For the last year, Swatch has existed primarily as the brand that makes and sells the MoonSwatch, their enormous, crossover hit made in partnership with Omega. It’s tough to underestimate the impact of the MoonSwatch on the watch world, mostly because its impact transcends the watch world. Your friends and family who are not part of the hobby, don’t read this site and others like it, and may not even own a watch, are almost certainly aware of the MoonSwatch. They’ve seen an advertisement for it, or have heard about it on the news, or perhaps they’ve stumbled onto the impressive MoonSwatch displays in a Swatch store, only to be told that the watches aren’t actually available to buy. Swatch has recently upped the ante somewhat on the MoonSwatch front by offering extremely limited versions with gold plated seconds hands, and it has me (and others) wondering if the hype for these watches has crested, and longing for Swatch to go back to making really cool Swatches like the ones so many of us grew up with.
The truth is, Swatch never stopped making exactly those kinds of watches, but they’ve been somewhat lost in the hysteria for the MoonSwatch. Now, though, comes a series of watches that I think might actually rival the MoonSwatch in terms of enthusiast interest, at least in some quarters. The latest entry in the Swatch Art Journey collection (that has already seen releases this year with watches based on pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, René Magritte, and others) is a set of watches inspired by the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that seems like exactly the right fit for Swatch.
This cohesion between brand and artist is really a factor of timing. Swatch became what amounts to a pop-cultural institution throughout the 80s thanks to their accessible, affordably priced, and colorful watches, and Basquiat rose to considerable fame and acclaim during roughly the same time. Swatch has a long history of tapping into the art world for watch design inspiration, and Basquait’s colorful, sometimes text heavy work is a natural aesthetic match for Swatch, but Swatch and Basquiat feel linked by history and shared values as well. While many of Basquiat’s works have gone on to set records when sold publicly at auctions, as an artist he got his start selling postcards to passersby on New York City streets in the earliest days of the street art movement in the 1970s.
The three watches in this small collection are all built on the Swatch’s basic 41mm case size and feature quartz movements. The artworks represented are all pulled from Basquiat’s early 80s output. “Hollywood Africans” has a predominantly yellow colorway and is inspired by a Basquiat piece that deals explicitly with the perceptions of Afrcan Americans in the entertainment industry (the three figures represented on the dial include Basquiat himself as well as rap musician Rammellzee and visual artist and painter Toxic). “Ishtar” is based on a 1983 painting depicting the Mesopotamian goddess of fertility and war, and features dial text rendered in a style that is unmistakably Basquiat. The final piece is “(Untitled)” and features Basquiat’s signature three-pointed crown, an image he would sometimes use as an actual signature in his work.
I’ve always been a big fan of Swatch’s various art themed watches. They always seem to tap into something that’s uniquely Swatch – it’s very hard to imagine any other brand attempting something like this and executing to the level the Swatch is able to. For art lovers, there are lot of fun details to spot in each watch, including the way the work is represented through the dial, case, and strap (the straps on these watches are always packed with references to the original artwork and hold a large part of the appeal). They’re also affordable (these Basquiat watches retail for $105) and, importantly, accessible. If the Basquiat triptych follows the trend of other recent art themed releases, you’ll be able to find these online and at Swatch retailers quite easily, which is more than can be said for that other big Swatch release from a year ago. Swatch