This post is in response to the Pop Culture League’s Challenge on Listicular Fortitude.
I’m a big fan of watches of all kinds. I’m still stunned that people can make those tiny intricate mechanisms in analogue watches now, let alone over 100 years ago. But I’ve always had a particularly big love for 80s digital watches. Not all the ones listed here are digital but they’re all from around that era. Take a look and see how it compares to your list. Have I missed out any major ones that you loved?
A lot of the images below are from my extensive Argos catalogue collection.
Shawn Robare’s Surf Leash Shark watch
I have personally never heard of this one but when Shawn Robare says that something was cool in the 80s you have to add it to the list. Surf watches were supposedly big in the US and this was Shawn’s personal favourite. Thanks to Shawn for the photo above. I have to say it does look pretty damn cool to me. I loved all that surf culture like Ocean Pacific t-shirts etc. They were pretty big in the late 80s over here in the UK, but I was never particularly aware of surf watches like this one.
This was actually a choice from my wife. I think there was a whole series of watches in this style but it was the Forever Friends one that she remembered, and in my study of old Argos catalogues I do have to say that Forever Friends does tend to appear a lot in the watch, houseware and jewellery sections.
I was too young to remember this one as it was actually released in 1975, one year before I was born, but I had to include it as it’s so cool and Sinclair is such an 80s company. Although this was released in the late 70s I’m sure there were some floating around in the early 80s. Just look at it. Looks like something out of an Arthur C Clarke novel or a Batman comic or something. I love the leather strap mixed with the sci-fi front. It came as a kit that you had to assemble yourself and the advert said, “It’s simple – anyone who can use a soldering iron can assemble a Black Watch without difficulty.” So… that’s maybe about 5% of the population then.
Clive Sinclair (bit of a legend in my eyes) is mostly known for his Spectrum computers and the infamous C5 but his company Sinclair made some very cool gadgets including the Sinclair Pocket TV, Sinclair Calculators and another watch, the Sinclair FM Radio Watch, which was actually designed by my University lecturer Dagfinn Aksnes. I don’t know too much about it, so it’s not officially on my list but I thought I would mention it alongside the other Sinclair watch. You can read a bit more about the rare watch here on Retro Thing, but again it is a thing of sheer beauty too. I’d love to get my hands on one. Image from Retro Thing.
This is another one that my wife insisted went on the list. Cool watches to help children learn how to tell the time. She distinctly remembers the boy and girl in the adverts. I’ve checked it out and it does appear regularly in the Argos catalogues (which is a big tick in my book).
Another one here that my wife had, but these are ones that I definitely remember seeing everywhere. There might have been other makes but Hermes (now a massive brand) were the main ones that appeared in the Argos catalogues.
I’m going to focus on the Casio Football game for this entry but basically I’m grouping all these game watches together. They were all pretty much alike anyway and I can imagine that they all got pretty boring after a while, being stuck with the same simple game on your wrist the whole time. But the idea of having a game on your watch was so exciting to a 10 yr old back then. The football one was always the one that jumped out at me, as well as a Pac Man one that I remember seeing.
I can already hear people jumping up and down that this isn’t no.1 on the list. These watches were everything the 9 year old me wanted from life when they were released. I mean it was like having a Transformer on your wrist permanently. What more could you want? The square face popped off and then turned into a little dude with arms, legs and a head that folded out. It came in a few colours including grey, gold, black, blue and red, as far as I can remember. I had the grey one and I’m dying to pick one up today (at a decent price). Check out my recent article about the ultra cool Kronoform packaging art. Sadly though it doesn’t get higher than 5 on my list because there are so many other cool watches.
I was much more of a digital Casio man myself (as you’ll see soon) but I totally understood that Swatch were the kings of style and analogue. Swatch really was more than a craze back in the 80s. They dominated a whole sector. The watches were very cool and well made, but the sheer number of amazing designs was just staggering. When I was younger I always thought the name was short for Swiss Watch (although that wouldn’t have been much of a distinction because about 60% of the watches in the world were probably made in Switzerland) or also Sports Watch, but actually I later learned it stood for Second Watch. I did have a couple of Swatch watches during my time and I loved both of them. When I wore them I felt stylish, mature and sophisticated. As it turns out I would end up preferring to feel geeky with my Casios on, but it was nice to have the sophisticated phase for a little while. Plus, who remembers the giant wall clock versions you could get, complete with the giant strap? I always wanted one of them and I still do. Watches in the 80s were mostly Swatch v Casio, and you can see from the rest of my list that I felt that Swatch just got pipped to the post.
For someone who was wanting to straddle the digital and analogue watch realms, this watch was like a dream come true. It was perfect. A digital watch but it displays an analogue face, digitally! What a genius idea. This watch was probably the one I had for the second longest duration of all my watches. I am still on the look out for one today, but I’m finding that old watches are very hard to come by. This is one of my holy grails though. I still think it is extremely cool.
I never owned one of them back in the day but this one is ranked so highly because for me it is the quintessential 80s retro Casio watch. It’s the standard. The vanilla flavour. Classic design and robust build. There were different models, all starting with the letter F, and I’m kind of lumping them all in this entry, as they were all basically the same watch but just with small variations. The F-91W was the main one though, and is still selling well to this day. These things were utility watches that are still worn by active people today, and not in a retro ironic way. I have two of them now; a standard black one and also a white one for summer events. This probably is the most iconic watch from the 80s.
But now we come to the piéce de résistance. The calculator watch. Calculator watches were the uber geeky retro watch. The top of the technical heap. Marty McFly wore one in Back to the Future. But for me, the king of the calculator watches was without doubt the Casio Databank. Much more than a calculator, this watch could store 50 names and phone numbers in it and looked seriously, seriously cool. I can vividly remember the time that myself and three other friends had all just got one of these bad boys and we were all out at a restaurant together for one of their birthdays and we were all glued to our watches and adding each other’s numbers into them. We then went back to the birthday boy’s house and saw his Dad’s new Atari ST computer which had a high res monitor displaying a 3D spinning Atari logo on it. That was a good day indeed. This Casio classic has been re-released although it’s the metal one that is available and not the plastic one that I had. Metal is probably the better option now though anyway for me as an adult and this is my main watch that I wear every day now. One weird difference I’ve noticed in this re-release however is that it doesn’t have the letters on the keys. I really don’t understand why, and it’s a real shame in my eyes. I’d still like to get my hands on an original plastic one at some point. As I just mentioned though, I recently managed to get one of the new metal re-releases and I am over the moon with it. I still think it looks seriously cool, and I don’t care what anyone else says. If you don’t like it then I’m not putting your number in my Databank ;-p.
Please check out the other Top Ten lists from the Pop Culture League this week, at the time of writing.