SINGAPORE - A new collaborative collection by watchmakers Omega and Swatch drew hundreds of people to Swatch outlets at Ion Orchard and Marina Bay Sands (MBS) early on Saturday (March 26).
People arrived at the Swatch store in Ion Orchard's Basement 2 as early as 5.30am on Saturday, intent on getting their hands on pieces from the new MoonSwatch collection.
The collection comprises 11 models at $372 each, inspired by the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch that sells for a minimum of $9,000. Named after planetary bodies, the watches have bioceramic cases, Velcro straps and come in different colours.
Although Swatch did not state that the watches are limited edition, many were drawn by the opportunity to own an Omega-branded watch at high-street prices.
They include Mr Kim, a 35-year-old watch enthusiast and tech executive from the US who declined to provide his full name.
He said that when he arrived at 5.30am, there were fewer than 50 people outside the store. However, there was no clear queuing system in place.
"It was an absolute disaster - there were 16 different lines. No one knew where to queue," he told ST.
Two police officers arrived at the scene at the same time that he did.
"By about 7am, there were probably six police officers," he said, adding that he estimated there were some 1,000 people waiting outside the store by 8am.
Mr Gregory Ang, 29, a content executive who arrived at 8.15am, agreed with Mr Kim's estimate. As there was no clear queue to join, he waited outside the store with the rest of the crowd to await instructions from Swatch staff.
Both men reported that at least one person fainted in the crush and had to be attended to by first aiders.
People in the crowd at Ion Orchard said 127 queue numbers were distributed sometime around 9.40am, just before the store's official opening time of 10am. A barricade was set up to cordon off those with queue numbers from the rest of the crowd.
But the queue number distribution was chaotic, said Mr Kim, who did not manage to get a number despite his early arrival.
"Everyone started getting very violent and pushing to hop the line," he said.
"It was quite nuts," agreed Mr Ang. "There was a lot of pushing at the storefront, though it was milder at the back. The problem was that the staff didn't set up dividers, so when the police broke up the queue, some people cut in and made it worse."
Mr Noel Lim, 24, had arrived at 6am with his friends in hopes of buying a watch for himself and his girlfriend.
He was able to grab a queue number - but had to content himself with buying just the pink-hued Mission To Venus piece for his girlfriend, as Swatch announced this morning that the purchase limit would be reduced from two to one due to high demand.
When ST arrived at Ion Orchard just before 11am, there were about 100 people outside the Swatch store, including about 40 within the cordoned area.
People with queue numbers were allowed in two at a time - first to select their preferred model by the entrance, and then to make payment at the counter inside.
Others lingered outside the cordoned area, hoping to try their luck at buying a watch even though overhead announcements repeated that the queue numbers had all been distributed.
An employee also walked through the crowd, urging people to return at a later date as "more stock would be arriving".
While the police had left, four safe distancing ambassadors circled the perimeter, urging people to keep clear of the mall thoroughfare and to stay away from the main store area.
There were similar tales of chaos at MBS.
Mr Nigel Chan, 26, said when he and his father arrived at 7.30am, there was already a snaking queue of "500-plus people" at the first level of the mall.
"We were told it was the official line by other watch enthusiasts, but at around 10.30am, we realised that a mass of people had gathered outside the store already, though they weren't queuing," he told ST.
Mr Chan, an analyst, said that no one was allowed to enter the store at B2 even after its official opening time at 11am.
At this time, there were police on the scene and barricades had been set up.
By the time ST reached MBS at 12.30pm, the crowd had dispersed and the store was closed, with "Out of Stock" signs plastered over the entrance.
Curious onlookers lingered by the store, taking photographs of the display set in one of the windows.
Swatch Singapore did not respond to a request for comment, although its Facebook post just before 11.30am on Saturday assured customers that there will be more opportunities to purchase the MoonSwatch in the coming weeks.
Those who managed to get a queue number at MBS - the post indicates that 100 such numbers were distributed - were also given hourly time slots between 2pm and 6pm to return to the store.
Social media showed similar scenes happening at Swatch stores around the world on Saturday morning, including at major city hubs including Hong Kong, Melbourne and Tokyo.
By Saturday evening, at least four listings had sprung up on marketplace platform Carousell, hawking MoonSwatch watches at prices ranging from $750 to $2,000.