It was an August Friday in 1987. Summer was almost over, school was about to begin, and I had to get to Westland Mall. I had to get to Westland Mall that Friday because the Swatch Watch Tour was going to be there that Friday. I have unfortunately forgotten the exact name of this tour (I know it had one, but I can’t remember it and Google can’t find it for me), and I have also forgotten how I discovered this tour would be at Westland that weekend (it couldn’t have been through the Net, as that didn’t exist yet; it might have been through MTV). What I haven’t forgotten is my eagerness to get to this tour; what I haven’t forgotten is my absolute eagerness to be in the middle of the Swatch phenomenon.
Swatch was indeed a phenomenon in 1987, a phenomenon with several legs. The first and biggest of these legs was the unique Swatch watches. These watches were undeniably products of their time, reflecting every sentiment that made the 1980s the 1980s. They were made of plastic and featured all sorts of pop art-style designs, most of which involved geometrical graphics and fluorescent colors. One featured a mirror as its face, another had stripes, and yet another was transparent, allowing the inner workers of the watch to be seen (this was called the Jelly Fish and was my favorite). There were many different kinds, all cool, all with cool names. They were “water proof” (or at least we believed they were water proof back then; the ones I‘ve seen in modern times claim to be “water resistant” which, as anyone who has gotten such a watch wet knows, is a very different thing). Those who had them, then, never took them off. Those who had them took great pride in being able to wear them in the pool or in some water sport. Most of the guys I knew even wore them in the shower; when these guys finally took off their Swatches, they discovered a very smelly Swatch-shaped ring of dead skin underneath. Besides these watches, though, there were a couple of other Swatch products that contributed to the phenomenon. One was the Swatch clock, a huge Swatch watch that could be hung on a wall, and the Pop Swatch, a larger watch face that could be popped in and out of a plastic holder, allowing the wearers to switch bands or even affix the watch to their clothes. There were also Swatch Guards, which were worn over the Swatch to protect the crystal from being scratched. The first of these Swatch Guards was simply a strip of color plastic that threaded through both sides of the band and crossed the face vertically; often a wearer would braid two of these together and wear them over the same Swatch. After this came the Swatch Guard Too; this was a colored circle of plastic with two arms that snapped over the Swatch and kept most things out of contact with it. Besides this, Swatch just had a presence. In addition to the tour I saw, they sponsored various other tours that involved beach volleyball, skateboarding, snowboarding, and other hip sports. They also had a commercial that was in heavy rotation on MTV; the jingle of this commercial repeated the phrase “I like your Swatch watch; I like your Swatch” over and over. I still find myself singing his jingle from time to time today.
Now I made it to the Swatch tour, where I mostly saw displays of Swatches and photographs of people wearing Swatches doing cool things. I never actually had a Swatch, though; I wanted one desperately but my parents couldn’t afford it so I did without. I did have a Swatch knock-off (I think it was an Armitron), but no Swatch itself. I watched from the sidelines, then, as the Swatch fad raged and then faded (something that should have been expected, of course, but something I didn’t expect as I wasn’t experienced in the ways of the world at that time). A few years later, when the last embers of the fad was dying out, somebody (probably me) said something about a Swatch to my sophomore French teacher. She seemed surprised to discover that Swatches had been popular, and then proceeded to tell us about a time when she was on a flight back from Paris and someone on the plane had been trying to sell Swatches to the passengers. She said that nobody had wanted them because they were “disposable”, that the battery could not be changed and so the watch had to be thrown away once it was dead (which may have been true at some time, but was not true of the Swatches my friends had; they were able to change the batteries). And with that, the Swatch phenomenon of the 1980s died.
But not completely. A few years later, as I was in the middle of my “buying-back-my-childhood-via-Ebay” phase, I managed to find and purchase a Swatch (a Jelly Fish, of course) as well as a Swatch guard, and though I don’t wear them that much, I do enjoy having them; I do enjoy looking at it from time to time and remembering the fires that were.