The search for rare Swatch watches has taken the planet by storm in recent years. When even the brand name inspires infectious feelings of fun and frivolity, everyone soon wants a piece of the action.
The Road to Collectible Pop Culture
At a time when once glorious Swiss horology enterprises suffered the threat of obliteration, the Swatch brand emerged to resurrect the industry single-handedly. Armed with a simple idea of merging cheeky playfulness and inexpensive materials with durable construction and precision movements, Swatch made its initial mark on the timepiece world in the early 1980s. Under the leadership of Ernst Thomke (of ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse) who put together a crack team of engineers helmed by Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller, Swatch set about the task of redefining Swiss craftsmanship.
Recognizing that creating a good quality timepiece would not reinvigorate Swiss horology, Swatch conceived a precision engineered plastic watch with a double-duty case back that also served as a movement main plate. The results of such innovative thinking produced an array of bold and colorful pieces that looked like mere novelty watches but kept time like pros. Placing an emphasis on chic fun, Swatch launched their collection in 1983 with a pricing structure that nearly everyone could afford. Thus, a future collector's item was born.
Achieving Cult Collectible Status
The popularity of Swatch watches peaked by the mid 1980s. Among the trends associated with Swatches are wearing more than one model, using them as ponytail holders and attaching them to clothing. This era of prosperity also marked the introduction of designs created by artists like Keith Haring, a move that added an air of style swank to Swatch's trendy reputation.
Identifying Rare Swatch Watches
Like other companies, Swatch's continuing success relies on the steady introduction of new and innovative products, which makes any Swatch manufactured before the mid 1990s somewhat rare. Limited edition or themed Swatches are even harder to find and fetch significant prices at auction.
Early Swatch Families
Fortunately, Swatch's early popularity makes locating documentation to authenticate provenance a simple process. The section below explains the family structure of Swatch watches.
- Swatch Originals: As the term suggests, the originals came first and feature all plastic cases in assorted shapes, sizes and designs. The earliest originals boasted a minimum of color instead of the riotous shade symphony present in some of the later models. Originals are largely quite rare Swatch watches that sell well at auction.
- Swatch Irony: Growth breeds the need for diversification, which Swatch met head on by introducing watches with metal cases. The first ironies appeared in 1989 sporting funky styles like see through dials and unusual number arrangements, but they never achieved a level of popularity to match the originals.
- Swatch Skin: Named due to their ultra-thin construction, the skin family first appeared in 1997. Later, Swatch developed a subfamily of skins that featured functional chronograph capabilities. These watches are not as rare as earlier Swatch timepieces.
Limited Edition Swatches
Other than watches from the family of originals, limited edition models are usually the most rare and valuable Swatches. To form an idea of what constitutes a rare Swatch, check out the examples of limited edition and special release models listed below.
- Jelly Fish Chronometer: Swatch produced only 2,000 numbered Jelly Fish's in 1990, making this one of the rarest early Swatches. This watch features a completely translucent strap and case through which wearers can watch the precision components in operation.
- Cigar Box Putti Pop Swatch: Designed in 1992 by Vivienne Westwood for the Fall/Winter collection, the watch features baby angels on the dial and strap. The production of only 9,999 numbered pieces released in whimsical cigar boxes assures its status as a rare Swatch.
- Tresor Magique: Its sweet solid case and platinum crown make this watch an attractive showpiece. The limited edition release of only 12,999 numbered pieces makes it a collector's dream
Still a Fashion Statement
While some people enjoy rare Swatch watches because of their collectability, others believe their true value lies in their unmistakable fashion statement. For budget fashionistas in search of cheap chic watches as well as amateur collectors, Swatch imparts an esteem that time won't soon forget.