Elizabeth and James’s New Watches Are Refreshingly Retro

Lately, the biggest news in watches has been about multifunctional, boundary-breaking smartwatches—the kind that can answer a text, wake you up, or send your heartbeat to your lover—to the point where you almost forget their basic function: telling time. (Apropos: How many of your friends wear a smartwatch, but still check their phone to see if they’re running late?) For their first-ever line of Elizabeth and James watches, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen looked back to a different tech revolution: the 1970s, when LED digital technology was first founded. Their collection of 10 digital watches launches today and combines that retro technology with the sleek, simplified look women are drawn to now.

Debuting on the label’s new e-commerce site, where you can also pick up Elizabeth and James’s best-selling Nirvana fragrances (including the dreamy new cedar and honeysuckle Amethyst blend), the 200 Series watches look futuristic at first: Each one has a rubber strap and a mirrored face in silver, black, chartreuse, or royal blue. Do you unlock it with your fingerprint? Does it recognize your face? Neither—just press a tiny button on the side, and the time appears in red LED digital numbers. Click it again, and the date will pop up, and another click reveals the seconds. It’s as simple and pared-back as it gets—and something about it feels really good. “We knew we wanted to launch with a digital watch,” Mary-Kate tells Vogue. “The function is clean, simple, and straightforward. Analog watches can be beautiful, but bringing back simplicity was important. We are all so connected in today’s world, [and] there’s something refreshing about going back to the ideas of ‘time well spent’ and ‘time is precious.’ ”

The designers were also thinking about the watches they wore growing up in the ’90s: “We have a shared nostalgia for the digital watches of our youth,” Ashley says. “We wanted to capture that appeal but in a modern and interesting design.” They researched ’70s NASA imagery and films and like Goldfinger and the Jetsonsfor inspiration, along with John Lautner’s architecture and artwork by Dan Flavin. “From a materials perspective, we looked at the innovation happening in the world of optical lenses and incorporated that into the design of the mirror crystal faces,” Ashley adds.

The watches arrive just in time for the holidays, too, and retail for $200 each. Find them at ElizabethandJames.us, the Elizabeth and James store in Los Angeles, as well as on Shopbop.com.

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