Au Gent’ watch represents the more classical, muted Swatch era

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

The ’Folon le Temps’ watch-schmid and muller swatch collection

Pictured: The Folon le Temps’ watch designed by surrealist artist Jean-Michel Folon and 12 Flags’ from 1984

(Image credit: Schmid & Muller)

Hannah Silver joined Wallpaper* in 2019 to work on watches and jewellery. Now, as well as her role as watches and jewellery editor, she writes widely across all areas including on art, architecture, fashion and design. As well as offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, Hannah is interested in the quirks of what makes for a digital success story.