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As the Snoopy Omega Lands, Cartoon Luxury Goes Boom

Should you fancy a wristwatch with Snoopy on it, you’re hardly short of options. Timex has an entire collection dedicated to the Peanuts gang, Seiko recently issued a breezy duo of Snoopy-adorned tickers, and Bamford London, a UK luxury watch brand, has a £1,700 ($2,240) GMT made as a collab with the fashion website Hypebeast, featuring the famous pooch styled in streetwear. Or you could just plump for the cute Snoopy watch face Apple added to its WatchOS last summer.

But for Snoopy-powered wrist gear with added red-hot hype credentials, you could try your luck today at selected Swatch stores around the world, where the new edition of the MoonSwatch, the brand’s cut-price interpretation of Omega’s venerated, astronaut-worn Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional, is dropping.

It’s exactly two years since the original MoonSwatch collection unleashed a storm of online hysteria, frenzied crowds at stores and aftermarket profiteering—it was, to put it mildly, something of a hullabaloo.

The new version, called the Mission to Moonphase, is looking to restoke the buzz with a design in all-white bioceramic (a proprietary compound of bioplastic and ceramic), featuring a lunar display at 2 o’clock in which Snoopy reclines on a crescent moon, his sidekick Woodstock on his lap. In low light the moon glows amid a starry sky, and an otherwise hidden legend shines out: “I can’t sleep without a night light,” a reference to a 1962 Peanuts strip in which the dog falls asleep to the light of a full moon.

Kitsch Character Comeback

On the one hand, this is an if-you-know-you-know hat-tip to Omega lore: The brand, official watchmaker for NASA astronauts, was conferred the agency’s Silver Snoopy Award for achievements in mission success in 1970, the character having been adopted as a safety mascot the previous decade. Omega’s three modern Speedmaster editions featuring Snoopy, created in 2003, 2015, and 2020, are among its most sought-after and collectible watches.

However, it’s also the latest confirmation of the fact that kitsch characters—cartoons, gaming creations, superheroes, anime, etc.—have become huge business in the world of apparel, gear, and even luxury.

The licensing operations behind IP from Popeye to Miss Piggy are no longer dealing simply in bargain-basement merch: They are leveraging designer products for a rising generation of high-end buyers, whose radar for all things nostalgic, ironic, and drenched in the sugar coating of pop culture—as opposed to the remote mystique of olde worlde luxury—is finely attuned.

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In recent years, for instance, Louis Vuitton has done Mickey Mouse with its Gerald Genta brand, Balenciaga has teamed up with Fortnite, and TAG Heuer has put out limited edition Super Mario watches (including a tourbillon in which a tiny Mario, adorning the tourbillon’s structure, is chased in a circle by fellow game figures Bullet Bill and the Blue Shell).

Current examples include Italy’s high-end fashion mainstay Fendi, which in January launched a tie-up with Pokémon; the bags being made by the Spanish luxury house Loewe, adorned with characters from Studio Ghibli anime; and the green-dialed watch from Oris, the Swiss firm, in which Kermit pops into the date window once a month.

Childish Luxury

According to Lucie Greene, principal of the trend forecasting agency Lightyears Consulting, this unsurprisingly stems from the growing purchasing power of Gen Z. “They’re becoming the core consumer for fashion and luxury, and they’re approaching it in a different way,” she says. “They’ve grown up with Disney, Marvel, and Nintendo in their infancy, and these mega-franchises are for them treasured cultural touch points. They’re not just buying luxury, but they’re hyping it, and looking for things that lend themselves to collectability.”

It’s a trend that has particularly cut through in watches, not least because it’s where it all began. Ingersoll, the American watch firm, broke the mold in 1933 when it launched the first Mickey Mouse watches (with Mickey’s arms acting as hour/minute hands), which were an instant phenomenon. Macy’s, the New York department store, reportedly sold 11,000 in a single day.

This unleashed a genre in which the likes of Superman, Donald Duck, Buck Rogers, et al. adorned the dials of cheap watches that sold in their millions. Those, of course, were principally aimed at children—now, it’s the luxury industry that’s finding new currency in hanging onto childish things, and having fun with it.

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Consider, for instance, the independent watchmaker Kross Studio, which announced itself to the world with a complex tourbillon model themed around—of all things—Space Jam, the 1996 pairing of Bugs Bunny with Michael Jordan, and followed it up with another featuring a tiny sculpture of Boba Fett’s Slave 1 spaceship. Or Loewe’s Minecraft-style “pixelated” hoodie.

“There’s collectively this sense that you can have a sense of humor and still be luxury, and in fact being in on the joke in a nerdy, insider way is what makes you cool,” says Greene. For a venerated luxury brand, being able to play around with that is seen as intelligent rather than dumbing down or vulgar. “What might once have been a transparent branded content idea is, in the best examples, inspiring creativity while also playing to the insiderdom of your audience.”

Absolute Fandom

Omega itself has demonstrated that point, both with its most recent Snoopy watch in 2020, in which rather than simply decorating the dial the mutt was seen in a mechanical automaton on the watch’s back traversing space in a tiny rocket, and in this year’s Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8, in which a minuscule model of the Saturn V rocket acts as a small seconds hand. Whether this is inescapably tacky or incredibly cool is, essentially, irrelevant.

“The delineation we used to have between what was kitsch and what was acceptable just isn’t there,” says Greene. “The internet has made us unilaterally hyper-postmodern: Everything can be interesting and relevant, so nothing is shit.”

A point that even Rolex, which has long maintained a specifically aloof stance in reference to pop culture and trends, has recently sniffed out. Its Day-Date model unveiled a year ago, featuring a multicolored dial of enameled puzzle pieces, with emoji (a heart, a kissy face, etc.) and inspirational words replacing the days and dates, is too rare to be seen as a watershed but was a shock nonetheless.

“Brands are making big efforts to become closer with their clients—there’s no more mystique, and that’s a big shift,” says Michael Friedman, a watch historian and entrepreneur who, while head of complications at the fine watchmaking powerhouse Audemars Piguet, was involved in the development of its notorious tie-in with Marvel. That resulted in 2021 with a $150,000 “Black Panther” version of its Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon watch, in which a figurine of the superhero, hand-sculpted in astonishing detail, crouches within the skeletonized dial. Last year saw a Spiderman follow-up. These now change hands for around $400,000.

“We’re in an era of absolute fandom,” says Friedman. “We’re able to embrace our passions, wear that passion however we chose to, whether it’s high- or low-end, on the wrist or on sneakers or a T-shirt, and find like-minded people around the world who get that. If you’re a brand, something like this is just a moment, capturing a piece of the energy that’s out there, but the ripples can be exponential.”

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