When the Swatch Group Ltd. added the first digital watch to its purely analog collection a year and a half ago, the company generated worldwide attention by introducing a whole new outlook on time. It was, they claimed, the first timepiece for the Internet Age.
On this watch, each day is divided into 1,000 "beats," rather than 1,440 minutes, and time follows a meridian that passes through Biel, Switzerland, where Swatch is headquartered. Biel Mean Time (BMT) is the universal reference for Internet time. When it's midnight BMT, it's @000 beats all over the world, and when it's noon BMT, it's @500 beats.
"In a period when the Internet generation is spreading the message of global community, the idea of time zones seems anachronistic," says Carlo Giordanetti, 39, Swatch's vice president of creative services. "Time zones are a barrier to unity."
Swatch has moved fast since first introducing BMT. Today, measuring time in beats is a function that's available on all of Swatch's digital watches. You can also download software from Swatch's Web site that enables your personal computer to display both local traditional time and Swatch Internet time.
What will Swatch's next timely innovation be? To help people save time. The company has embedded a device in some of its watches that enables the wearer to load admission tickets. This technology, called Swatch Access, is already being used in 30 countries — at ski resorts, at museums, at various events, and for public transport. In Rome, tourists sporting one of these watches can buy a ticket for admission to 10 city museums (including the Coliseum) and then bypass entry lines by swiping the watch in front of a scanner. Also in the works: Under an agreement with SEGA Enterprises, users of the Dreamcast home video-game console will soon be able to download information from the Internet to a Swatch watch. And a watch that doubles as a cell-phone is due to appear by year's end.
"We use the watch as a tool," says Giordanetti. "We're redefining the boundaries of that tool and helping people use it in an interactive way."
Visit the Swatch Group on the Web (www.swatch.com).
A version of this article appeared in the May 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.