The 1980’s have enjoyed a resurgence in cultural relevance in the last few years probably due to the fact that 80’s kids are now at an age of having plenty of disposable income and are now jaded, a feeling that only nostalgia can cure, I think, I am not a doctor.
Also, Netflix’s Stranger Things likely helped the nostalgia train. Recently, I have started to wonder, what were the most tubular watches of the 1980’s? So, I put together this righteous list of watches that scream iconic watches of the 1980’s to me. The watches on the list are watches that debuted in the 1980’s, watches I associate with the 1980’s, or for me are under appreciated watches of the 1980’s. Hey, “Top” is a vague term so it gives me a lot of leeway in making my selections from this decade but to me the following watches all scream 80’s and the best part is you can go grab yourself a modern version of all the watches below. Now go grab your acid washed jeans, Members Only jacket, Ray Ban Wayfarers, and strap on one of the following watches to get in the 80’s groove of excessive consumerism.
- Two-Tone Rolex Datejusts
Don’t Touch the Watch!
Nothing screams 80’s excess quite like a two-tone Rolex Datejust, it also screams “old-man” watch but hey, if you could afford one of these in the 80’s you’re likely an old man now. The particular reference I think of as best capturing the 80’s essence is the reference 16013 with fluted bezel and jubilee bracelet in steel and yellow gold with a champagne/gold tapestry dial. This is the configuration worn by the infamous character Patrick Bateman as famously portrayed by Christian Bale in the movie American Psycho. Since most things are cyclical it was only a matter of time before two-tone watches would come back into style but there is a bit of a resurgence in two-tone presently with brands like, Tudor, Omega, and of course Rolex leading the charge in steel and gold now. Also worth mentioning, Oris is leading the charge in terms of steel and bronze two-tones for us plebs. Rolex two-tones and solid gold watches are the perfect representational artifacts of the excessive 1980’s and for me the watch that immediately conjures images of Miami Vice, Glengarry Glen Ross, and American Psycho. Hmm, I’m starting to think the 80’s weren’t that great…
- Swatch Watch
Editors Note : Seriously I looked everywhere and could not find a suitable 1980’s Swatch Watch…have you heard about our wee collaboration?
Hey, what else could have been the second watch on this list?
If you are reading this article you are likely already well aware of what the Swiss watch industry calls “the quartz crisis” or the time period the Japanese watch companies call “good times and good business,” perspective is everything after all. The Swiss watch industry was floundering in response to the emergence of cheap and accurate quartz watches from brands like Seiko. Even Roger Moore’s James Bond wore digital Seikos in the 1970’s and 1980’s in place of a Submariner at times. On the edge of extinction, the Swiss watch industry finally listened to the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them.” In 1983 the Swiss empire struck back with a fun affordable fashion watch that was intended to be your “second watch.” These cheap quartz plastic watches transcended the watch industry and watch nerds and became the original MVMT or Michael Kors, the first real fashion watch and an iconic fashion accessory of the time. With the modern Swatch System 51 the watch-idiot-savant who refuses to wear quartz can finally enjoy these fashion forward and most importantly – fun watches too.
- Casio G-Shock
It’s good to be a square.
The iconic G-Shock, reference DW-5000C, debuted in 1983. This watch is arguably the most iconic and influential 80’s watch I have put on this list. For me the watch is iconic in that it is similar to a Rolex Submariner or a Porsche 911, it favors evolution over revolution, meaning that a 1980’s G-Shock buyer would recognize a 2020 G-Shock square without confusion with the watch still serving the same purpose. The G-Shock debuted the same year as the Swatch watch but whereas the Swatch was meant to be fun, the G-Shock was meant to be durable. The legendary Casio engineer Kikuo Ibe famously set out to develop a durable watch that met his “triple 10” standard after breaking a watch given to him by his father. The triple 10 standard means the watch would have a battery life of 10 years, 10 bars of water resistance, and the ability to survive a drop from 10 meters. This rugged durability ensures a G-Shock finds its way into many collections. Whereas the Swatch is the second watch in name, the Casio G-Shock has become the true second watch of any watch nerd as it seems everyone has a G-Shock for weekend yard work, camping, working on the car, or just a weekend at the beach. This 80’s icon arguably deserves a place in every watch nerds’ collection at some point in one’s watch journey.
- Seiko H558 AKA “The Arnie”
Get to the Choppa!!!
The Seiko H558 is the watch now famous for being the watch worn by, arguably, the action star of the 1980’s, Arnold Schwarzenneger. The Seiko H558 launched in 1982 as the first hybrid diver with both an analog and digital display but was likely to be forgotten to the annals of history until the H558 got its big break on the silver screen in the mid 80’s. The H558 became famous in 1985 when it appeared on the wrists of both James Bond and John Matrix in the movies A View to a Kill and Commando, my personal favorite Arnie movie. However, the H558 became a legend when it appeared on the wrist of Dutch in 1987’s Predator. Seriously, the first hybrid diver worn by both James Bond and Arnie, this watch is basically legally required to be mentioned when discussing the most culturally relevant and iconic watches of the decade. The H558 relevance in the watch pantheon was further confirmed when Seiko reissued the H558 in 2019 as the SNJ025 with two additional models being the SNJ027 and SNJ028, which have a PADI “Pepsi” bezel and a rose gold bezel, respectively. The H558 reissue now gives everyone a chance to experience a piece of the 80’s in a modern package while being able to go around yelling classic Arnie one-liners.
- Casio Databank
80085, if you had a calculator watch in elementary school, you get it and just in case you dont, Rikki sorted it out!
The original nerd-chic watch before the Apple watch, was the Casio Databank, which debuted in 1983. However, much like the Seiko H558 it took a couple years and an appearance on the silver screen to cement this watch as an icon. The Databank, reference CA53W Twincept, of course was the timepiece of choice for Marty McFly in the film Back to the Future which debuted in 1985. The Databank made perfect sense in the movie and for Michael J. Fox’s character, certainly more sense than a high schooler being allowed to spend all that time alone with an eccentric old man conducting experiments. More importantly, despite the advent of smart phones and smart watches Casio still makes modern iterations of the Databank for hipsters or anyone in need of a quick and easy Halloween costume, red puffy-vest, some denim, a Casio Databank, and BOOM! Halloween sorted.
So those are my picks for the “Top” 5 iconic watches of the 1980’s. What watches make your “Top 5” list for the 1980’s?
I know what you are thinking, this was a shameless listicle article that was meant be a quick and easy click-bait read and you are right! But hey you read this far, so be on the look out for the next listicle, spoiler alert, it’s about the 1990’s
Sean O’Tormey (IG: @the_complicated_wrist)