The Original 1992 Swatch Grand Prix Vs. The Brand-New Swatch Neon To The Max
One of the most coveted Swatch models is the famous 1992 Grand Prix reference SCJ101. Unlike Nacho (who bought several of them), I have never found one in good condition and for a reasonable price. A NOS example will easily fetch $800 or more, which I find too much for a disposable watch. Because when it’s broken, it’s probably unrepairable. You can find examples for half of the mentioned amount, but often with a little defect or significant damage to the case. Let’s also not forget that the plastic straps of the time don’t age well and will break at some point.
The 1992 Swatch Grand Prix SCJ101
The Swatch Grand Prix SCJ101 and some of the other Swatch chronos from that time are highly sought-after by collectors. And it’s easy to understand why. The colors pop and the size (37mm) is perfect for most wearers. Wearing an SCJ101 shows a few things: you know your stuff about Swatch, it’s a bit of a fashion statement, and you might have this little craving for some good ol’ 1990s vibes.
1992, not 1991
This 1992 model (the dial shows 1991, but that’s the year of its design, not the introduction year of the watch) was in the catalog for $50, which was not much more than the regular, three-handed Swatch models. Sometimes you wish you could go back in time and snap up some of these watches you’ve missed. Especially when they now fetch prices upwards of €300. Luckily, Nacho doesn’t shove this watch in my face too often. He barely wears it, as he’s afraid to break the strap, which is already quite brittle (but replaceable). However, once a piece of the case breaks, it’s done for good.
Finding an original
I’ve been looking on platforms like eBay, Vinted, Etsy, Chrono24, and Catawiki to see if I could pick up one of these Swatch Grand Prix watches for an acceptable amount. It hasn’t been a steady and exhaustive search, but I’ve had my stints of looking for them every evening without much luck so far.
Bioceramics in neon
When I visited the Swatch manufacturing sites in Switzerland last year to witness the production of the MoonSwatch models, I noticed a tray with many bioceramic samples in neon colors. I commented on the original Swatch Grand Prix to Mr. Hayek, who joined the visit when looking at this tray of bioceramic parts. His response made me hope there would be a faithful re-edition of the Grand Prix SCJ101. That was also the point at which I decided to stop looking for an original one from the 1990s.
The 40th anniversary of Swatch
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Swatch, and they let it slide by on the anniversary day itself (March 1st). They could have done a nice re-edition of the first references or a whole box of the different models they debuted back then, but what did we get? Nothing. But, truth be told, it’s very un-Swatch to do the expected. That’s something I have learned over time. So, to my surprise, Swatch just came with new “art collection” models. These included some truly nice watches, admittedly, but it had little to do with the 40th anniversary itself. The “Moonshine gold” addition(s) to the MoonSwatch also had little to do with this special year for the brand. They seemed more like an attempt to keep the MoonSwatch hype alive.
Introduction of the new Neon collection
But then, on June 1, Swatch introduced the Neon collection. Based on the iconic SCJ101, but also the GK101 (Techno Sphere), SCW100 (White Horses), and SkyChart (GN705), Swatch introduced two new chrono models and two three-handers. Except for the Swatch Shades of Neon (based on the Skychart), all in the Big Bold cases. The Shades of Neon (SO28J700) comes in the classic 34mm case. I was smitten by the “Neon to the Max” (SB06J100) which clearly makes reference to the Grand Prix SCJ101.
I don’t think it took longer than five seconds after receiving that press release that I was on the Swatch website to take a closer look and place an order. A few days later, when I was visiting Paris for a watch event, I also quickly popped into the Swatch shop on the Champs-Élysées to pick up the pink Shades of Neon for my wife.
The Big Bold case
I admit that I am delighted by the color scheme of the Swatch Neon to the Max, and the design elements they used for the dial, the strap (with its waffle motif), and the pushers. However, there’s something that I really don’t love. And that’s the Big Bold case. It’s not only a whopping 47mm (and I can normally handle large watches) but it’s also a matter of the case’s shape. It strays too far from the original and classic Swatch case. Swatch produces some brilliant 34mm and 41mm models in the “Gent” style. I also recently bought this 42mm Swatch Black One that looks much nicer. I never fully understood where the Big Bold came from, and why Swatch kept making them. Perhaps the sales numbers would prove me wrong here. But in terms of personal preference, I see it as a swing and a miss.
What Swatch could have done
If Swatch had done the Neon to the Max in the original 37mm case, that would have caused (another) internet meltdown. Another option would have been to use their 42mm Chrono case or even to create a special cross-over MoonSwatch in these neon colors. Can you imagine how cool that would look?
The use of Bioceramic and the quality of the Swatch watches, in general, are very different from those in the 1990s. Though I’m happy to report that many of my original 1990s Swatch models still function flawlessly. However, the brittle plastic case and hardened plastic straps can cause issues. So there’s nothing wrong with the new Neon watches’ quality or pricing. It’s just that Swatch decided to use what I feel is the wrong case for these models, except for the pink 34mm Shades of Neon.
Nostalgia plays a role
Perhaps I simply have to conclude that I am not the target audience (anymore). I admit that my reasons for buying a Swatch are mainly based on nostalgia. Though I do think that many +40 year old’s feel the same way towards Swatch and buy them because they had specific models in the 1980s and 1990s that they have fond memories of.
The Grand Prix is such a brilliant source of inspiration. With the Big Bold case, it seems that Swatch aims at a younger (new) generation. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and sales numbers might back them up for making this decision, but it would have been so lovely to revive the old classic in all of its originality, using new Bioceramic materials. Just for us; the generation who grew up with Swatch as their first watches.
My favorite is not the Neon to the Max
Ultimately, the 34mm Swatch Shades of Neon is my favorite of the new collection. And that purely concerns the case design (and size). The Neon to the Max is not for me. I guess this means I should buy an original one on eBay or Vinted, after all. The Swatch Grand Prix SCJ101 remains one of my favorite Swatch models of all time, and one I’d love to add to my collection.
The Swatch Neon to the Max is priced at €150, and the Shades of Neon is priced at €75. Both of these models are available in Swatch stores as well as online on the Swatch website.
I’d love to know your thoughts! Do you agree with my take? Or do you think the Big Bold was the way to go? Also, which Swatch models would you love to see make a comeback?