Conventional wisdom says that 1980s style was – and remains – hopelessly tacky. But the problem with conventional wisdom is that it’s so…conventional. We happen to love the idiosyncrasies that came out of 1980s watchmaking. We love the personality and sense of play. The daring innovation. One way to look at these watches is to say they’re dated. Another way is to say that they have a singular point of view that could only have emerged in this specific time and place. That’s how we prefer to look at them.
The list below ranks our 10 favorites, with a bias toward the ones that best reflect the decade’s aesthetic. They’re not just cool watches. They’re representative watches. And what they represent is an era of exuberant imagination.
10. Omega Constellation Manhattan Two-Tone (1982)
Is anything more ’80s than two-tone? I think not. The Omega Constellation Manhattan is a glorious mix of metals in a small case (sometimes with diamonds!) with a quartz movement – and the whole package really speaks to me. Much like the Piaget Polo, the Omega Constellation Manhattan fits in that perfect category of jewelry-watch-meets-tennis-bracelet. I picture someone named Blair wearing it while hitting backhands after high-school detention. If this is your vibe, good news: The Constellation is still around. And it’s well overdue for a comeback.
– Cara Barrett
9. Citizen Aqualand C0023 (1985)
Dive watches, for the most part, have remained relatively unchanged since their inception in the late 1950s. But in ’85, the Citizen Aqualand C0023 changed the game. With this one watch, the digital depth gauge became the standard. Depth gauges had existed in watches before, but they were mechanical, finicky, and not all that accurate. Now, divers finally had a reliable and precise tool to measure their depth, with no-decompression limits printed on the strap. These tools legitimately made diving much safer. It may not be an exaggeration to say the watch saved lives.
– Cole Pennington
8. Heuer/Tag Heuer 1000/Professional Series
One of the most popular sports watches of the 1980s was produced by Heuer, which went through a number of major transitions during that decade – Heuer was acquired by Piaget, which had already bought Lemania from SIHH in an assets sell-off, and Heuer then became TAG Heuer in 1985, when it was bought by Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG). In the midst of all this turmoil, Heuer and TAG Heuer produced a series of quartz (and mechanical) dive watches, with the watches known as the 1000 series launching in 1984 (a complete breakdown of the 1000 series is available at Calibre11). And while James Bond is most often associated with Rolex and Omega (and occasionally Seiko), the 1000 series also has the 007 seal of approval – Timothy Dalton wore one, full lume dial no less, in 1987’s The Living Daylights.
– Jack Forster
7. Seiko Speedtimer chronograph 7A28-7000 (1983)
Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the Subaru SVX in the ’80s, and that wasn’t the only time he worked with a noteworthy Japanese brand to create something iconic. He also created the Seiko Speedtimer 7A28-7000. Famously worn by Ripley, the space badass played by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986), the watch was the first to use an analog quartz chronograph movement. The chronograph buttons sat on a protruding, science fiction-ish block hanging off the right side of the case. Seiko re-issued the watch in the form of the SCED035 in 2015 – which means that, like the brutally resilient movie monsters, the watch never really went away.
– Cole Pennington
6. Rolex Two-Tone Datejust (1982*)
Yes, yes, the Two-Tone Datejust pre-dates the 1980s (*by more than two decades), but the ’80s were when it went mainstream – turning Rolex’s fluted gold bezel and two-tone Jubilee bracelet into an iconic combination. Magnum P.I. wore a Rolex GMT-Master, but actor Tom Selleck wore a two-tone Datejust (and still does). Patrick Bateman wore one as a murderous 1980s banker in American Psycho. In the years since, it’s developed a reputation as an old man’s watch. But as far as I’m concerned, this watch is every bit as cool today as it was back then, not despite its ’80s-ness but because of its ’80s-ness. It’s equal parts Wall Street tycoon and Boca Raton retiree.
– Danny Milton
5. IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar (1985)
While the 1980s had many watchmaking firsts, the IWC Da Vinci has its own set of bragging rights as the first perpetual calendar chronograph that could be adjusted from the crown. The module was designed by legend Kurt Klaus in 1985 and was based on a Valjoux 7750 movement. But what’s most 1980s to me are the curvy case design and bulbous buttons. You can read more about the old (and the new!) Da Vinci, and watch Jack give it A Week on the Wrist, by clicking right here.
– Cara Barrett
4. Hublot First Model, aka The Current Classic Fusion (1980)
Born at the dawn of the decade, Hublot captured the sleek dazzling veneer of the 1980s. Founded by Carlo Crocco, Hublot is french for “Porthole,” and the watch made waves as a luxury gold timepiece that came fitted to a sporty rubber strap. Loosely based on the aesthetic formed by watches like the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, the Hublot Classic Original was equal parts luxury disruption and a fresh take on the old-world notion of a luxury watch. As a true post-quartz crisis icon, Hublot based its entire brand (now a massive and successful piece of the LVMH family) on the form of the Classic Original. Today, few watches feel more like the 1980s than this – even if it’s less Wall Street and more Euro jet set.
– James Stacey
3. Cartier Santos Galbee (1987)
Gold is good. Oliver Stone’s iconic film Wall Street, released in 1987, coincided with the re-design and reintroduction of the Cartier Santos – then named the Santos Galbee – in a less angular and far smoother profile. Technical specs aside, this watch has since become known as the “Gordon Gekko” Santos after Michael Douglas wore it on screen (along with a mean pair of suspenders) while portraying the greed-ridden investor. The watch is all gold on the unmistakable Santos bracelet (also in solid gold). Of course Gekko could’ve worn any number of luxury watches, but only Cartier had that perfect blend of old-money sophistication with new-money swag.
– Danny Milton
2. Rolex GMT-Master 16758 (1980)
Gold has been a part of the Rolex GMT-Master story from its early days, and so it’s quite natural that in a decade celebrated for luxury and excess, Rolex had a doozy of a gold GMT in its catalog. The Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 16758 is, in my humble estimation, the gold sport-luxe watch of the 1980s. As the precious-metal companion to the steel 16750, the 16758 came with a host of swanky upgrades that went far beyond its gold case and matching gold Jubilee or Oyster bracelet (there was also a leather strap version). Instead of a plastic crystal, we get sapphire. It’s the kind of thing you’d wear while switching time zones as you traveled to and from your weekend house in Aspen.
– Jon Bues
1. Casio Calculator Watch
For all the complications in mechanical watches, the traditional repertoire is fairly limited. The perpetual calendar, the chronograph, the moon-phase, and others have innumerable variations, but each type basically does the same thing. The number of complications possible with an electronic watch, on the other hand, is limited only by display technology and the ingenuity of the engineers and programmers who design it. One type of watch that would have been unthinkable before the era of the electronic multifunction quartz watch is the calculator watch. And Casio’s calculator watch was the undisputed king, to the point that even today, it’s synonymous with this quintessentially ’80s design. “Think of it as a microcomputer on your wrist for handy operation wherever you go,” an advertisement suggested. Yes, mechanical watches with slide-rule bezels made a number of calculations possible, but the Casio calculator watch brought push-button convenience on the wrist, to a far wider watch-wearing public, and made announcing your nerd status not a mark of shame but a badge of honor.
– Jack Forster