What exactly were the most popular watches in the ‘90s? I’ve picked nine icons to spotlight.
I used to think it was funny that smack-dab middle millennials are so nostalgic for ‘90s pop culture.
Sure, the elder millennials have a right to this property. But as someone who wasn’t even a teenager until the aughts, I often consider the 2000s my formative years — at least when it comes to content consumed.
But there’s something special about your first-ever exposure to pop culture. Even if you didn’t fully understand it because you were too young, it’s 100% new and could make your jaw drop.
As a full-grown adult, I can objectively discern when something is innovative, but my jaw stays fully in place.
This is why watches from the ‘90s are so special to me. Subjectivity aside, I think many of these icons truly did change the watch industry and watch history in general. Let me try and convince you why.
9 Iconic 90s Watches
Here are nine popular watches from the tail end of the 20th century that went down in history!
Omega Seamaster Pro
I’m not even going to try to be cool about this. Everyone who knows me knows that I love this watch. I’m such a loyalist that I even prefer the original ‘90s quartz version to the fancy pants co-axial reboot. Both are excellent watches, though.
From its scalloped bezel to its iconic wave dial and those skeletal hands, this watch is certainly in the Mount Rushmore of divers. And the fact it is is actually pretty wild. Usually, classics are standards, like the Rolex Submariner.
However, the SMP became such an icon that it set a new standard. Many know it as the inaugural James Bond Seamaster. Prior to 1995’s Goldeneye, with Pierce Brosnan as the new Bond, 007 was heavily associated with the Submariner.
Moreover, Omega spent decades reeling after the quartz crisis. The Seamaster was subjected to a lot of experimentation beyond recognition. This model is a return to form of sorts.
And as I’ve mentioned in the past, I own a mid-sized 36-millimeter Seamaster and a ladies’ 28-millimeter applied-index Seamaster. I wear the former as a sporty everyday watch and the latter as a high-sparkle dress watch.
A fancy Submariner or a sporty Datejust? Who knows. All I know is, like so many watches in the ‘90s, the Rolex Yachtmaster was extremely polarizing when it first came out.
What makes it unique, in a way, is that it sort of continues to be controversial today.
Rolex always prided themselves on function-forward, practical, and tried-and-true designs.
The Yachtmaster is unabashedly luxurious. It flaunts a big dial and precious metals. Unlike the Sub, which is made for the oceans, the Yachtmaster is made for lounging on the beach.
A typical 30-something (the Yachtmaster came out in 1992), this guy isn’t sure who he is. He isn’t sure if he wants to be the anti-Rolex and embrace his flashiness or fall in line with the practical core members of his family. It’s this very tension that makes the Yachtmaster so interesting.
The Panerai Luminor achieves two feats of icon behavior.
First of all, it’s a heritage design from a heritage watchmaker. The bigger-is-better style is based on a watch built for the Italian military back in the ‘30s. As such, it holds a special place in Italian watchmaking.
It also holds a special place in the heart of Italian American film legend Sylvester Stallone. (Stalone is a big admirer of the brand).
Second, by the time Panerai released this watch in 1993, it was around 60 years old. (Before ‘93 it had never been commercially released).
It basically checks all of the boxes of collectibility. Imagine if the MilSub got a commercial release. It would be bonkers. And it certainly was with the Luminor.
Today, the Luminor, with its legible sandwich dial, robust crown protector, and cushion case, is the brand’s tentpole design.
The ‘90s were a big time for Seiko. They debuted the spring drive movement, which is now the signature caliber for Grand Seiko. More recognizably, the SKX007 came out. It launched a whole SKX family, which we will explore here.
The SKX007 is an important milestone in Seiko’s journey through water resistance. It’s an ISO-compliant mechanical; even most of its modern descendants today don’t match its 200 meters of water resistance.
It’s a classic diver, “Seiko-ified,” with features like the four o’clock position of the crown, a chunky, strong aesthetic, and the full integration of the day, date, and three indexes.
As a plus, it runs on Seiko’s 7S26 caliber. Sure, it’s not the most advanced movement, but it’s a heritage caliber — a true, practically bulletproof, workhorse.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut
Auction house darling Patek Philippe proved to be more than just a one-icon wonder in the ‘90s. Sure, they’ve had several hits since their Nautilus watch was released in 1976. But let’s be real.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut was the first to match the Nautilus’s level of recognizability, even outside the watch world.
Still, there’s something inherently ‘90s about this design. The defining characteristics are the porthole shape, checkered grenade dial, and rubber strap. This is a beautiful representation of ‘90s fashion’s high-low trend.
This sort of mismatch of formality came about as a result of luxury revivalism and grunge happening at the same time.
Moreover, only 1000 of the 5060 references were made, giving it that elusive factor collectors love.
You also have to love how the strap embossing matches the geosphere dial. It gives the combination of unlike features a true sense of cohesion.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
The ‘90s and the aughts represent the height of women wearing men’s accessories. Of course, Annie Hall came out in the ‘70s, but even the most femme-dressing lady socialites were sporting their dads’ Rolexes in the ‘90s.
Just after the Royal Oak’s 20th birthday, Audemars Piguet gave it a remix accommodating this trend. And like so many watches that made a big splash in the ‘90s, the Offshore Royal Oak was highly controversial and, as a result, memorable.
All of the signature features, from the tapisserie dial and octagonal bezel, were there. But now, it was a monstrous 42 millimeters, which looks even brawnier given the already athletic look of the Royal Oak. Even more, it was 16 millimeters thick.
It’s no wonder why the Offshore often gets called The Beast of AP.
The IWC Fliegerchronograph is truly a watch of the ‘90s. In fact, Reference 3705 was only produced between 1994 and 1998, though 3706 would continue until 2005. In the ‘90s, IWC wasn’t exactly languishing, but it was certainly considered a throwback brand.
The Fliegerchronograph combines the straightforward design of German fliegers with the always-relevant chronograph. Fliegers were due for a comeback, and IWC was wise in building this now-common infusion.
It was also their first mechanical timepiece made fully of ceramic, making it strong, scratch-resistant, and hypoallergenic. It featured a tritium lume, which at the time meant it would immediately activate in the dark.
Today, it means it’s rife for a beautiful vintage patination effect.
Rolex GMT Master Reference 16700
Okay, so technically, the Rolex GMT Master, Reference 16700, came out in the very late ‘80s. But the reason it’s such an important ‘90s watch is because it was the last reference that was being produced at the same time as the GMT Master II.
Rolex made the 16700 until 1999. It had been in production for about a decade. This marked the end of an era and the start of another. The GMT Master II fully replaced the original.
This makes sense since the GMT Master II can display three different time zones, while the GMT Master can only display two.
In an era when we don’t actually need watches for practical purposes, though, the GMT Master has come to represent how the ‘90s closed a book in Rolex’s journey.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
A. Lange & Söhne is another brand that saw a rebirth in the ‘90s. In fact, Walter Lange, the great-grandson of the founder of the brand, filed A. Lange & Söhne’s first contemporary-era patent. It was the outsize date, which is a large, double-display window date.
In 1994, the brand launched a modern collection that included the Arkade, the Saxonia, the Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite, and, of course, the Lange 1.
Sure, the Datograph represents a culmination of the brand’s innovations from the ‘90s. However, the Lange 1, with its outsize date, represents A. Lange & Söhne’s purest modern-day design sensibilities. In some ways, it’s analogous to the Oyster Perpetual for Rolex.
Some might say the Lange 1 ran so the Datograph could fly.
If you still have questions about popular watches in the ‘90s, they’re likely one of the commonly asked questions below. Check them out!
Were Casio Watches Popular in the ‘90s?
Yes, G-Shock’s height of popularity was arguably in the ‘90s, though they came out in the ‘80s. Thanks to its prevalence in Hollywood, G-Shock expanded, even producing the Baby G line for ladies in 1994.
What Were the Watch Trends in the ‘90s?
The ‘90s saw a lot of different watch trends. The bigger-is-better trend from the ‘80s continued while fashionable, colorful collectibles also came into vogue. This is why plastic Swatch watches continued to be popular. Dark dials were also trending, with stark blacks and blues being popular choices.
Were Swatch Watches Popular in the 90s?
Yes, affordable, accurate, and collectible Swatch watches were popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The retro-futuristic jelly aesthetic that came about in anticipation of the coming millennium contributed to this. There were stark Swatch models and even see-through models.
Conclusion: What About ‘90s Digital Watches?
Digital watches are a popular late ‘80s aesthetic, which, of course, has a lot of overlap with ‘90s style sensibilities. Still, the most popular ‘90s digital watches often came out in the ‘80s or even prior.
Casio’s G-Shock line was highly beloved in the 1990s. Keanu Reeves wore one in the 1994 film Speed, as did Martin Lawrence in 1995’s Bad Boys.
Still, watches from the ‘90s have a specific almost-millennium quality to them. It’s a mix of revivals, experimentalism, and futurism. Retro-futurism, while forever popular, definitely has a bigger cultural association with the ‘80s.
What are some of your favorite ‘90s watches? Any we missed? Let us know, and subscribe to our newsletter at The Slenderwrist to keep in touch!