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Virgie Ramos marks 2 milestones with a bang.

Byline: Cheche V. Moral

Many Filipinos could own a BenCab probably only in their dreams. But through a most democratic medium, 999 individuals got their hands on a work of a Filipino National Artist, when Sabel Swatch was launched last week.

The limitededition numbered Swatch is BenCab's collaboration with the Swiss watchmaker, unveiled at the same time as the inauguration of the Swatch & Swatch Center in Makati City, marking the brand's 25 years in the Philippines.

The event was a milestone twice over for local Swatch mogul Virgie Ramos, who brought the brand to the country in 1989: The new Swatch building on Arnaiz Avenue is the biggest of its scale outside Switzerland, at 10,000 square feet, and nonnumbered editions of Sabel Swatch will also be made available in select stores around the world.

Swatch, which has earned the reputation of being "the world's smallest canvas," has a long history of artist collaborations, beginning with the first commissioned piece by French artist Kiki Picasso in 1984, a year after the first Swatch watches hit the market. But it has only been in a few countries that Swatch has worked with local artists.

CARLO Giordanetti, Swatch creative director ALANAH TORRALBA

CARLO Giordanetti, Swatch creative director ALANAH TORRALBA

"We do this with those markets that have the energy to fight for it, and this market really has a lot of energy," said Carlo Giordanetti, Swatch's longtime creative director. "And we do it when we think it's meaningful and there's a good reason. In this case, it's the celebration of 25 years in the Philippines. Not all markets have taken that opportunity. It's also something about Swatch Philippines; they do it right."

(For the Philippine Centennial, Swatch created a watch with artist and tycoon Jaime Zobel.)


Giordanetti said they pored through catalogs of BenCab's paintings, opting in the end for color "because Swatch is color." He was especially taken with the narrative of Sabel, a scavenger woman, longtime muse and subject of the National Artist.

"It's storytelling. You're very much driven to want to know more about that woman. She looks at you with that hand gesture. What I really found fantastic was, we don't have many watches with portraits of people. On top of this, she's wearing two Swatches. I really like the colors blue, orange, stripes."

Of making the Sabel Swatch available worldwide, he added, "We always consider the universal marketability of a design. But when it's an artist, I prefer to respect the uniqueness of the creation than to make it a commercial choice.

"A product with the signature of an artist, they will sell independently from local tastes. Usually they speak to a more sophisticated audience, so they are more interested in owning a piece made by an artist. That's why we say Swatch is the biggest gallery on the wrist.

"An artist Swatch is probably one of the most exclusive and affordable forms of art that you can buy. Even myself, I couldn't buy every single watch, but the artist Swatches are always intriguing for me. I want to own that. Maybe I won't wear it, but I want to own it.

NATIONAL Artist BenCab and Anne Curtis

NATIONAL Artist BenCab and Anne Curtis

"A Swatch is something you don't think of as an object. It's a piece of art that you can wear. Maybe if you're one of the lucky ones, you can afford a BenCab painting or sculpture. It's in your house, and your friends will be able to enjoy it when they come over. But you can never bring it to the table at a dinner. From that standpoint, the Sabel Swatch is also unique."

Save for a period of 12 years when he left the company to helm the creative divisions of other brands, Giordanetti has been with Swatch practically from the start, just as the watchmaker expanded across Italy in 1987. He had witnessed and played a major role in growing the reach of the revolutionary plastic watch brand across the globe.

He rejoined the company two years ago and, when quizzed what he thought had changed in his absence, he said, "It's easier to say what has not changed: It's the spirit of the brand. The brand is strong and the message is very clear. It's a little bit refined, there's a little bit of provocation, there's something unexpected and off, which I love; a little bit of innocence in the sense of being very open, no preconstructed ideas, being able to embrace something if it's worth it; it's beautiful and it's good for the moment.

"It's dynamic. It transforms itself but also remains true to itself. It keeps moving, and people love that. You may not buy every season, but you follow, you check it out."

He added, "The idea is to fall in love with a different Swatch every day. These haven't changed. We are 31 years. It's always a challenge from the design standpoint. We've done more than 6,000 designs; coming up with new designs is an interesting challenge. It doesn't run dry, but you have to come up with new concepts and ideas, new stories, new talents all the time. This is what keeps the brand very dynamic. We renew the line practically every six months. Not many brands can do that, so it's also very unique."

Teens to tycoons

SWATCH produced 999 numbered editions of Sabel Swatch, which also contains a mini sculpture paperweight designed by BenCab.

SWATCH produced 999 numbered editions of Sabel Swatch, which also contains a mini sculpture paperweight designed by BenCab.

The relative affordability of Swatch has made it the ultimate equalizer, worn by everyone from teens to tycoons, from "kids to sophisticated grownups," as Giordanetti put it.

"When you have a Swatch event you can see the mix of people. They may not all like the same products, but they like at least one thing."

Perhaps there was no better example than the inaugural of Swatch & Swatch, the twostory multipurpose retail and events building designed by Gino Gonzales.

Time and again, Ramos renews interest in the brand with muchtalkedabout events such as last week's, bringing together under one roof artists and CEOs, pop stars and socialites, athletes and politicians, and everyone in between. There was a sense of nostalgia, as spotted were celebrities like Mikee Cojuangco, Alvin Patrimonio and Inno Sotto, all Swatch ambassadors in the early years, mingling with more recent ones like Anne Curtis and Matteo Guidicelli.

FIREWORKS display marking the opening of Swatch & Swatch, plus oversized renderings of the Sabel Swatch KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

FIREWORKS display marking the opening of Swatch & Swatch, plus oversized renderings of the Sabel Swatch


Twentyfive fashion designers were tapped to each create a dress inspired by BenCab's muse. Dozens of styles from artist collaborations were also on exhibit.

"Fashion in the way we used to define it in the '80s is different from today," Giordanetti noted. "Fashion is much more complex; there's accessible, there's sophisticated. The world is evolving into a dimension of style, and I love that definition more than fashion. As a complement of style, I think Swatch has a perfect place. We offer as many options as possible; you don't need to commit forever when you buy.

"At the same time, it's a watch. It's quite an incredible value in terms of emotional connection. Even if it's only a $50 Swatch, you never throw it away. I think we all have a drawer or little box of Swatches that we no longer wear but we don't throw away."

Giordanetti believes Swatch remains relevant to contemporary life even in the age of smart watches. To mark the brand's 30th year in 2013, Swatch introduced a mechanical watch called Sistem51, the equivalent of giving the finger to the smart watch.

SCULPTOR Ramon Orlina with his Volkswagen Beetle handpainted by BenCab, displayed at Swatch & Swatch Center

SCULPTOR Ramon Orlina with his Volkswagen Beetle handpainted by BenCab, displayed at Swatch & Swatch


"From our point of view, it's 10 times smarter than a smart watch," Giordanetti said of the watch that has only 51 parts and only one screw for the entire movement.

"In the end, a smart watch is an extension of your phone; it doesn't work without your phone. I'm sorry, but that's not very smart. It can't do anything by itself. Sistem51 is a completely new movement It's a lot of innovation so we had to build a new production line. Maybe Swatch will have a smart watch at a certain point, but today we have other things that we can offer."

Giordanetti's team in Zurich is composed of 10 designers, though he also works with freelance designers. They started work on the SpringSummer 2016 collection in July.

For Spring 2015, Swatch will offer something to complement "this trend of wearing sporty outfits in daily life," he said. Swatch also has something in store for pet lovers and gamers.

Swatch falls under the Swatch Group, which also owns prestige watch brands Breguet, Omega, Blancpain and luxury jewelry Harry Winston, among other renowned brands. Swatch is undoubtedly the most democratic brand under the luxury conglomerate.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 14, 2014
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