Are Y2K watches coming back? Are Y2K watches coming back?

Are Y2K watches coming back?

Buffy Acacia

A commonly held belief is that a watch can be considered vintage once it’s 25 years old, which means that next year the 21st century will be entering its first year of vintage. In the fashion world, Y2K looks have already been back in style for a solid few years. Whether that’s because of the second-hand clothing cycle or pure nostalgia, it’s certainly being represented in the aesthetics of shows like Heartbreak High or movies set in the 2000s like Saltburn. The watch industry is always going to be a few years behind clothing trends, but I think the seeds of a Y2K watch comeback have been planted for a while.

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The looks we associate with Y2K in watches definitely aren’t confined to just the year 2000, more likely spanning around 1997-2007. It’s a difficult thing to pin down, but you absolutely know it when you see it. From the organic, free-flowing shapes inspired by the likes of Frank Gehry’s architecture to the muscled-up hunks of metal, all of these watches found themselves in a fusion of futurism and modernity. It was almost like a far-off sci-fi vision had finally come to life thanks to the changing of the clocks, and nobody was too hung up on keeping sensible diameter measurements. Besides those all-out and borderline experimental watches, there was also quite a few icons born in that era. For example, the Patek Philippe Aquanaut from ’97, the Cartier Ballon Bleu of ’07, and the Hublot Big Bang of ’04. Of course, it wasn’t just the big brands having all the fun.

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The Oakley Timebomb. Image courtesy of The Classic Watch Buyer’s Club.

In the 2000s, shopping malls were peaking in popularity. Brand power was at an all-time high, especially with fashion outlets each catering to their own niche. You couldn’t step anywhere near a clothing store without coming face to face with a perspex cabinet full of branded accessories like wallets, sunglasses, and of course, watches. One of the most popular examples is Oakley, who started out with motorbike and BMX equipment, but became better known for their eyewear. They hit the watchmaking scene hard in 1998 with the release of the Time Bomb – a completely futuristic oval-cased watch powered by a Seiko kinetic movement. Even back then, they were audacious enough to charge US$1,300+ for them. Still, they were immensely popular, and are still quite collectible today. The Oakley Blade from 2004 is one of my favourite designs, tapping into edgy scene-kid aggression as well as the organic design angle.

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A TAG Heuer S/el.

We also can’t talk about Y2K watches without bringing up the likes of TAG Heuer and Breitling. Having a lot to live up to after TAG acquired Heuer, the Kirium was released in ’97, after being designed by Jorg Hysek. Hysek is best known for designing the Vacheron Constantin 222, but his contributions to TAG, the Seiko Arctura, and his own brand of high-octane watches were perfect examples of the 2000s style. The Kirium also set the scene for the revamping of the TAG Heuer S/el in 1999, becoming known as the Link. With its distinctive bracelet, it almost looked like it was in a liquid metal state mid-transformation, or something out of Terminator 2. It was also featured on the wrist of Matt Damon in the 2002 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity.

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A modern Seiko Coutura.

So, is this Y2K look on its way back? I’d argue that it’s been crawling back slowly for a few years, but now it feels like we’re ready for a boom. Some watches carrying some Y2K vibes in recent years have been the Seiko Coutura, the Panerai Submersible, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore, the Issey Miyake TO designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, and the Ikepod Megapod. Of course I’d be remiss not to bring up Breitling again, especially with their recent overhauls and brand expansions. The Breitling Avenger, originally introduced in 2001, is a ‘00s delight with its chunky stepped-crosshair bezel and overwhelming masculinity, not to mention that asymmetric bracelet packing heaps of quirky style.

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The Issey Miyake TO.

To be honest, even if the cycle of fashion didn’t naturally move towards a conclusion like this, I’d say it’s time for a Y2K comeback. Vintage-inspired watches have been so popular for so many years that they’re beginning to get stale. After all, there are so many watch brands and microbrands which exist now, catering to every decade’s flavour from the ’20s to the ‘80s. We need a couple of fresh decades to enter the lexicon of nostalgic design, or else we’ll be stuck with the same integrated bracelet watches and 1960s reissues for eternity.