Swatch Watches
Anthony Michael Hall

Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall poses for a photograph with two teenaged girls in 1986. Notice the Swatch on the girl's wrist.

Tom Gates/Getty Images

If you wanted to know what time it was in the 1980s, you probably got your information from a Swatch watch.

In the late 1970s, the Swiss watch company Swatch struggled to sell its fine watches, thanks to competition from digital watchmakers in Japan. To stay profitable, the company needed to make a more practical, inexpensive watch. The resulting prototype, completed in 1981, contained fewer components and came in a standard size and shape so it could be assembled entirely by robot.

Designers decided to make the watches more appealing by varying the color and design of the dial and straps. The new Swatches went on sale in 1983 for $35 each, and were an instant success. By 1987, Swatch had produced more than 10 million watches, some of which even had scented bands. Swatches had been made in more than 500 different styles by 1992, including the "Jellyfish," which was completely transparent, and the "Mozart" which featured lace cuffs on the straps. Many people chose to wear several styles at once, loading as many as six Swatches on their wrists at the same time.

Though the designs have changed throughout the years, Swatch continues to produce an inexpensive line of plastic watches; sales totaled $333 million as of 2006. Today, the 1980s styles are making a comeback thanks to Swatch's new Color Codes collection.