In the 80s, you didn’t want to be seen with just one Swatch watch on your wrist. You had to wear two or three at a time, each with its own colorfully unique design. Then you really knew what time it was – time to look cool. Let’s take a look back at the rise of these fashionable timepieces.

The late 70s were an uncertain time for Swiss watch makers. Years of Asian digital watch technology had steadily eroded their market, especially when the Japanese introduced the affordable “Delirium” watch in 1979. The Swiss were desperate for new concepts to turn things around. Watchmaking was a core Swiss business, and the SMH, the Swiss Corporation of Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries, had to come up with a plan.

An in-depth analysis of the watch market was done by Nicholas G. Hayek, the head of Hayek Engineering. He found that most people weren’t looking to spend huge amounts of money for luxury watches typical of what the Swiss produced. Instead, they wanted inexpensive yet technologically advanced timepieces, along the lines that manufacturers like Casio and Seiko were making. Since the Swiss already had 97% of the luxury timepiece market, they knew it was time for a new product for the masses. It was time for Swatch.

Introduced in 1983, Swatch combined high fashion and low price. Sold at only $35, Swatches came in styles ranging from fun and fanciful to business and formal. The designs were so varied and the price so low, that people began collecting them and wearing several at a time. It became more than just a way to tell time – it became a fashion statement.

The reason the Swatches could be manufactured so inexpensively is that they were built from only 51 components, when traditional watches consisted of 100 – 150. This enabled them to be made quickly and without the lofty price tag, and it encouraged people to just dispose of their watches when they broke and buy a new one.

Swatches were sold in clear plastic cases that showed off their slim, bendable wristbands and over-the-top colors and designs. Swatches were inspired by Lego toys for their bright plastic colors and disposable lighters for their sleekness. Swatch employed not only watchmakers for the product, but also graphic artists, industrial designers, and architects to create the myriad of styles, each a personalized work of art, that spoke to the wearer.

A name was given to each Swatch, such as “Black Magic” or “Chrono Tech,” reflecting the look of the watch. New styles were released all year long, resulting in a huge array of different designs. Even celebrities got into the movement with limited addition Swatches designed by names like Kiki Picasso, Yoko Ono, Keith Haring and Pedro Almodovar. And to protect your precious work of art, you could buy a Swatch guard, a little plastic band worn over the watch face to keep it from getting scratched.

The Swiss watch market is now run by the Swatch group. Today, some Swatches can fetch thousands of dollars at auction, and collectors still buy each new version upon its release. Meanwhile, Swatch is still riding that wave of innovation and affordability and remains a market leader to this day.

If you were the proud owner of a Swatch or three, we hope you’ll take a moment to tell us about them in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to their fashionable products that ensured everyone knew what time it was in the 80s.

4 Responses to “Swatches”

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  1. Ahh…the immortal Swatch…still have mine from the 80s, the Pinstripe, flight-simulator type, and another, now the Dark Rebel, so glad Swatches are still around!

  2. RichT says:

    Who does not get impressed by Swatch?

  3. Gayle Shupack says:

    I had the scented swatches. I was in Switzerland in the 80’s and there was banana, raspberry and mint. I could not get the mint anywhere! They actually smelled for a long time. I’m surprised you don’t mention the scented swatches in the above article-they were all the rage. Of course, my sister seems to be the only other person I know who remembers them. I can’t find them on Ebay or anything. If you have any info about the scented swatches let me know.

  4. Ryan says:

    And you’d take two rubber Swatch guards, twist them together to be cool. Then the plastic “Swatch Guard Too” came out which was better and allowed you to be able to actually read your watch.

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