Buying Guide: The Best Swatch Watches From The 1990s
We like to talk about vintage watches a lot within the Fratello team. While the daily routine is largely focused on the most recent developments in the world of watches, the most fun for many of us lies in the sometimes weird and often wonderful world of vintage watches. It’s a world full of history, remarkable watches, incredible stories, and quirky details. It inspired us to come up with a series of articles focusing on the best watches per decade from a select group of brands. Some of them are priceless, some of them still affordable. In this installment, we will take a look at the best Swatch watches from the 1990s.
This week we will continue our journey through watch history to find the best watches from the 1990s. As I have discussed in the previous articles discussing the best watches from the 1980s, mechanical watches slowly started making a comeback in the eighties. By the time the 1990s began, quartz was still dominating the watch industry. But you could slowly see the two finding space next to each other because quartz was going nowhere. Especially successful brands like G-Shock and Swatch became increasingly popular with the younger crowd.
What is special about both brands is that they treated their collection more as a fashion statement rather than the classical watch collection. It gave the brands the freedom to introduce many different watches. Especially Swatch embraced the idea of the watch as a fashion statement. It turned out to be a huge success and cemented the brand’s unique position in the watch industry. Because of their unique approach and constant pushing of boundaries, brands like Swatch and G-Shock have become well respected amongst watch fans.
Swatch in the 1990s
When it comes to Swatch in particular, the brand was releasing new watches almost every week. As I explained in my article about the best Swatch watches from the 1980s, the brand was a huge hit with its approach to watches. The combination of a cheap product marketed as a fashion product you can own more than one of turned out to be genius. Add the incredible fashionable marketing and the collaborations with artists and other cultural influencers, and the brand quickly became a hit. A hit that saved the Swiss watch industry.
The success of Swatch was huge, but it was no reason to sit back and relax. Because other brands started to catch on, so the brand needed to keep pushing the boundaries of what was possible. It led to the introduction of a great number of new collections. Swatch Irony, Pop Swatch, Swatch Chrono, Swatch Skin, Swatch Maxi, Swatch Automatic, Swatch Solar, the list goes on and on. They were all first introduced in the 1990s. And I haven’t even mentioned the great number of brilliant limited editions and collaborations that the brand released. The brand celebrated producing its 100 millionth Swatch in 1992, not even ten years after introducing the first Swatch.
A Top-5 of the best Swatch models
Choosing the five best Swatch watches from the 1990s is almost impossible. In the 1980s, the brand created a collection of 24–25 regular models that would stay in the collection for 1–2 years. They would also release seasonal collections with 24 different models that changed every 2–3 months. Finally, there have been numerous Swatch Specials made for special occasions or created with numerous famous artists. It sparked another new phenomenon amongst fans we are all very familiar with now: watch collecting.
But with the new collections, the number of new releases became even bigger. It’s hard to wade through all the different collections and find the most iconic or best releases from that time. Besides the great number of regular releases in different collections, Swatch kept releasing great collaboration pieces. Additionally, we also see Swatch models with special packaging that became highly sought after. It’s why it’s a great joy to explore the history of the brand. It’s also why I would encourage you to look beyond this Top-5 and find the brilliance of the Swatch brand. But let’s start with my personal Top-5.
Entry-level — Swatch Automatic SAN 100 “Blue Matic”
The first Swatch on this list was part of the first three automatic Swatch watches released in 1991. Eight years after Swatch introduced the first quartz model, they stepped into mechanical watchmaking. It was a completely logical step as the brand had access to the movements produced by ETA. Swatch produced the Swatch Automatic from 1991 until 1997. A year later, the line was replaced by models that are known as the Autoquarz models. From the Aquaquarz models, do check out the STB403 “Approaching Dial” (pictured above). It didn’t make this list, but it’s a great conceptual watch that shows the position of the earth and the moon in a completely original way.
For the Swatch Automatic line, ETA exclusively produced the ETA 2840 movement. Essentially, the movement is a simplified version of the ETA 2824-2. For the movement, ETA brought the ticking speed down to 21,600vph, removed the regulating device, and equipped it with cheaper Novodiac shock protection. As a result, the movement was very flat and fit the iconic Swatch case. Additionally, simplifying the movement meant that the price for the watch could be kept affordable. Something crucial to the concept of the brand. Another key element is the visibility of the movement. There is always something magical about seeing a movement in action. And in this model, the movement is visible in the front and the back. If you would like to own this piece of Swatch history, you can for roughly €90 to €125.
My choice — Swatch Skin SFB100 “Black Out Too”
I really had to search for my pick this time. Usually, I have an idea of what watch to pick for a list. But with so many choices and a lot of different watches I like, it was tough. But to the people that know me a bit, this fully blacked-out Swatch Skin SFB100 won’t come as a surprise. I like blacked-out watches a lot. Just another example is the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side Of The Moon Black Black. Both the Speedmaster and this Swatch are examples of how fully blacked-out watches work better conceptually than practically. But it’s a concept that works for me. The Swatch Skin SFB100 “Black Out Too” was part of the first series of Skin Originals introduced in 1997.
There were two versions: one with white hands and this one with black hands. But all black was the only way to go. The ultra-thin version of the regular Swatch models is stunningly slim at just 3.9mm. With a case size of 34mm and a thickness of 3.9mm, this Skin SFB100 “Black Out Too” almost wears like a black bracelet. Especially for the Italian market, Swatch released the watch with special packaging that contained the watch and a book about the Swatch Skin line. This version was limited to 1,500 pieces and fetches roughly €200 today. If you are more interested in just the watch, you can find these for around €125. And the best thing is that you can get these NIB, and they do not discolor over time. What’s not to love?
Money is no object #1 — Swatch SAZ101 “Tresor Magique”
In 1993 Swatch made another move towards more traditional watchmaking. After releasing the Swatch Automatic line in 1991, the brand decided that it was also time to introduce metal cases. The first Swatch with a metal case, however, was not part of the Irony line. The Swatch Irony line followed a year later. No, the first Swatch with a metal case was the Swatch SAZ101 “Tresor Magique,” which was a special release. What was so special? Well, it featured a full platinum case that weighed 25 grams. Produced in a limited run of 12,999 pieces, this was a next-level piece for the brand.
As you can see, the watch oozes traditional watchmaking as we know from high-end Swiss brands. The platinum case, the dial (that is made from blue enamel and is decorated with stars), and Roman numerals in gold and white. Add the beautiful Alpha hands, and this is a very luxurious Swatch indeed. Inside the platinum case, Swatch used the automatic ETA Caliber 2840P that was also used for the Automatic line. The watch came with a bright blue leather strap and a blue rubber strap and was delivered in a special presentation box. You can get your hands on one of these beautiful watches as there are always a few on offer. Currently, they go for roughly €1,800 to €2,000. For a platinum watch, that is absolutely bonkers.
Money is no object #2 — Swatch “One More Time” by A. Hofkunst
This list would not be complete without this trio of insane creations by Alfred Hofkunst. In 1991 Swatch commissioned the Austrian-Swiss artist to design three watches that would be part of the brand’s famous Pop Art series. Hofkunst came up with a completely mad trio of watches that formed the “One More Time” set. And his creations fit both the brand and the series. The watches were sold as separate pieces in a limited run of 9,999 pieces each. The first was the Swatch PWZ100, also known as the Gu(h)rke or cucumber. The second was the PWZ101, also known as the Bonju(h)r, and depicted a sunny-side-up egg over a slice of bacon. The third and last was the PWZ102 that had the nickname Verdu(h)ra and looked like a red bell pepper.
The watches came in special transparent sealed bags and were sold at food stores. The construction of the watches is quite simple but rather ingenious. The watch is made up of a base 40mm Swatch watch with a rubber cover that looks like the food it portrays. An even more eye-catching element of these watches is the straps. My personal favorite out of the three is the Bonju(h)r with its bacon and eggs image. I would wear that on a sunny day and enjoy it greatly. If you want one (or all three) of these watches, it’s possible. A set of three goes for roughly €500–€750. One watch will fetch between roughly €150 and €300 depending on whether the packaging is still there. But you need the full set; I know I do!
Money is no object #3 — Swatch Chrono SCB101 “Classic Brown” & SCB104 “Sand Storm”
So I’ve discussed the Swatch Automatic, Irony, Pop Art, and Skin line. It leaves plenty to discuss, but I have picked two watches that are very closely related from the first Swatch Chrono collection introduced in 1990. The Swatch Chrono line was in production from 1990 until 1998 before it was replaced with the Swatch Chrono Alarm collection. There are two versions of the Swatch Chrono watches. The first features a chronograph function with seconds, minutes, and hours and features no date display. The second features a chronograph that displays tenths of a second, seconds, and minutes and was sometimes equipped with a date window. Our very own Nacho wrote a great article about the Grand Prix Chrono that suddenly became massively popular. While that colorful watch is amazing, I picked two models that are part of the first group of Swatch Chrono models that are more classic and understated.
I picked these because they show a more classical side to the Swatch designs that I love. The SCB101 “Classic Brown” & SCB104 “Sand Storm” may seem like identical when you first look at them. But there is a slight difference in the design of the seconds hand. The color of the pushers is gold for the SCB104 and steel for the SCB0101. I love that Swatch created the first collection of chronographs that took inspiration from the great mechanical chronographs of the past. The colors, the leather strap, and the dial design ooze vintage vibes. I would gladly wear either one of the two today, and they would put a smile on my face. If you want to buy one of these, expect to pay between roughly €200–€300 for the “Sandstorm” and between €500 and €900 for the “Classic Brown.”
When it comes to this series of articles, I cannot stress enough to do your research. On top of being crucial in avoiding disappointment when buying a vintage watch. Plus, it can also be a lot of fun. Especially when it comes to Swatch, the fun of collecting is in the stories, the memories, and the appreciation of the brand and its impact on the world of watches. If you want to learn more about the brand, I can recommend Swatch & Beyond, Masters In Time (formerly known as Squiggly). Also, try and get your hand on a copy of any of the Swatch-Clopedias that were released up until 2008.
This series only highlights a small selection of the most iconic models from the 1990s. Tons more models deserve attention, but there is no time and space to get into all of them. As I mentioned, there is a whole library’s worth of information on all the different models. If you are in the market for vintage Swatch watches, there is a whole universe of information out there for you. Decades after they were first released, they haven’t lost any of their impact.
Next up, we will take a look at some of the best Zenith watches from the 1990s. So keep an eye out for that article dropping next week. In the meantime, let us know what your favorite Swatch from the 90s is in the comments section below!