Fossils are typically relics of the past – things we can learn from, perhaps, but nevertheless belonging to species long dead.
So why on Earth would a watch company choose to name itself after something that seems to permanently date itself in the long gone past?
That’s just the first of many truths about Fossil watches we’re here to dig up. Fossil has an intriguing history and has carved out its own habitat within the greater watch habitat – but are they a specimen worthy of further examination on your part?
Let’s take a closer look at the Fossil watch brand and see how they fare in this timekeeping competition of Survival of the Fittest.
Brief History of Fossil Watches
The story of Fossil Inc., the company behind Fossil watches, dates back to 1984, when it was founded by Tom Kartsotis. A Texas A&M dropout, Kartsotis was running a ticket brokerage firm for reselling events to Cowboys games and other events around Dallas when he hit on the idea of getting into the watch business. The industry was seeing a huge boom given investment in Far East companies making mid-tier fashion watches at the time. His older brother, Kosta, told Tom about this, and the Kartsotis Brothers sought to follow their example, forming Fossil Inc. as an affordable fashion and watch company.
The name of the company dates back even further. As per a 2003 Wired article, Tom and Kosta Kartsortis named the company “Fossil” after their nickname for their father. Fossil watches made their first appearance in 1985, by 1987 the small Dallas-based company was pulling in a modest $2 million in sales, and by 1990 they made their first appearance at the Basel World tradeshow for watches in Switzerland.
The company’s first big hit came with vintage designs modeled after throwbacks to the 1950s. This shouldn’t be a surprise given the fact that 50s nostalgia was huge in the late 70s and 80s (think Happy Days and Back to the Future) and Fossil soon found success selling watches with classic 50s-chic leather strapped watches along with more upscale gold and silver ones. This retro design extended to their packaging, as Fossil decided to ship all watches in 50s-style tin boxes, which added to their appeal – one which has continued to this day among vintage-loving collectors and wearers alike.
Concurrent with their watch success through the 80s and early 90s, Fossil continued its fashion line, expanding into everything from sunglasses to ladies’ leather belts.
The company officially went public as an IPO on the NASDAQ exchange in 1993.
By the late 90s, however, Fossil watches were ready to enter their second famous iteration, the inspiration for which dates all the way back to…Dick Tracy?
It’s easy to take digital watches and smartwatches for granted now given our Apple Watch-saturated age. However, once upon a time, watches that could make calls and display anything besides the time seemed like sci-fi or fantasy best left to the realm of Dick Tracy (where Wired first dates the idea circa 1946), The Jetsons, and James Bond.
In 1998, however, Fossil pioneered Big Tic technology, which would become foundational to its new generation of digital watches, culminating in the 2003 release of their Fossil Wrist PDA. As the name would imply, this was an early PDA-inspired smartwatch that featured a 160 x 160 pixel touchscreen, stylus, virtual keyboard, and several calendar and organizational features. It even had an application that could enable it to act as a TV remote, although the range was extremely low. Still, as that Wired article noted, this technology was revolutionary for the time.
The following year, Fossil was licensed for sports watches by Adidas and also acquired Michele Watches.
This growth has only continued over time, with the company acquiring Skagen in 2012 and the company celebrating 35 years in business in 2019.
Are Fossil Watches Good?
Fossil watches were first imported to the United States from Hong Kong, and since then the brand has grown considerably. This and the fact that the brand has secured deals with companies such as Adidas speaks to the overall reputation for quality that has followed Fossil since its inception.
The watches are generally considered to be affordable, sturdy, and stylish for their price point, though all of these are obviously relative.
At the same time, there has been a lot of variety over the types of watches produced by Fossil over the years, meaning there may be a greater disparity between one watch model and another with respect to your expectations.
Take their manufacturing divide, for example.
Fossil has acquired watches that make use of mechanical movements in the style of Swiss and German watches. While these watches often cost thousands of dollars and can run up to $25,000 or more, the equivalents for Fossil typically cost between $250 to $750. On the other hand, in keeping with their Hong Kong-inspired importing roots, many of their less expensive watches are still manufactured in China. That said, as mentioned above, they have also acquired Swiss watchmakers.
Whichever watch you’re getting, you can generally count on it to have good, Fossil-worthy quality.
On the other hand, if you care about its origin or movement style (i.e., Swiss movement) the answer may be less clear.
They are not considered luxury watches on the same level as Longines or Rolex. However, in their own realm of mid-tier fashion watches, they are considered to sport good build quality at an affordable price.
Five Reasons to Buy Fossil Watches
1. Their ability to recruit top talent.
One of the marks of a good director is their ability to surround themselves with talented colleagues. The same holds true for watchmaking. From its humble beginnings in Dallas in the mid-1980s, Fossil Inc. has grown to include a portfolio of many different modern styles, with brands as different as Burberry, DKNY, Emporio Armani, and Karl Langerfeld all under its umbrella.
2. They boast reliable construction.
When purchasing a watch, especially one that costs hundreds of dollars, you want to make sure it’s going to last. Despite the name, your Fossil watch isn’t likely to be consigned to dust anytime soon. On the contrary, these watches are pretty sturdy compared to others in their price range. This is in part due to the fact that they make use of high-quality stainless steel as well as silicone and genuine leather in watches that utilize the latter. All of this taken together means that these watches are built well and built to last.
3. Modern updatable tech.
Their commitment to modern watches has extended to their tech, with their digital Q Explorist and Q Activist watches now using low-energy Bluetooth connections, which allow them to connect to your smartphone, thus enabling them to update. These same watches also have quiet buzzers to alert you to incoming messages as well as Fitbit-esque motion trackers. All of this taken together means that Fossil is anything but old-fashioned, as even their retro watches often make use of modern tech, while their most future-looking watches have all manner of bells and whistles.
4. Modern diverse design.
Fossil has come a long way from its origins importing less expensive Chinese watches and then trying to evoke the 1950s with retro chic designs. They now strive to offer a thoroughly modern line of watches, with many great designers working for them as mentioned above. At the same time, they haven’t given up their retro roots entirely. Instead, Fossil offers a wide range of different watch collections from which to choose, from future-looking to retro chic to sports-focused and everything in between.
5. Their reliable warranty’s another reason for trust.
One of the telltale signs of a company’s trust in their own products is the length of the warranty. If a company doesn’t have a warranty, or has one that’s incredibly short, it’s a sign that they don’t trust their products not to break or else sense that customers might be dissatisfied. On the flip side, a company that offers a lengthier warranty is likely to be confident that its products won’t break and that they thus won’t be necessary most of the time. What’s more, a longer warranty is a mark of good faith for consumers. All of which is to say that Fossil watches boast a two-year warranty, which is quite good for their level and obviously far better than the countless knockoff watches out there from competitors that feature no warranty protection at all.
Disadvantages of Fossil Watches
As mentioned above, Fossil watches have a long history of working with a wide range of dealers, especially Chinese ones. That can be a huge downside if you are expecting a Swiss quartz watch and get a Chinese one instead. This isn’t to cast aspersions on Chinese watches, but simply to say that watch collectors and aficionados have expectations when they buy a watch, and when you pay that much, you want to make sure you’re getting precisely what you want.
What’s more, while Fossil has an overall good reputation for its quality, some users have suspected a slippage in quality in some of those Chinese-made watches, although this may just be consumer hearsay. On the flip side, consumers also report that the company offers good after-sale programs, so if you do run into problems, Fossil has a good reputation for trying to make things right with their customers.
A bit more concerning are the different battery concerns that have plagued some of Fossil’s modern models. For example, Gen 5 batteries sometimes last only a single day or less if you use features such as the GPS or heart tracking features. To combat this, Fossil has introduced a smart battery mode in new models that can help save battery life for use in emergency situations.
Then there’s the fact that, while Fossil’s proto-smartwatches in 2003 may have been groundbreaking, today they simply can’t compete with the kind of features offered by Apple watches. In fairness, they never claim to be doing so and recognize that they are a more mid-tier option. Even so, you simply won’t get the same breadth of health features such as blood pressure and ECG monitoring as with Apple’s offerings.
In addition, you can’t reply to text messages or type them since their newer models lack touchscreens – a bit ironic given the touchscreen and stylus that was included in the 2003 PDA watch.
Is Fossil a Luxury Brand? Reputation of Fossil Watches
It’s fair to say the Fossil brand has had an interesting, evolving reputation over the years. The brand saw a radical shift within its first 20 years from a retro-themed watch brand in its 50s-loving early days in the 80s to its more future-looking digital designs in the 90s.
Both of those eras saw reasonable success and a good reputation for watch performance.
But would either of them really qualify as “luxury” watches?
As mentioned, it’s certainly fair to say that Fossil watches aren’t on the same level as a luxury brand such as Longines or Rolex.
However, if you know what to expect, chances are you’ll find Fossil watches meet or even exceed your expectations.
Finally, while fossil fuels may be extremely problematic for our long-term fuel and environmental needs, Fossil watches is striving to be far more forward-looking and eco-friendly. The company has stated that they strive to produce watches and accessories that are eco-friendly, which may help them gain points with ethical purchasers who care about sustainability.
While not nearly as old or luxurious as some of the titans on the luxury watch market, Fossil watches have seen a surprising amount of variety in their 35-year-plus history. They have produced retro and forward-looking watches and everything in between. They have made watches that are fashionable yet affordable.While their watches aren’t at the top of the heap, they are a solid entry among their mid-tier fashion watch milieu.In short, far from fossils, Fossil watches seem to have a long life ahead of them.