Making Money on Hot Collectibles: Vintage Swatch Watches, Perfectly Down-scale

The down-scale Swatch is a perfect vintage collectible for these troubled economic times: cheap now, but likely to get more expensive as time goes by.

The Valkyrie Swatch, circa 1986

If ever there was a piece of collectible vintage jewelry or a watch for these tough times, it's the Swatch, the original Swiss (second-watch) created in 1983 by the late Nicholas Hayek in Switzerland. These creatively-inspired watches, collected by millions of people around the world, are still selling, but right now the market seems hottest for vintage Swatch versions.  On eBay, and maybe a few other sites, you can still nab an adorable 1980s or '90s Swatch for under $30, making a fashion statement fit for this down-scale era with a piece of jewelry likely to increase in value. (For example, see above the 1986 Valkyrie Swatch, in case, with original instruction pamphlet in different languages). Perfectly affordable, and in the $30 price range - a great collectible, and completely original, cheap now, expensive later.

Even the popular fashion magazine/online site, Elle, has been featuring Swatch as a cool accessory to wear. But Swatch has been cool for nearly all of its 30 years. Fashion comes and goes, of course, and Swatch has had its peak sales in the mid-1980s, and then slow years (more recently). But the typical, creative Swatch customer has always found a way to spotlight the Swatch.

Vintage 1980s fads included wearing two Swatches at the same time or wrapping a Swatch around your ponytail. Some Swatch models, like Pop Swatch (so retro 1960- looking), allowed owners to pop out the watch and attach it directly to their clothing. In the late 1980s and '90s, Swatch also began featuring famous artists and designers, like Keith Haring and photographer Annie Leibovitz. Artist watches were introduced in limited editions and became valuable, wearable works of art for the customer lucky enough to find and/or afford one (take Vivienne Westood Swatch, circa 1992, selling for $700 or more).

But even young professionals, without a lot of money, always loved the Swatch look and the common-piece Swatch price. And why not? The 'cheeky,' cheery designs, with rubberized bands pretty much revolutionized the watch industry from day one (not only because Swatch found a way to cut down on the number of components in watches, but also a way to lure customers away from analog and digital watches),

I got my first Swatch back in 1984, when my then sister-in-law came back from a gift show. She said everybody there was buzzing about the Swatch, because it was revolutionary - so modest and unassuming in the flashy 1980s ( the days of Dynasty and Dallas and big hair and shoulder pads). My 1984 Swatch is a plain-Jane watch, with a simple round face and 7-holes in the grey rubberized band (this was later changed to 8 holes). But this 1984 version is climbing in value, since it came out early, during the 2nd year of production.

It wasn't much longer until adoring fans snapped up the newest Swatch versions (released, like record albums, on a time, date, and place specific). Later, Swatch introduced its Irony series (metal watches) and even later, its Skin versions (ultra-thin plastic watches). The Innovations just kept rolling, and you can see many of them on the Swatch Fan Club Facebook site, Squiggly's Watches or the Swatch.com site. I bought a Swatch Watch Guide 10 years ago, so I pretty much know the names and dates of all of my vintage watches, although the values have risen considerably since the book was published.

You can still find a decent Swatch watch in a thrift store, but pretty much the donation-intake people mark them as high as what sells on eBay; some times, even higher. Estate and yard sales might be a different story - especially if everyone is looking for expensive Swiss watches like Tissot, Omega or Longines. Irony of ironies for Swatch, the estate-sale pickers might not know Omega, Longines and Tissot are owned by the Swatch Group. Lesson learned: some times a simple, understated, down-scale style has the last word when it comes to complex, high-prices, high-end fashion.

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kelly gipson
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kelly gipson
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