Today there are more than 500 Swatch styles, with a new collection introduced by the Swatch designers in Milan every six months. Some styles, especially those from 1989 of glowing neon, look dated.
Among the more outrageous Swatches: the 1989 "Mozart" model with actual lace "cuffs" on the straps, the first 1985 "Jellyfish," a completely transparent Swatch, and the 1989 "Dadali" with Roman numerals that melt off the face of the watch onto the strap.
"Blow Your Time Away," a rare group of Swatches most collectors have seen only in pictures, feature faces surrounded by feathers that come in eight different colors.
"They look like they're rounded in fur," said Chris Keigel, vice president of sales and marketing for Swatch U.S.A.
"What you see us doing is what fashion companies do. We have our own design lab and we travel to different fashion shows to research trends," Keigel says. Over the years the company has learned just how far its design team can go. Certain colors, namely yellow, never do well and are used sparingly.
Lately Swatch has become more adept at fostering demand for the watches.
"We'd rather have one or two sell out and leave a store with no inventory than have five or 10 units sitting in a case doing nothing," Keigel said.
The company knows the hottest collectibles are its limited edition watches and the Swatch Art watches designed by various artists and issued in specific quantities. Swatchetables, for instance, were designed by artist Alfred Hofkunst and the company released only 9,999 around the world.
"People camped out for them," Chamberlin said.
A Swatch Art watch created by Mimmo Paladino was released in a limited edition of just 120 in 1989 and sold at a European auction in June for $24,500.
Some Swatches seem made for collectors. Buttone, a Swatch with buttons on its wide strap, comes with its own sewing kit complete with thimble, thread and extra buttons for $80.
Even Swatch, however, has been caught off guard by the collectors' enthusiasm. Some models are missing from its "Newseum" because the company has none left; other styles must be borrowed from the collectors.
"Swatch just never thought to save them," Chamberlin said.