Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Retro watches

watchhero3.jpg
watchhero2.jpg
watchhero1.jpg

From bulky TV-remote watches to miniature computer games,Tom Bailey takes a nostalgic look at retro wristwear

Mini FM radios, cigarette lighters, laser pointers, pagers, complex new methods of telling the time; there’s very little that watchmakers haven’t tried to put on our wrists over the past 50 years. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes – like Steven Seagal trying to pass himself off as a cook in Under Siege – it really didn’t. Either way, you‘ll more than likely have fond memories of many of these timepieces. Sure, they‘re not exactly oligarch-friendly, nor will you see them adorning the pages of a luxury style bible. But aged 12 and 3/4, most of us would have happily swapped a Breguet Double Tourbillon for a watch you could play Mario on. Besides, when you see the prices some of these beauties are fetching on eBay, you’ll almost certainly regret having donated yours quite so freely to the church jumble sale all those years ago...

The one that played mario

Nelsonic Super Mario Bros 3 (eBay price: £63)

Unless you specifically didn‘t want to be dubbed ‘king of the playground’ by your peers, or offered a pack of Scampi Fries in return for three goes, there’s no way you’d pass up the chance to own a video- game watch that you could play Mario on. The LCD beauty featured flick book-style animation, tiny directional buttons and a speaker for authentic arcade beeps. Hilariously basic by today’s post-GTA V standards, but now highly sought after – much like the legendary Pac-Man watch, which came with a miniature screw-on joystick. Expensive on eBay, yes, but if you do still get a hankering for Scampi Fries, it’s not a bad investment.

_______________________________________________________

The one ahead of its time

Timex Data Link 150 (eBay price: £87)

It’s 1995. Bill Gates rules the world, Miley Cyrus is three (her excessive tongue-lolling shocks no one) and every baggy-chinoed exec in the US has a ‘PDA’ electronic organiser. “What if the PDA could be worn on the wrist?” wondered Gates, and the world’s first smartwatch was born. The Data Link could store 150 phone numbers, had a scrolling diary and – prophetically – could be synced wirelessly with any vomit-coloured IBM. By holding the watch’s optical sensor against a series of flashing white lines on the monitor, data leapt from PC to watch. Execs – not to mention exam cheats – loved it.

_______________________________________________________

The one for junior astronauts

Bulova Accutron Spaceview 214 (eBay price: £500)

If you ever visit the moon, try not to trip over an Accutron clock. A few of them were abandoned on the surface by the Apollo 11 astronauts during the 1969 landing. They brought them along for the ride since the Accutron was the most accurate clock and watch movement in the world. Its secret? A tiny tuning fork that vibrated at 360 times a second – so game-changing that the US government reportedly tried to hush it up during the Cold War. Perhaps that explains why Hunter S Thompson made a point of wearing one himself. After all, he wasn’t exactly known for hitting deadlines...

_______________________________________________________

The one with a drum kit

Seiko Frequency (eBay price: £220)

By the mid-Nineties, pretty much everything – apart from an oyster shucking knife and a drum machine – had been crowbarred into wristwatches. Drum machine it was, then. Seiko hired Japanese techno DJ Tetsuya Komuro, and the Frequency was born; all the usual watch functions plus six drum patterns and a BPM counter. Styled with a dash of Transformers chic, it should have been a hit. Sadly it wasn’t, and sales were somewhat slower than the device’s boom-shaka-laka rhythms. The Frequency can now change hands for twice the original £115 price, but it’s fair to say Seiko’s engineers still regret not fully exploring that oyster-shucking concept…

_______________________________________________________

The one with a rubbish TV

Seiko TV Watch (eBay price: £205)

In the Eighties, ‘portable’ TVs were roughly the size and weight of an oscilloscope; portable in the sense that they had a handle. So just imagine seeing a TV wristwatch in the Bond film Octopussy – then being able to actually buy it in a shop. Sure, the 1.25in LCD screen was black and white (007’s was colour), but modern man could now stride down the street watching Grandstand. Extraordinary. One catch: the Walkman-sized TV/FM receiver, which had to be stowed in a breast pocket with a wire running down your sleeve to the watch.

Oh, and watch out for that lamppost, squire...

_______________________________________________________

The one that could change channels

Casio CMD-40-1ZT TV Remote Control Learning Watch (eBay price: £50)

A watch that could mimic a TV/VCR remote? Was this even legal? This is what schoolboys wondered – before embarking on Beano-grade class disruption. For the next five years, no teacher could show a VHS of The World At War without a channel changing, the volume blaring or Hitler squeaking in fast forward. There was similar havoc in pubs as grown men cranked up the football commentary. Want one? They’re easy to find: sneak into any school staff room and find the box marked ‘confiscated’.

_______________________________________________________

The one that reinvented time

Swatch Netsurfer (eBay price: £50)

The first dotcom boom was characterised by explosive optimism coupled with insane hubris. Overnight, anything without an ‘@’ in it was torn down and fly-tipped in the digital equivalent of ‘mattress alley’. The concept of time? “We’ve scrapped that,” announced Swatch in 1998. “We’re replacing it with Internet Time.” Enter the Beats watch, which divided each day in 1,000 ‘Beats.’ Derision ensued, and it was swiftly pointed out that these ‘Internet Time’ watches didn’t account for our elliptical orbit – nor our leap years. Nail? Meet coffin.

Related

clockhero1.jpg

Watches not of this planet

watch1.jpg

Watches: The hard metals race

koopleshero.jpg

The Kooples Does Watches

Comments

More

12 holdalls & suitcases you need to take on your next weekend getaway

Still stuffing your stuff in a JD Sports bag? It's time to change your ways

by Jamie Carson
08 Dec 2016

Football scarves: winter’s biggest accessory trend

Tame the cold evenings with these terrace-inspired beauties

by Jamie Carson
29 Nov 2016

13 street style shots of guys absolutely owning winter scarves

Boost your winter style credentials as well as making your grandmother proud that you're wearing multiple layers

by Jamie Carson
03 Nov 2016

Let the heavens bleed: brollies to make you crave the rain

Rain, rain go away? No thanks, let it pour with these slick men's umbrellas

02 Nov 2016

Bonfire Night scarves, hats and gloves to keep you from freezing

Winter is actually coming - this is not a Game of Thrones reference

by Jamie Carson
03 Oct 2016

John Mayer launches the world's most ostentatious jewellery range

Horrific doesn't even begin to cover it

by Jamie Carson
22 Sep 2016

The 20 best bags in the world right now

Looking for a new backpack or briefcase? Your search is over, we've got it in the bag

02 Aug 2016

20 rings and bracelets that’ll squash your fear of men's jewellery

The amazing men's jewellery that won't make you look like Del Boy

28 Jul 2016

10 pieces of headwear every man should own in their lifetime

Pork pie, fisherman, cowboy and more hats you should give a chance

by Jamie Carson
26 Jul 2016

Unique watches to impress your mates with

Make your friends jealous with TV changing functions, planet watching, health tracking and more

by Jamie Carson
20 Jul 2016