The search for rare Swatch watches has taken the planet by storm in recent years thanks to their eye-popping colors and funky designs. 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 with its eponymous product. 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 watch 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 as well as the pros. Placing an emphasis on chic fun, Swatch launched their collection in 1983 with a pricing structure that nearly everyone could afford, and the sheer number of unique designs that have been manufactured over the years signaled that 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 brand prosperity also marked the introduction of design partnerships with artists like Keith Haring, a move which added a multilayered cultural experience to the traditional timepiece.
How to Identify 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, especially once you've identified which family unit your Swatch belongs to. These are a few of the most popular Swatch models from the 1980s and 1990s:
- 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. Interestingly, these original Swatch watches are rather difficult to come by, so the ones that're in good condition and still have accurate, working mechanisms can be worth a few hundred dollars at auction. For instance, this early Swatch watch is listed for $580 on eBay.
- 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 the level of popularity to match the originals. These Swatches aren't far from the brand's big-ticket items and can sell from around $20-$50, on average. This Pistachio Irony Swatch from 1996, with it's unique color, actually sold on the higher end of the spectrum at $50.
- 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. However, these watches aren't as rare as earlier Swatch timepieces. Much like Swatch Irony, Swatch Skins aren't particularly valuable. In fact, they're almost better kept in your care for their time keeping capabilities than trying to sell them on the market. For example, some vintage Swatch Skins can currently sell for around $10-$20 online.
Limited Edition Swatches
Other than watches from the family of originals, limited edition models are usually the most rare and valuable Swatches. These are some iconic examples of limited edition and special release models from Swatches catalog:
- Jelly Fish Chronometer: Swatch produced only 2,000 numbered Jelly Fish watches 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. Despite its limited production numbers, this watch isn't worth a ton of money, rounding out to between $50-$100 depending on condition. For instance, this April 1990 edition sold for $79 to an online buyer.
- Cigar Box Putti Pop Swatch: Designed in 1992 by Vivienne Westwood for the Fall/Winter collection, this watch features baby angels on the dial and strap surrounded by a Rococo-inspired floaty scenery. The production of only 9,999 numbered pieces released in whimsical cigar boxes assures its status as a rare Swatch, and is generally worth around $100-$150.
- 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 in 1993 makes it a collector's dream. Thanks to its platinum case and limited production, these watches are by-far the most valuable of these limited edition Swatches and usually sell for a few thousand dollars. For instance, this one eBay seller has a Tresor Magique watch, with the original case, listed for $2,575.
Just Swatch Me Wear That Watch
While some people enjoy rare Swatch watches because of their collectability, others believe their true value lies in their unmistakably original designs. For budget fashionistas in search of cheap chic watches as well as for amateur collectors, Swatch watches imparts an esteem that both you and time won't soon forget.