Remember Swatch & the colorful watch craze of the 1980s?

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Swatch The new wave of watches on wrists in the 1980s

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Swatch watches: Wristy Business (1984)

Swatch (short for “Swiss watch”), an up-to-the-minute quartz marvel introduced last year with bold colors and zappy graphics, is gambling that clunkiness will become the byword in chic, or reverse chic, for the 1980s.

The price certainly fills the bill: While Rolex’s eighteen-karat-gold President goes for $7,950 and the Piaget Polo $12,900, Swatch’s first line of 25 models sells for $19.95 to $37.50, depending on whether you want, say, a second hand, a calendar, or whatever.

Each is made of durable plastic, is water- and shock-resistant, has a battery that lasts three years instead of the usual one, and is practically indestructible.

Swatches and swatch protectors 1985

Most quality watches — and Swatch is being presented as a low-cost quality watch — are sold primarily through jewelry stores. Swatch is there, too, alongside the Patek Philippes, Audemars Piguets, Vacheron & Constantins, and Piagets.

But because it is also being marketed as a fashion item, it is prominent in chic boutiques, the accessories departments of large stores, and sporting-goods shops as well.

Digital watches: The hot tech trend of the '70s & '80s

“Swatch is not so much in the watch business [where the low end is somewhat saturated] as in the fashion-sports-and-accessories business,” says Max Imgrueth, president of the Swiss Watch Distribution Center! Swatch Watch, U.S.A., Inc.

“We don’t think of it as a timepiece as much as a design piece. We think that soon, if not already, people won’t be saying ‘Gee, my watch isn’t functioning; I’ve got to get a new one,’ but rather ‘Gee, that color looks good; I’ll get it for sailing, playing tennis, or to go with an outfit.'”

Ad 1984 Swatch

MORE: See the current models available now!

More wrists sport watches with black faces than any other color by far, but in Europe, gray, navy, and tan are also hot sellers, and in the States, red is popular. Swatch’s best seller last year was a $29.95 black model with white hands, a red second hand, an inner circle numbering the seconds, and a calendar.

No. 2 was a blank-faced black watch. The $19.95 model was its sixth-biggest seller and has been cut from the new spring-summer line.

Due out in March [1984] and priced at $25 to $35. the line will include 26 styles in five categories: Skipper, Waikiki Surf, Memphis, High-Tech, and Meet Me at the Carlyle.

Swatch: The popular & colorful new wave of wrist watches in the 1980s

Worldwide, some 310 million watches are sold annually, adding up to a $7 billion business. In this country, 75 percent cost under $75. Americans shelled out $2 billion for 65 million watches in 1982, and estimates are that they bought another 70 million in 1983.

More than half of all watches are purchased as gifts, and the four months from September through December account for 60 percent of sales. In fact, Imgrueth calculates that on a per capita basis, each American owns a wardrobe of two to three watches.

Marketing naifs might assume from those figures that the US watch market is saturated. However, Italians own between four and five watches apiece, and the Swiss between three and four.

Getting Americans to crave another watch or two should be just a matter of technique. One approach, adopted by the Giibelin chain, is to pitch Swatch as one of the tough extra watches every owner of a handmade mechanical one needs to withstand the wear and tear of normal urban life.

Swatches - New wave in Swiss watches 1980s

Swatch’s advertising campaign, created by McCann-Erickson in Switzerland and adapted by the agency in New York, relies on the New Wave look to attract young trendsetters.

As punk rock plays, Swatch-sporting wrists are shown in a variety of situations-playing cards, flexing a bicycle brake, popping a champagne cork. Then a voice-over announces that Swatch has “come a long way since the cuckoo clock.”

But for all the hopes the Swiss watch industry has riding on Swatch, it has, so far, not exactly set this city on fire. In fact, just about the only person I was able to find who had heard about Swatch — other than company representatives — was the saleslady at Bloomingdale’s who sold me one.

Jell-O Pudding Pops & other cool treats from the '80s new wave of popsicles

TV commercial for Swatches from 1985

Swatches and other products (including sunglasses)

Swatch shields - chums - watches - guards - 80s

 The new Swiss watch that knows life should be an adventure.

Designed with the latest and most accurate Swiss quartz technology to keep pace, no matter what you do.

Swatch is stylish. With 6 elegant fashion colors and 25 styles to match whatever outfit or mood you’re in. And Swatch is rugged, perfect for active lifestyles.

Using the latest technology in watch manufacturing, Swatch‘s unique construction unites the movement, crystal. case and bracelet into one durable sealed timepiece.

Your Swatch is shock-resistant, water-resistant to 100 feet. Lightweight and comfortable, So you can wear your Swatch while playing tennis, skiing, hunting or even swimming. Swatch is fully warrantied for one year and has a 3-year replaceable battery.

From 19.95 to 37.50. it’s the best time your wrist will ever have.

The new Swatch - 1983

About Swatches 1983

Granita di Frutta: Scented swatches (1985)

The only watch that makes scents.

1985 Swatches scented watches

Vintage Keith Haring designs for Swatch watches (1986)

Vintage Keith Haring for Swatch 1986

Swatch party time!

Swatch party time

Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties

Swatch Steeltech (1989)

Swatch Steeltech (1989)

Vintage TV ad from 1986)

Tick, tick, tick: Time for the Swatch Freestyle World Cup at Breckenridge ’88

1988 Swatch Freestyle watches 2

1988 Swatch Freestyle watches 1


1988 Swatch Freestyle watches 3

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