Collaboration is as powerful a currency as any these days for both the brand and the partner they work with. We’ve seen it in high-fashion, we’ve seen it in streetwear, and we’ve seen it in the watch world. Although a watch is a decidedly smaller canvas on which to work, the resulting collaborations are arguably that much more unique, because even the smallest details have a dramatic impact on an original silhouette.
It would be impossible to discuss watch collaborations without first mentioning the achievements of Swatch. From their earliest days, they’ve embraced the notion of “a watch as a fashion statement.” As such, they knew individuality was almost as important as the utilitarian function of the watch itself. The byproduct was two-fold; firstly, they engaged artists and other luminaries to craft unique versions of the Swatch Watch which was a completely new tactic in the mid-’80s. Secondly, Swatch was one of the first major brands who considered the importance of keeping quantities low so as to fan the flames of hype.
Although there are plenty of Swatch collaborations to choose from, here are 13 partnerships that stand out above the rest.
Kiki Picasso: 1985
It seems only right to begin with the artistic collaboration that started them all. In partnering with French artist, Kiki Picasso, the avant-garde GZ008 was a 140-piece edition that has the qualities of both a stained glass window and an unfinished screen print. Although the Swatch revolution had begun two years earlier, Picasso’s contribution can’t be overstated in helping to drive the brand to greater heights.
Keith Haring: 1986
Whereas the Swatch Watch became an instantly recognizable timepiece even from afar, so too had the colorful abstractions of Keith Haring — who utilized a design language ripe with elements like interlocking people, crosses, dogs, and more — to great effect across the New York City landscape. On the Modèles avec Personnages (GZ100), Serpent (GZ102), Milles Pattes (GZ103) and Blanc sur Noir (GZ104), we see a continuation of what he had achieved on the street: cultural commentary in digestible morsels.
Alfred Hofkunst: 1991
Austrian artist Alfred Hofkunst’s Swatch was in stark contrast to both Kiki Picasso and Keith Haring who had both chosen to imagine their artwork within the framework of the watch silhouette. Using food as the connective tissue between the three models (PWZ100, PWZ101, PWZ102), they represent a sculptural sophistication by imaging culinary items — like sliced cucumber, fatty bacon, and a red bell pepper — as methods for telling time.
Vivienne Westwood: 1992/’93
It isn’t often a brand gets two opportunities to work with a legend like Vivienne Westwood — who in back-to-back years designed two radically different types of Swatches. The first was dubbed the "Orb” thanks to the inventive packaging which resembled a combination of a Pokémon ball and a medal one would receive as British royalty. The watch itself takes similar design cues. The black silhouette is enhanced greatly by a gold, Victoria cross.
In 1993, Westwood presented “Putti” as part of the POP Swatch series. The autumnal palette is decidedly dreamlike and takes on the quality of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Tony Hawk: 1999
1999 proved to be the year that Swatch made a commitment to action sports. They became the title sponsor of both the BMX World Cup and Swatch Pro-Am Wave Riding Contest, and eventually collaborated with the biggest skateboarder at the time, Tony Hawk.
The Swatch Switch McTwist (SHM100) smoke colorway has contrasting grey elements on the strap, and hits of coral appear on the hour and minute hands. While it doesn’t necessarily scream “skateboarding,” it also proved that as a design partner, Swatch was going to give its collaborators ample creative freedom.
David LaChapelle x Amanda Lepore: 2000
In an attempt to positively weaponize words that have been viewed as hurtful by the LGBTQ community, Swatch, photographer Dave LaChapelle, and performance artist Amanda Lepore, presented their Time Tranny (GZ163) edition. Lepore’s face and blowfish red lips are prominently utilized on the watch face, and she’s joined by a Geisha-type depiction on the watch strap. This was not only provocative for the era, but a positive step forward for inclusion. While we can’t argue it was the only transgender moment in fashion, one can’t deny it was a major milestone.
Stephen Dean: 2002
At first glance, Parisian artist, Stephen Dean’s, five-watch Painted Time (GK376-GK380) collection appears like alternate versions of the Rainbow Road race track from Mario Kart. A closer examination reveals the usage of colorful plexiglass that works in harmony with exposed elements of the actual watch mechanism. Unlike other collaborations, this felt like Dean’s actual fine art style — allowing lucky collectors the ability to own an original without having to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollar to do so.
Aptly titled “Street Club (SUJZ111),” multi-disciplinary artist, Grems, added to the pantheon of Swatch collaborations with an homage to graffiti itself. Featuring a number of different letter styles and throw-ups on the band, the color palette of blue, chartreuse, and yellow sits alongside a cartoon depiction of a red automobile. The collaboration’s narrative was further enhanced with packaging that came with its very own spray can.
Manish Arora: 2010
Indian artist Manish Arora opted for as diverse of a collection as any we’d ever seen up until this point. Since hearts had been a natural design element in his studio practice, Over Charm utilized the motif along with interlocking chains that served as the bracelet. Dancing Hands was a colorful homage to hands themselves. Huge in All was a more chunky silhouette with stainless steel 316L buckle and molded case. Giant Shimmer was a not-so-subtle wink to the “bling era.” And, finally, From Within was a rectangular case that again brought in the heart motif to great effect.
Jeremy Scott: 2011
If ever there were such a thing as a match made in heaven, it’s undoubtedly Swatch and Jeremy Scott who share a love for pushing the boundaries of form and function. The eight-part collection features signature Scott elements like the usage of wings on the Winged Swatch, cheetah print on Swatch Punk, and lighting bolts on Lightning Flash. But of course, Scott couldn’t resist challenging modern watch convention. On Double Vision, he presents two watch faces with matching white and red motifs that have the qualities of both a bullseye target and a pattern used for hypnotism.
Kid Robot: 2011
Featuring original artwork from the likes of Gary Baseman, Jeremyville, Frank Kozik, Joe Ledbetter, MAD, Tara McPherson, SSUR, and Tilt, all eight worked within the parameters of the Gent Original Swatch using Kidrobot’s iconic Dunny character. The limited edition collection is truly a rainbow assortment of designs that also came with matching vinyl toys.
JULS at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel: 2016
As the above collaborations attest to, Swatch is deeply committed to the art world. As such, they invite artists to their residency program at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China (which first began in 2011). Singapore’s Yi Lin Juliana Ong — better known by her artist moniker Juls — celebrated Swatch’s physical manifestation with her own tactile “thank you” to those who have come and gone from the program. Using the Chinese backdrop as the prominent theme, Juls said of the collaboration, “It’s all about the process, the adventures and those strange characters.”
The Swatch Sistem51 HODINKEE Vintage 84 sold out in just 72 hours — speaking to Swatch’s acceptance amongst the more “elite” clientele who peruse HODINKEE. While decidedly more subdued than other collaborations, there’s ample thought behind a piece with prominent attributes like a translucent black plastic case that is 42mm in diameter and 14mm thick, a dial that pays homage to Swatch’s first true sports watch design, and sword-shaped hands with oversized, luminous hour markers.
Damien Hirst: 2018
To commemorate Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday on November 19, Swatch and Damien Hirst partnered on a two-watch set honoring the famed cartoon icon. Spot Mickey was reserved to just 1,999 pieces and sees the character set against colors commonly associated with him like black, red, and yellow. For Mirror Spot Mickey (limited to 19,999 pieces), the interpretation is slightly more abstract with Hirst turning to circles of varying sizes to present a truly unique portrait.