The Casio F-91W: the story of the world’s most popular watch


Some design classics get all the love. The Eames chair, Philippe Starck’s silver juicer, the Leica Rangefinder camera. Of course they’re all great, but how many of them do you actually own? Exactly. 
Step forward the Casio F-91W. Epitomising the phrase ‘function over form’, its no-frills appearance hasn’t been updated since its introduction in 1991. There’ve been no reboots, no re-imaginings and (thankfully) no Jeremy Scott special editions with leopardskin wings stuck on the side. It’s so uncool, it’s become, well... cool.
The watch’s charm lies in its basic features. The digits on the flat grey display march onwards with absolute precision (note the pleasing way in which the leftmost digit has been narrowed as it only ever displays 1 or 2). Then there’s the inadequate light that when activated uselessly illuminates only the left hand side of the display, and of course there’s the rubber strap that reminds us why the whole thing only costs seven quid. A Rolex this is not.
The F-91W is also popular. Really popular. Although Casio doesn’t release official sales figures it’s rumoured to be the world’s best selling wristwatch – even Osama Bin Laden had one.
Turns out, that’s not so surprising. Records released from Guantanamo Bay state that the watch was “the sign of al-Qaeda”. Thirty-two of the detainees held there made reference to the usefulness of the black plastic F-91W as a reliable component in bomb-making, while a further 20 referenced the flashier, silver-cased version, the A-159W. Proof, were it needed, that oneupmanship among groups of men extends as far as international terror networks.
So there you have it: the Casio F-91W. Functional, reliable, ubiquitous – and a little bit mysterious. Surely the definition of a true design classic?
PIC CAPTION: The Casio F91-W. Picture by Matthew Reynolds.

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