Swatch time

by Ed Sawicki - February 2021

Swatch beat time

In 1998, the Swiss watch company Swatch introduced Swatch Internet Time, also called .beat time. It eliminated hours and minutes, replacing them with a single number between 0 and 1000 that was called the beat. It also eliminated time zones. The concept was endorsed by Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab.

The Swatch company knew that their new system would be met with resistance and their watches would need to display both times for many years. They built and sold watches that displayed both traditional hours and minutes as well as beat time. The photo shows a Swatch displaying the beat time as 484. It simultaneously displays conventional time (for the local time zone) as 11:37.

Swatch beat time
Swatch showing beat time

Each beat represents 86.4 seconds in traditional time. The start of each day is expressed as @0 and mid-day as @500. Note the @ symbol is pronounced “at”. You might have breakfast at 350 and dinner at 750. Imagine texting your friends in faraway places, “Zoom meeting today @875” without having to specify time zones.

Beat time displayed
Linux desktops can be configured to display beat time alongside traditional time. Here, the beat time is displayed as @916.

I liked the idea and Swatch promoted it widely for a time. However, this was a step too far for most people. Although Swatch beat time disappeared in the early 2000s, there are still people who are enthusiastic over the idea. Many think that the effort stood a better chance if it were not the effort of a single company, but instead an international standards effort.

Beat time is already supported on a number of systems and languages and is simple enough to implement on systems that don't. For systems that don't directly support beat time, this C function computes it:


Click the button below to see the current beat time computed by this function implemented in Javascript.

You can be anywhere on Earth when you click the button and you'd see the same beat time.

If Apple and Google put this in their phones, and their messaging and calendaring apps supported it, it would likely be a success in less than a generation.


Wikipedia: Swatch Internet Time

Wikipedia: Decimal time

Wikipedia: Hour

Wikipedia: Sexagesimal

Wikipedia: Nicholas Negroponte