The new dawn of digital – fresh looks in watches just may turn LCDs into the latest must-have accessory

Once the wrist wear of the future, digital watches quickly became a fad of the past. But now these iconic accessories are experiencing a revival with new versions that are – dare we say it – cool.

People are yearning for items from the past,” says David Johnson, vice president of Casio Timepieces, a division of Casio, a multibrand watch and electronics company in Dover, N.J.

The digital watch was invented in 1971 by Peter Dimitroff Petroff, a NASA engineer. He licensed it to the Hamilton Watch Co., which marketed it as the Pulsar. The Pulsar sold in 18-karat gold for $2,100 in 1972.

Johnson says Casio later advanced the novelty by creating a digital watch with an automatic calendar in 1974. Today’s Casio watches also feature multiple time zones and atomic time, a system that receives signals from a tower in Colorado to update seconds throughout the day.

“Now you don’t even have to reset your watch for daylight savings,” he says.

Johnson reports Casio’s styles have remained fairly consistent, yet digital watches in many of the company’s other brands, including G-Shock, Baby-G and Sweet Poison by Baby-G, follow the trendsvia colorful or printed straps. Casio watches retail below $100, while Baby-G and Sweet Poison run around $100 and G-Shock costs $79 to $250.

“This niche is geared toward an individual who’s more interested in sporty technology with lots of functions,” says Sebastiano DiBari, managing director for Sector Group USA, a multibrand watch firm in New York.

Sector’s Pirelli line produces women’s “anadigi” watches, which combine analog and digital time movements and have bright rubber straps, for $790.

Penguin watches, which are manufactured, designed and licensed by Austin, Tex.-based Seiko Instruments USA, introduced its first digital timepiece with a limited-edition model last fall.

“Penguin’s heritage is rooted in the Fifties and Sixties, so the [retro] trend is right for us,” says senior product designer Maggie Andreani.

Spring’s collection of 21 styles includes both digital and anadigi time movements. One 24-karat gold-plated digital version features an etched penguin decoration on the flat front and two time displays at the edges so the wearer and someone sitting across from the wearer can read it, says Andreani. Another anadigi watch has gold penguin wings for hands, and a small liquid crystal display that can show seconds and the date. The dial comes in either fake walnut wood or cream aluminum, while the band is either leather or a gold-plated chain-link bracelet. Retail prices range from $125 to $165.

“I think this trend has some staying power,” says Andreani. “Plus, as a designer, it’s a great opportunity to revisit something that’s been overlooked for so long.”

Now that consumers have warmed up to technology through cell phones and BlackBerry devices, Barbara Korn, vice president of luxury brands at Richardson, Tex.-based Fossil Inc., says the digital trend should be further explored. “It’s an important component for those searching for functionality or a cool new look,” she explains.

The Marc by Marc Jacobs watch collection, which is produced under a license with Fossil, launched its first assortment for fall with a women’s digital watch, cleanly styled with a purple or blue patent leather strap.

Andrew Lippman, vice president of marketing for Middlebury, Conn.-based Timex, says other advancements in digital watches could further interest fashionable consumers. These range from multiple alarms, heart-rate monitors and barometer and temperature readings to color liquid crystal displays.

“Because digital faces are easy to read, they’re embraced by sports enthusiasts and children. But with more sleek and chic designs, more consumers are adopting them,” he says, adding digitalĀ watches now represent 25 percent of sales of all watches worldwide.

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