Time is a commodity for Swatch watch aficionados

September 24, 1993|By Ellen Sweets | Ellen Sweets,Dallas Morning News

If you've got the money, honey, they've got the time.

"They" being the artists, designers and marketing people who bring you the Swatch watch, currently en route to achieving cult status among a small but growing band of devotees.

How devoted are they?

So devoted they pay an annual membership of $100 to belong to an international Swatch Watch Club.

So devoted they stand in line for hours for the privilege of owning a particular design.

So devoted they pay up to $25,000 for a hard-to-find kind.

They are a curious bunch for sure. But they know what they like and they aren't shy about going after it.

Ask Bob Shaw, 43. Talk about a man with a lot of time on his hands.

Mr. Shaw, a photographer, has more than 250 timepieces he has searched out at special events, in major malls, minor malls, discount jewelry stores and anywhere else he figures he can score including baseball games.

"This kid was taking tickets at a Rangers game," Shaw says, "and I couldn't believe he had on a 'Medici.' I'd given up hope of finding one. I asked him if he would sell it, and before he had a chance to answer, I peeled off a hundred-dollar bill and handed it to him. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I had the watch."

The dramatic "Medici" watch, made in 1991, has a glossy black band. Imprinted on the band is the rich, dark, Rembrandt-like depiction of an arm with a hand gesturing upward toward the face of the watch. The watch's black face, encircled in gold, has three lilies at 9, 10 and 2 o'clock. The other side of the band depicts folds of a velvet and ermine robe, so that when the watch is worn, it portrays a regal arm extended from a red velvet sleeve, pointing toward the flowers.

It is this kind of detail that intrigues Mr. Shaw, co-owner of Powerhouse Productions in Dallas, an agency that creates advertisements for print and electronic media.

More than a fashion statement, the Swiss-made watch that began life a decade ago as a cheap watch has become a political statement as well as a vehicle for clever marketing.

The Swatch made an appearance at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where the Earth Summit watch was launched. The limited-edition watch was accompanied by a joint statement of interest in environmental concerns by U.N. and Swatch officials. Other than at the event itself, the Earth Summit Swatch was sold primarily at local community benefits.

Later this year a special "Stop Swatch" will be launched, tied in to the Magic Johnson Foundation to benefit funding for AIDS patients and people infected with HIV.

"Swatch has always been very promotion-minded," says Linda Sease, a corporate special-events spokeswoman. "They positioned themselves as selling affordable, wearable art. And somehow, over time, people have become fascinated by them."

And how.

If one of them can be found for sale, a 1986 Swatch by famed New York artist Keith Haring that originally sold for $50 is going for as much as $2,500. The artist designed four watches, each with a graffiti-adorned face.

But for people like 37-year-old Barbara Thompson, Swatch watches aren't about buying into clever promos. Ms. Thompson, a Dallas massage therapist who only recently became a collector, likes them because, well, because she does.

"I'm one of those who buys things because I like them. I didn't realize Swatches were collectibles," she says.

Unlike a lot of collectors, Ms. Thompson doesn't buy hers and tuck them away in a box.

"I can't enjoy them without wearing them," she says, "and I understand there's a value in not wearing them. I wear them because of their energy their bright colors make me feel good."

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