Our Favorite Watches of the '90s
Welcome to '90s Week, where we're revisiting the raddest (and most underrated) watches of the decade, plus the trends and innovations that defined the end of the 20th century. Plug in your dial-up modem and grab a Crystal Pepsi. We'll be here all week.
In honor of '90s Week, I thought it would be fun to collect a few folks from the HODINKEE team and ask them to write a little bit about their favorite watch from the 1990s. Many of us are '90s kids – or look back on the decade with rose-tinted glasses – especially when it comes to the many great watches of the decade.
So, take a tour down memory lane with IWC chronographs, the youthful side of Patek Philippe, two-tone Datejusts, democratizing divers, high school G-Shocks, and the birth of a special series from Chopard – we've got nine of the best watches from the '90s.
What did you wear or love in the '90s? If we missed your fav, be sure to let us know in the comments.
The '90s was a weird period for watchmaking and, well, the world (not to mention an abnormally quiet, polo-shirt-and-glasses-wearing middle schooler named Ben in upstate New York). But, that's not to say some cool stuff didn't get made. THE watch of the '90s in my mind is the IWC 3705. It's just a perfect thing and launched ceramic into the mainstream, and further validated the Valjoux 7750 as a remarkably versatile and important caliber. The fact that this watch came out the same year as the Mercedes E500? Man, talk about an ideal pairing.
Similarly, some years later, I think the Patek 5070 really feels '90s to me. It was Patek's first solo chronograph in the better part of thirty years. It was enormous and weird, and just cool. And a year later, it got absolutely destroyed by the Datograph. It was, in my belief, the last time Patek could conceivably say there was no competition from anyone else. See Mark's '90s pick, below, for more on that.
-Ben Clymer, Founder/Executive Chairman
If you ask Philippe Dufour what the best serially produced wristwatch is, he will pull out his own A. Lange & Söhne Datograph, and I will not argue with him. It also happens to be from 1999, the final year of a decade that saw the first grand complications in wristwatches, the first annual calendar, the first OMEGA co-axial escapements, and the first Seiko spring drive movements. In a decade that was a renaissance for mechanical watchmaking, the Datograph and its L951.1 movement stand above the rest.
It is an exercise in futility to describe the architectural beauty of this movement, it would be like trying to take a picture of the Grand Canyon that captures its true awe-inspiring details. Some things you just need to see in person. If holding the Datograph does not get the blood flowing, then you need to see a cardiologist immediately.
–Mark Hackman, Copywriter
The '90s was a time of innovation and invention for the watch industry in so many ways. New companies were created, new conglomerates were formed, and countless new calibers and watches were born in the decade. One such watch and movement from the '90s that has always fascinated me with its aesthetic discretion and mechanical ingenuity is the Chopard L.U.C. 1860, outfitted with the beautiful self-winding micro-rotor-equipped caliber 1.96. Michel Parmigiani, one of my personal favorite watchmakers of the era, was intimately involved in its creation, and I have a deep appreciation for the quiet excellence the entire package exudes.
Louis Westphalen highlighted the watch for HODINKEE a few years back in a must-read piece, and our friend Tony Traina of Rescapement recently spotlighted the series, as well. Of course, the ultimate story on the Chopard L.U.C. 1860 and caliber 1.96 was penned by Mr. Walt Odets, who memorably described the caliber 1.96 as "among the finest – if not simply the finest – automatic caliber currently manufactured in Switzerland."
–Logan Baker, Brand Editor
I don't think any watch epitomizes the '90s quite like a two-tone Datejust on a jubilee bracelet. That brassy dial, fluted gold bezel, and folded end links are just the sort of end-of-the-20th-century design language right in line with big-shouldered Armani suits or a '95 Chevrolet Lumina minivan. My love for this watch is purely nostalgic though, which would also be the reason I'd buy one.
Today, wearing this watch would probably make me some kind of "accidental hipster," but in my head, I would be channeling my Japanese grandpa. He's wearing impossibly high-waisted trousers and has his hands folded behind his back, shuffling down the street with this watch on his wrist.
–Myles Kusaba, Category Manager, Luxury Watches
The Tudor Sub from the '90s looks just like a Sub from its sister brand, but it's much less common. And it's fitted with an ETA movement, meaning you don't have to send it in for a time-consuming and costly service, any watchmaker can work on it. Today, Tudor is moving away from its sister brand, but back in the '90s, they capitalized on the relationship in a way that we'll probably never see again. You'll spot the crown on the case and the bracelet.
Tudor watches were worn by military divers into the '90s, continuing a longstanding tradition of the watches being worn by the Marine Nationale back in the '60s, and even the US Navy SEALS.
–Cole Pennington, Editor
I was reading about this watch and was confused by the claim that every girl in my middle school would have had one of these. "I don't think so," I thought. "I WOULD HAVE REMEMBERED having or wanting this thing!"
And then I told Logan Baker I liked this watch, especially in pink, and he said "Oh yeah, every girl in my middle school had one," and I realized that the commentary on the Baby-G was directed at young people. I can't go back to middle school but I can get a pink Baby-G, and reader, I just did. It's never too late for a watch that is water resistant and shock resistant and generally tough (but also pink). It's always the '90s somewhere.
–Sarah Miller, Senior Writer
Most '90s watches that come to mind were not born in the decade, but were in-vogue variants at the time – the Cartier Santos and Rolex Datejust in two-tone, for example. My pick is a truly iconic watch, born in the 1990s. This is the first Patek Philippe Aquanaut.
The reference 5060, was introduced in 1997 as a "modern" interpretation of the then decades-old Nautilus design. The idea was to attract a younger audience who scoffed at the Nautilus. To the surprise of Patek, their most seasoned clientele immediately snapped up the first run of Aquanauts leaving that younger collector with limited access. I can see why it was such a hit. From a perfect 36mm case size to the "grenade" texture on the dial that ties into a similar feel on the "composite" (rubber) strap, the first Aquanaut is the ideal luxury sport watch. Just don't hold me accountable for the steel bracelet – I only support wearing this watch on strap!
–Rich Fordon, Buyer - Vintage
There's just something about TAG Heuer and the 1990s that feels right to me. It's the peanut butter and jelly of decade and timepiece. Enthusiasts today spend considerable energy piling up on the brand, calling it names like "mall watch," but in a '90s context, I think that's its strength. The TAG Heuer 2000 – in any of its designs – is my favorite watch of the decade because I think it's both a mirror and echo of the style of the times.
My mind immediately sees the wily TAG typeface (sometimes in color, sometimes not). Spike Feresten had it right when he bought one with his paycheck from Late Night With David Letterman. It's hard to beat a '90s TAG.
–Danny Milton, Senior Editor
I picked it for my Three On Three watch and, since Rich claimed the Aquanaut, I'm picking the Seiko SKX007 here, too. It was my introduction to enthusiast automatic watches and dive watches, and it arguably set me on a path to becoming a watch writer.
The SKX007 was introduced in 1996 as an entry-level and ISO-compliant 200-meter dive watch and, over the course of the next two decades, it would become about as influential as any watch from the '90s. 42.5mm of steel, Hardlex crystal, and luminous material, the SKX007 was inexpensive, entirely charming, and a true tool watch of the 1990s that would open the world of watch enthusiasm to an entire generation of newly-online watch nerds.
Over the years, I modded mine for travel with a 12-hour bezel, and it has been nothing short of a wonderful companion and an excellent everyday watch. Sure, there are "better" watches made in the '90s, but the SKX007 (and its siblings) started a movement that is still being contextualized to this day.
–James Stacey, Senior Writer