Fans of Swatch watch with envy as a prized timepiece is raffled Collectors: A cult following for the quirky watches makes the $150 limited edition worth as much as $45,000.

June 25, 1996|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

The time was right for Harris Lokmanhakim.

The Swatch collector from Washington won a raffle yesterday at the Swatch Store at the Gallery at Harborplace to purchase one of Swatch's 700 limited edition "Perfect Timing" Olympic Chronometer for $150.

"It's just a piece of plastic to most people," said Lokmanhakim, who already has 35 Swatches. "But to collectors, it's like winning the lottery."

He's not kidding. A Chronometer was just sold to a collector for $45,000 -- a measure of just how crazed Swatch collectors can be.

Since the first Swatch was sold in 1983, the quirky, reasonably priced timepieces have developed something of a cult following. The face of the watches, which average $40 to $50 in price, feature images of everything from crying babies to funky geometric designs.

Swatch collectors abound; some own hundreds of watches. Swatch has even found its way onto the Internet, where Swatch enthusiasts all over the world talk Swatch and trade pieces via the Swatch home page.

Now Swatch, whose parent company, SMH, owns Omega and other companies, is poised to cash in on the Olympics as Official Timekeeper and Scorekeeper of the 1996 Summer Games. The hype began last November at the Swatch store in Athens, where TC the first Chronometer was raffled off. The last of the 250 store raffles will be held at the Swatch store in Atlanta next month. (The remaining 450 Chronometers will go to people involved in the Olympics.)

Yesterday about 30 people turned out for the Baltimore auction. They crowded into the company's Harborplace store, lined with human-size Swatches dangling from the walls, and glass cases filled with elegantly displayed Swatches.

Free raffle tickets shaped like the Chronometer were available to anyone who walked in the door. Baltimore Olympic hopeful Beth Botsford and Miss Maryland Michele Michael were on hand for the drawing.

When Lokmanhakim won, he waved his hand as cameras flashed in his face. "That's me," he said with a huge smile.

A keeper

Afterward, Justin Hoffman, 20, walked up to Lokmanhakim and asked him what he intended to do with his prize.

"It's a keeper," Lokmanhakim replied.

Hoffman had a different plan in mind for the watch, if he had managed to win it.

"I'd definitely sell it to someone who'd appreciate it," the Baltimore resident said. "I'd buy a couple watches I liked, and probably a Corvette."

A limited edition, the Chronometer is of tremendous interest to the serious Swatcher, whether the collector wants to sell it for, say, $45,000, or add it to a permanent treasury.

Ron Good, wearing a Swatch with a dark teal leather band, matching inside numbers and a reflective metal face, boasts a collection of about 2,000 Swatches and is one of those connoisseurs who would rather have the Chronometer all to himself. He drove to Baltimore from Pennsylvania to participate in the raffle and admitted Swatch collecting "becomes an obsession."

"No way would I sell it," said Good, 61. "It's part of the completion of a collection."

The Chronometer earns its name from surviving a tough series of tests and receiving a certificate from a Swiss institute, according to Bruno Niklaus, co-owner of Baltimore's Swatch Store. A Chronometer is a precision timepiece; every Rolex is a Chronometer, Niklaus said. But no matter how much collectors want the Chronometer, the $150 price tag is still a little steep for some.

Can't afford it

"If I win, I don't even think I could afford the watch," said Neal Tejano, a 20-year-old Johns Hopkins student with about 20 Swatches. "If I could just cough up the $150, I could sell it on the collector's market."

Khadija Abdul Malik, 28, doesn't understand the collector mentality.

"Collectors trade watches and look longingly at them," Malik said, wearing "Lolita," a watch that depicts a scantily clad woman wearing little girl's shoes. "Every watch I have has been worn."

There is a solution for Tejano and Malik, however.

An accompanying series of Olympic Swatches, designed by athletes such as Nadia Comaneci, Katarina Witt, Edwin Moses and Mark Spitz, range in price from about $40 to $90. The "Olympic Legends" watches are tributes to the Olympians' personal athletic achievements.

Seven-time Olympic gold medalist Spitz made an appearance at the Baltimore store on Saturday and is confident about Swatch's performance this summer at the Olympics.

"It was a brilliant idea to bring Swatch to the forefront," he said. "They're more than capable of it."

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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