Swatch

by Eric Twardzik

Even in our most nostalgic of moods, we must admit that the majority of boyhood sartorial affectations don’t carry over to adulthood. Cowboy boots? Only if you happen to be employed as a ranch hand. Sports jerseys? Fine—if you’re at the game. Scouting uniforms? Also a nay, lest you happen to be the scout master of your son’s troop.

But there is one exception. We’ve never quite outgrown—scratch that, we refuse to outgrow—our infatuation with the Swatch Original Jelly Fish.

 Alex Beh in a yellow Swatch watch.

Alex Beh in a yellow Swatch watch.

The Jelly Fish was born of the 80s. It was a typically Swiss response to a specifically Swiss problem: faced with increased competition from inexpensive Japanese watches, they engineered their own, better version. Swatch models were made of plastic, and had just 51 parts, about half the number that usually went into Swiss pieces.

The result wasn’t something you got for making partner or bowing out of a profession altogether. No, this was more likely awarded for completing sixth grade on the A-honor roll, or a splurge-purchase made with a summer’s worth of lawn-mowing money.

 Fred's son in his vintage Swatch.

Fred's son in his vintage Swatch.

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Swatch launched with a range of watches, but for cool factor nothing held a candle to the Jelly Fish. At the time, the completely transparent band and case felt as groundbreaking and futuristic as a Walkman. We wore them on our wrists long after the clear plastic had begun to yellow, like the pages of a well-read book. The watch itself identified card-carrying members of a club with a mutual admiration for beautiful things. We wore them with the wild delusion that they belonged in the Museum of Modern Art.

Adulthood got to Swatch, too. Today the watchmaker has scores of models, many of which don’t appear too different from the timepieces sold by any number of similarly priced makers. Sadly, the Jelly Fish is not among them. Those who missed out on its heyday can still find them on eBay in various states of yellow (or if you’re really lucky, unworn and translucent in the original box).

 Fred in his yellow Swatch.

Fred in his yellow Swatch.

But that first-wave adolescent energy hasn’t vanished from the brand entirely. It lives on in a handful of the colorful, one-tone Swatch models that manage to be minimalist in design but playful in attitude. Fred religiously wears a yellow model that will pop against a blue bengal stripe or provide a note of monochrome harmony under a handsome grey bird's eye. Our friend Michael Hill of Drake’s is often seen with a translucent fire engine-red piece that keeps the rest of his perfectly tailored ensemble from looking too put together.

 Michael Hill, Creative Director of  Drake's , in his red Swatch.

Michael Hill, Creative Director of Drake's, in his red Swatch.

We understand the value in growing up—but we like to keep a figurative locket of boyhood on hand (pun intended), lest we ever take ourselves too seriously. After all, what’s a better reminder of the past than time itself? One glance at the dial and we’re 12 again, counting down the seconds until she arrives at our secret meeting spot. We relish the reverie; then look at the hands again and realize we’re running late to therapy.