Swatch has become one of the most famous watch brands worldwide. Their most significant peak was in the '90s when everything from big watch enthusiasts to fashionistas happily wore Swatch's products, something that created a hysteria around the brand that the world neither before nor after have seen. Swatch revolutionized what a watch could look like, their playful, colourful and unique designs helped them to be seen as one of the industry's great classics.
During the 70s and early 80s, the automatic watch industry went through a major crisis, a crisis commonly known as the "Quartz crisis". Traditionally, the purchase of a quality watch was something average Joe did once or at best twice in a lifetime, a behaviour that changed with the automation of the production and introduction of watches with quartz movement. The market changed radically when production was streamlined, and costs could thus be kept low. The Swiss watch industry, as the world leader it was and still is, did not embrace the technological change in time and experienced massive losses.
Swatch became the face outwards for the Swiss watch industry's rebirth when they launched a cheap plastic watch with quartz movement. They not only became a more affordable alternative to watches, but they also became an accessory and a fashion statement in a way that watches have not been before.
Swatch history started in 1983 when Dr Ernst Thomke and his small team of watchmakers invented a watch with a movement with almost half as few components as the traditional automatic watch and a design that was one piece and welded together. The Swatch was born. Thomke's idea was that the watch, just like a necklace or a tie, would be something you had several of to be able to alternate depending on the outfit and occasion. It is from this idea that the name comes from, the word Swatch is a contraction of Secondary Watch, meaning a watch you used as a kind of substitute for your Rolex or Omega for instance.
The swinging 90's
Swatch saw its heyday in the 90's when the demand for their various models never seemed to sin. This is mainly the result of an aggressive advertising campaign and design choices that cemented Swatch as a significant player in the fashion industry.
In addition to its own designs, Swatch is known for its many collaborations with several different well-known artists and fashion designers. The first collaboration came in 1985 when they released a design by Kiki Picasso. Later models created by, for example, Keith Haring and Alfred Hofkunst were also released. As a result, the watches became more and more a collector's item that enthusiasts often paid astronomical sums on the secondary market to get their hands on. It was not uncommon for the queues to meander long outside the stores when a new collection was to be released, the hardcore collectors even had no problem camping outside the door to make sure of getting a new model. The demand from some retailers was on some occasions so high that they had to introduce rules on one purchase per person. A development that led to some customers returning with wigs and fake IDs to add a second or third Swatch to their collection.
Famous Designs and Collaborations
Swatch has many designs of its own that have become both iconic and famous collectables. For example, a model made with cuffs was made to pay tribute to Mozart, there have also been special Mother's Day editions. In addition to these in-house designed models, Swatch has, as previously said, a long history of collaborations with artists and other well-known profiles. Here are some of the most famous collaborations:
The collaboration that started it all. The French artist Kiki Picasso's design from 1985 came in 140 copies, all in different colours. Picasso's design undeniably helped the company to heights they had never seen before.
Swatch was known from the beginning for its recognizable models, and the American artist Keith Haring's design from 1986 was no exception. Haring's models were inspired by New York people and landscapes.
Austrian artist Alfred Hofkunst's famous designs from 1991 are some of the first where the watch's case shifted in shape between the models. They were inspired by foods such as cucumber, tomato and bacon.
The Famous Swatch
Swatch has become a great example of the fact that luxury, originality and style are not just for those who have the thickest wallets. They still release new models and collections to this day, but even if the queues do not meander long anymore, it is still a highly respected brand with an exciting history. Even though they today need to fight for market shares with smartwatches, as they increase in popularity, it does not look like Swatch is close to going under in the near time, and no one is as happy as we are for that.