20 Years Ago, Nike and Oakley Made the Watches of the Future

Here's why retro fitness watches are suddenly hotter than ever.
Nike's retro Triax watch looks great in 2023
Nike's retro Triax watch looks great in 2023

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Working out is objectively terrible. But working-out watches are a different story. Back in the 1990s and 2000s, brands like Nike and Oakley crafted sci-fi timepieces that were ostensibly for fitness purposes but looked—and still look—outrageously cool worn casually. And now, those futuristic watches are coming back in such a serious way that you don’t even need to have a Barry’s Bootcamp subscription to justify owning one. 

I first fell in love with these watches through the Instagram account Prekesayangan, where Mansor Mohd R sells late-'90s and early-aughts pieces that are now considered “retro” (which definitely doesn’t make me feel old at all). I’m far from the only one catching on. “More people are getting interested in them, especially the Nike Triax Armored, but they’re getting harder to find now, hence the increase in prices for these watches,” Mohd R said over DM. “Judging by the amount of inquiries I get daily, so many people are starting to get interested in the Nike Triax watches. I started selling locally and now my customers are from all over the world!” Mohd R said he now receives anywhere from 10 to 20 direct requests a day for these pieces, and that new listings often garner about 100 inquiries. 

No huge surprise: Nike makes the coolest-looking watches of the bunch. The company has a knack for merging function with radical (and, in this case, arguably ahead of its time) style. The asymmetrical Triax, which debuted in 1998, looks like it’s stretching in opposite directions. The “Armored” silver version of this watch, which Mohd R says is in high demand, looks especially like a piece of space-age equipment you’d unlock in a video game. (Blackbird Spyplane also gave these pieces a shoutout in a newsletter last year.) Another underrated option is the Swoosh’s Grand Cayman Dive, shaped like the underside of a UFO.

Of all its sporty contemporaries, however, sunglass maker Oakley threw itself hardest into the watch game. The brand heavily ramped up its watch offerings in the late ‘90s and delivered some truly outrageous designs that still look futuristic decades on. “One of [Oakley founder] Jim [Jannard]’s mantras was: ‘define problems, find solutions, wrap them in art,’” Oakley VP Brian Takumi said in a compelling Highsnobiety feature on the brand’s scaly Time Bomb. 

The Oakley Time Bomb 

The Time Bomb was marketed less as a standard fitness watch, and more as a watch of the future. It was priced at $1,500, despite bearing only a  quartz movement. In the years to come, Oakley continued to put out highly conceptual designs like the bottle-rocket-shaped Torpedo and the space-age Jury

Oakley's Torpedo

Oakley also made a watch called the Crush 2.0, with a snakelike shape similar to the Triax, which is now blowing up on your friendly local secondary site. On Grailed, certain versions of the Crush are listed for over $500. Hilariously, one version of watch in particularly high demand has an image of a bulldog on the dial. 

The Oakley Crush 2.0

The appeal of these watches is simple. As Mohd R puts it, “The shape of the watch and the straps aren’t like normal watches.” No, they most certainly are not. Thank goodness. Mohd R describes the design as “liquid metal,” which is fitting. If goo girl Alex Mack were to turn into a timepiece, it would look a lot like the Nike Triax or Oakley Crush. Plus, at just a couple hundred dollars (or below that for many of Nike’s pieces), they are more proof that watch collecting can be a riot even for those not sitting on a massive pile of cash.