There was a time when they looked like a wine gum, often clear and succulent – perhaps good enough to eat. Over the years the iconic, hugely practical and economic Swatch watch has filled a gaping hole in the watch market. They are the design classic yet agnostic watch that is neither a costly luxury brand, a totally gopping hefty hand-cuff or a market stall knock-offs where the race is on to see if the battery fails before the watch’s ‘quartz movement’.
Historically, the real problem, for me, was that Swatch watches were sufficiently unattractive to be unwearable. I remember when the first Irony range was released I had won one at some event and had a hugely difficult job selecting the least innocuous. I ended up adding to the stainless watch a brightly coloured plastic strap making it the perfect summer watch.
Until recently when Mrs W’s favourite watch had to be taken in for extensive surgery – partly as a result of a water invasion. The watch – or “time piece” as the French manufacturer describes it – needed box-rest and then light work prior to returning to full service. As a result Mrs W needed a simple yet durable and above all water resistant watch. Not wanting to replace her favourite watch I set out to find an acceptable alternative whilst hers underwent treatment. I chose a Swatch Irony Licorice (YLS453) – below – on a leather strap – a surprisingly good looking watch.
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There are certain watch brands that you are so familiar with that you think have been around for many years. For example, Franck Muller, who make astonishingly complex, stunning and expensive watches and you may suppose have a of several hundreds of years of Swiss lineage have, in fact, only been in the market since 1992 and the eponymous leader is a month younger than me. The same for Swatch which was founded by Nicholas Hayek in 1983, having capitalised on the brainchild of Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller. The first models were launched in Zurich on 1st March 1983 and carried a price tag between CHF 39.90 to CHF 49.40. For nearly thirty five years they have dominated and defined their sector inevitably spawning some competition – most notably from the ICE watch brand.
The arrival in the 1970’s and 80’s of “quartz movements” in the ranges of Far East brands including Seiko, Casio and Citizen sparked a frenzy amongst traditional Swiss manufacturers. Interestingly, given my current demand, it is said the name “Swatch” stemmed from the two words “second watch” being intended, and priced, to be fun and disposable.
By 1997 the Swatch Group had sixty stores worldwide.
Swatch Watches are either sealed in bright plastic or stainless steel making the majority irreparable allowing a watch maker to only change the battery thus delivering a hugely protected environment that allows use underwater use and in dusty environments.
As Swatch developed their market they created close associations with young artists including Keith Haring, who designed his first Swatch in 1985.
Images courtesy of Swatch Watches and SwatchandBeyond an excellent research resource.
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