In honor of the passing of Nicolas Hayek, CEO of the Swatch Group, we decided to wax a little nostalgic about his most breathtaking – and lucrative – product: the Swatch watch.
Swatch was the brainchild of Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller in an attempt to make the thinnest wristwatch in the world. Instead, they created a simple plastic quartz watch with a movement that contained only about sixty pieces instead of the 100-plus found in Japanese quartz movements at the time. Hayek saw this as an excellent opportunity to create a “throwaway” watch that could be worn for a season and then swapped with another model. Artist and designers adorned the watches in odd patterns and the company brought the nascent Swatch Group, formed by Hayek in the early 1980s, to the forefront of Swiss watch manufacturing.
At $20 or so, these watches were amazingly cheap and many collectors bought two at a time: one to wear and one to keep hidden away. The watches married high tech with high design and, given their fashion-forward nature, are the precursors to many of the design decisions made today by CE manufacturers. The iPod as an object of desire couldn’t have existed without the Swatch paving the way for inexpensive but highly designed objects to woo the consumer into regular purchases.
Here are ten of our favorite Swatch innovations:
10. The first Swatches
While they’re not much to look at now, these watches changed the world. They made watches fashion items and brought new artists and designers to the fore. Before these Swatches (more here), watches were something you got at your Bar Mitzvah or your retirement. Now you could wear a watch to the beach.
9. Tone In Blue SLK100 Musical Swatch Watch
The Musical series consists of some of the oddest watches Swatch ever released. They would play a tinny little tune by a famous musician. This one played a song by Jean Michel Jarre.
8. Swatch Paparazzi Spot Watch
Never ones to ignore a lucrative partnership, Swatch was the first company to work with Microsoft on their SPOT technology. Sadly, the tech died on the vine.
7. These Swatch ads
6. Serpent GZ102 Keith Haring Swatch
Way back in 1985 a young artist named Keith Haring designed a Swatch watch, proving that art and commerce mix in delightful ways. His whimsical watch now costs about $1000 online, a testament to the artist’s enduring popularity.
5. Swatch watch protectors
You could buy these little rubber things for your watch back in the 1980s. Why? Because Swatch could sell them to you. It’s called recursive marketing.
4. Swatch Uhren Double Dot YKS4001
This is not really a watch, but a movement. In 1999 Hayek and Nicholas Negroponte created Internet Time, a universal time standard. Popular for a few years, the fad died out recently but it’s still hanging on in some corners of the nerd community.
3. Swatch Right Track
Another amazing automatic, this time with a chrono movement. A great way to fall into collecting. Check out a great review here
2. Swatch Irony Automatic Body and Soul
A pure example of Swatch’s ingenuity. Once you get hooked on the Swatch design, they throw a bunch of automatics at you. The automatic pieces like this one take Swatch timekeeping to the next level and often made casual Swatch wearers into hard-core collectors.
1. The Jelly
While a number of these watches appeared over the years, the Jelly is probably one of the oldest styles in the Swatch playbook. Completely transparent except for parts of the movement, the Jelly line defined the playful lines and odd styling of the Swatch world.
Many images came from SwatchAndBeyond, a great Swatch resource.