Novelty Watches – Why Bother?

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Ziiiro Aurora Grey - strange watch

The watch industry uses the term “novelty watch” to describe hugely expensive limited edition timepieces. For our purposes, novelty watches are relatively inexpensive timepieces that violate traditional watch design norms to separate themselves from the herd. They’re unconventional. Distinctive. And more often than not, whimsical. There’s your trouble . . .

Many if not most novelty watches are the horological equivalent of a joke T-shirt. Once you get the joke, the T-shirt/watch is still there, daring you to find something more interesting about it. Only there isn’t. That’s the exact opposite of great watch design – as any Grand Seiko owner will tell you.

Novelty watches are more of a thing these days; low end watchmakers have to offer buyers an instantly recognizable smartwatch differentiator. Just like absurdly bedazzled diamond watches and way out there high tech pieces (e.g., Hublot’s Big Bang Sang Blue Titanium Pavé), the anti-smartwatch novelty watch is a statement piece. The message comes in four basic forms:

Watches That Look Like Something Else

Magnus Silver Steel Street Racing Series - novelty watches

The Magnus Silver Steel Street Racing Series ($94.95) was “inspired by the famous TE-37 racing wheel.” That would be the one-piece forged aircraft-grade aluminum 1996 Volk Racing “Touring Evolution” wheel. It’s legendary amongst automotive enthusiasts, but otherwise unknown. Which is part of the fun: wearing something that looks like something else that the “in crowd” will recognize, that other people don’t.

“Artistic” Novelty Watches

Mr. Jones watches A perfectly useless afternoon novelty watches

Like the $99 Ziiiro Aurora Grey at the top of this post, Mr. Jones Watches’ A Perfectly Useless Afternoon Quartz Watch ($245) is lovely. The colors, design and clever legibility lift them above your average gag watch. But once you’ve heard the “cuuuuute!” reaction for the umpteenth time, you’re left with a drone’s eye view of someone floating in a rubber ring with a duck endlessly circling the perimeter. What are the duck’s intentions? Who reads books anymore? Never mind. It’s art for horology’s sake.

Novelty Watches with Cartoon Characters

Timex Standard x Peanuts Featuring Snoopy Autumn - new watch alert

Whether or not the Mickey Mouse watch was the first cartoon character watch, its enormous success launched hundreds of millions of similar pieces, a trend that continues today. Little known fact: Timex was born in the ’50’s after Ingersoll-Waterbury ditched the mouse and launched the Timex brand. The company [now known as] Timex goes back to the past to reinvigorate their future with the Timex X Peanuts collection. Charlie Brown’s beagle ($99 Snoopy Autumn shown) may be the best salesman the Chinese watchmaker ever had.

WTF Novelty Watches 

Everyone Needs One Weird Watch and Everyone Needs One Strange Watch covered this ground, where high horology and low-end novelty watches collide. watches.com offers both, from the quarter-completed M&Co Pie 40 ($119.81) to the tireless Devon Tread ($23,999). I’m splitting the difference with a flashback to the  Raketa “Russian Code” 0275 LE ($1629.09). It doesn’t shout “novelty” but stealth novelty’s my jam; its hands run backwards.

Novelty watches are nothing new, but the recent proliferation of novelty watches and heritage pieces tells us that what’s old is new again.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Novelty watches are, almost be definition, inessential, frivolous. The odd-o-meter goes from simple stamping of a cartoon character on the dial to clean sheet takes on time displays, as above.

    Kid’s digital watches that happen to be marked up by some franchised animation characters almost fail to register as novel due to their ubiquity (on shelves, not wrists). Similarly, Mickey is iconic!

    I really can’t generalize further because there is truly the fine line between genius and madness with these things. I think it’s safe to say that wood watches, no matter how charming, are at war with themselves via terrible material choice. WTF watches and some art watches tend to suffer legibility impairment to the point of being barely usable.

    The makers aren’t stupid. They know that novelty watches compete in their own little realm, and are much more likely to be impulse buys. Almost nobody will complain if the quality is subpar because almost nobody wears them often enough to care. The design is almost everything.

    Supposedly there are people that wear some Xeric oddball as their daily driver or their only watch. That is commitment. I’d like an ‘ask me anything’ with one of those people.

    • I like wood watches. The impermanence is part of the charm. I’m a comic book man, and I do love things “mint”. But…sometimes…the little imperfections and wear tells its own story.

      I was pretty much a TokyoFlash guy every day for a few years!

      • I never succumbed but I imagine that wood watches are like the line about 8-track cassettes: an attachment comes with knowing that every single use may very well be the last. Perhaps my expectation that wood watches risk catastrophic irreparable failure at every instant is incorrect, or slightly exaggerated.

        Paging the publisher, Mr. Farago! What needs to be done such that I can read Diary of a Former TokyoFlash Addict, or Interview with the TokyoFlash Devotee? Am I the only one fascinated with the pride and sacrifice required to put up with these things day in and day out?

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