Why Wearing a Plastic Watch is the Ultimate Boss Move
Like pairing beat-up sneakers with a sharp, tailored suit, pulling off a humble utilitarian plastic watch can be the ultimate contrarian move. It’s a signal to the world that you’re so secure in your status, you don’t even need to try (see: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, the proud wearer of a Swatch), that you’re perfectly comfortable sporting something straightforward and unpretentious on your wrist. It’s lightweight, easy, and gets the job done—what else do you need?
Just because a watch is plastic doesn’t mean it does not, in itself, make a statement or come with its own cool and interesting back story. Here are just a few plastic watches that could up your fashion cred and show you don’t take yourself, or your place in the world, too seriously.
Tissot Astrolon 2250 / IDEA 2001
It would be impossible to have a discussion on important plastic watches without touching upon the ahead-of-its-time Tissot Astrolon. Introduced in 1971 with the alternative name of IDEA 2001 (taking its name from, you guessed it, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), this was the world’s first mechanical plastic watch and pre-dated Swatch, which would not make its debut until 1983. It was developed by the Swiss watchmakers over the course of 20 years and was meant to be a lower-cost option compared to the mechanical watches of the time, as quartz timepieces were only about to pick up speed in the mainstream.
And while it was an admirable piece of engineering consisting of only 52 parts, it was, unfortunately, a commercial flop. Today, the Astrolon occupies its own special place in watchmaking history; working pieces are rare and can be found at auctions. If you manage to get your hands on one, wear it with pride.
But of course, Swatch is going to make an appearance on this list. And it does so fittingly with the most important and exciting product launch in its 30-plus year history: the Sistem51, unveiled with great fanfare at Baselworld in 2013 to mark the occasion of the brand’s 30th anniversary. A purely plastic mechanical watch, it did one better than Tissot by reducing the number of parts to just 51, hence the name, and stayed true to the watchmaker’s democratic roots by keeping the price tag at a very modest £100.
And though the plastic Swatch was originally conceived to be your “second watch,” to be brought out when you wanted to put your more valuable precious metal timepieces to rest, the Sistem51 is such a feat that any bona fide collector would want to have this in his stash.
As far as digital watches go, it really doesn’t get any more classic than this. Unchanged in design since it was first released in 1991 (but why would you mess with perfection, really?), it’s water-resistant, has three buttons, a simple interface, back light, an hourly beep, a daily alarm—pretty much everything you need in a hardworking everyday companion.
It’s so deceivingly simple that it even comes with its own surprise twist: leaked US intelligence documents revealed that wearing one could increase your chances of getting detained under suspicion of terrorism. According to reports, interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were alerted to the watch possibly being “a sign of al-Qaeda,” as it was supposedly the watch used by terrorists when constructing time bombs. Maybe it should come with a warning: Wear at your own risk.
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Manufactured by the ever-reliable Seiko, Lorus was introduced to the market in 1982 and is positioned by the brand, quite simply, as “a watch you can trust.” These pieces were meant to appeal to the mass market price range, but that doesn’t mean they can’t look good while doing it.
This water-resistant digital timepiece is the perfect watch for active use, say, when you’re going for a hike or an outdoor run. It also comes in pink and purple women’s models if you ever want to go matchy-matchy with your girl.
Breitling Colt Skyracer
The Swiss watchmakers raised eyebrows in 2016 when they introduced a luxury watch made out of plastic—a material they dubbed Breitlight, to be exact. A lightweight proprietary polymer that’s lighter than steel and titanium and reinforced with composite fibers, it also promises to be anti-magnetic, hypoallergenic, and scratch-proof.
The company’s first offering in this high-tech material was the Avenger Hurricane 45, a chronograph that still came with a rather steep price tag. The second Breitlight option is this one, a quartz model initially developed for the armed forces and marketed toward a younger crowd (a.k.a. it’s more affordable). It also comes with a removable rubber strap that doubles as a ruler, as it is embossed with measurement scales. Hey, who knows when this kind of thing will come in handy.