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Will the wristwatch ever die out?

In a break from the usual hurlyburly of current affairs and to protect my sanity and sense of humour, I like to scoot around to blogs such as the Deep Glamour site set up by Virginia Postrel, for example. There is a great entry by one of the contributors there on the subject of wristwatches. I have a few, mostly cheap, plus a nice, limited edition Breitling that is probably the most expensive thing I own and that I bought from a dealer for what I reckon was a bargain (no, not a guy with a briefcase in Hong Kong!).

Will these things ever die out? I don’t think so. Yes, you can tell the time by looking at your mobile phone – I know a few people who do this – but I find it such a convenient, reflexive action to look down at your wrist and see the time. And yes, there remains a fashion appeal, which applies as much to we chaps as it does to the ladies. Watches can convey a macho, outdoors “I am an astronaut/pilot/yachtsman in my spare time” appeal or a sophisticated look that goes well with a suit. And as long as people enjoy adornment, then the wristwatch, I think, will remain.

Which given the state of its banking sector right now, is good news for the Swiss.

38 comments to Will the wristwatch ever die out?

  • Bruce Hoult

    I haven’t worn a wristwatch in I think nearly ten years. And I was probably one of the last of my circle to stop.

    Yes, it’s mildly inconvenient to have to pull a phone out to check the time but I don’t do it often. Most of the time I’m either at the computer (with a clock in the menu bar), driving my car or riding my motorcycle or bicycle (all of which have clocks) or else I simply don’t give a damn what the time is.

  • knirirr

    I remember a science fiction game of around 25 years ago depicting something that looked very much like an iPhone, and with similar capabilities, but that was strapped to the forearm. There would be little need for a wristwatch if something like that were common.

    The mechanical wristwatch seems to be doing very well right now, with all price ranges catered for. Unfortunately some really good stuff is no longer made and isn’t likely to be.

  • A watch seems natural to me as well . . but there is an age divide here: but just look around you and count the number of people under 30 wearing a watch. You will find they are very few and far between.

    Next, try spotting people under 60 carrying a handkerchief…

  • What Bruce Hoult says.

    Even when I wore a watch, I always had to take it off when I sat down at a desk because I found it annoying when it clunked on the desk.

    Rather bizarrely, the wife’s car has every single mod con you can imagine but no dashboard clock. Weird!

  • It isn’t just phones. There are electronic devices around you a great deal of the time that tell the time in addition to whatever else it is that they do. I also haven’t worn a watch in a decade or so.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Highend watches won’t die out because they paradoxically satisfy our desire for timelessness, for a few beautiful objects to accompany us on through our journey through life. This is a desire that modern gadgets however pretty and welldesigned simply can’t fulfill by virtue of their short shelflife.

    A handsome watch like a beautiful hardback book has a gratifying sense of permanence and solidity. Digital devices will no more replace the wristwatch than the kindle or the sony ebook reader will replace anyones collection of rare first editions

  • It’s much easier to tell the time using a wrist watch when you are surfing than trying to check your, um, rather wet mobile phone.

    Mobile phones always go flat at the most inconvenient times. Watch batteries last for ages.

  • More likely that mobile phones become wrist phones, surely?

  • James

    What Jerome said.

    Anyway, I remember vividly the time when I stopped wearing my watch: June 2002. I had contracted a nasty bit of poison ivy on my arms. The rash made wearing long sleeved shirts, or certainly a watch, a tortuous proposition. My condition actually required my family doctor to dispense an oral steroid Rx to clear up that mess. After sad mess had disappeared, I came to the conclusion that I survived quite nicely without a certain wrist-mounted appurtenance. Quite a change from my Swatch dog days in the late 80s.

    Today, if I need to know what time it is, I’m usually never far from a clock, my PC, or some drone with a CrackBerry. If I don’t need to know what time it is, it’s still easy enough to find out after a brief effort.

  • PK

    I wear mechanical watches all the time, at work as well as at home. It’s gentle ticking reminds me “no, everything isn’t digital yet”. And even though I’m not a technophobe, I’m happy to have at least one thing which doesn’t need batteries and doesn’t have chips in its belly.

    Actually, I’d feel as if I were naked if I left my home without a mechanical watch on my forearm.

  • PK

    I wear mechanical watches all the time, at work as well as at home. It’s gentle ticking reminds me “no, everything isn’t digital yet”. And even though I’m not a technophobe, I’m happy to have at least one thing which doesn’t need batteries and doesn’t have chips in its belly.

    Actually, I’d feel as if I were naked if I left my home without a mechanical watch on my forearm.

  • Laird

    I too feel naked without my wristwatch. But I don’t share Jerome’s love of high-end watches or his belief that they convey “a gratifying sense of permanence and solidity”. Sorry, I just want to know the time, and would never spend large amounts of money on a wristwatch. I just buy a cheap one that looks OK, and discard it when it stops running.

    Here’s an ancillary question: Of those of you who wear wristwatches, do you prefer analog or digital? Personally, I like analog, so I can just glance at the watch face to know the approximate time without having to actually focus on numbers. (For the same reason I prefer a needle on my car speedometer, rather than a digital readout.) My son, however, wouldn’t have anything other than a digital watch. Is this another age thing?

  • knirirr

    Of those of you who wear wristwatches, do you prefer analog or digital?

    Analogue, although I don’t mind electronic digital watches too much. Mechanical digital watches are very hard to read at a glance and it’s unsurprising that they’re uncommon.

    I remember there being a fad for digital speedometers in the 80s but they don’t seem to be common cars now, although I have got one on my motorcycle.

  • RAB

    I wear a Cartier fake that I got in Turkey years ago.
    Cost me three quid, keeps perfect time, who needs anything more?

    I also have a collection of gold Walthams, that I seem to have aquired when various uncles snuffed it, but they all stay in the drawer.

  • Ian B

    Haven’t worn one in years. Everything electronic these days is a clock with some other functionality (I’m typing this on a clock which also has computing functions) and I carry a wireless telephone clock around with me all the time.

    I had a succession of digital watches from my teens onwards, because they were cool, or at least I thought so. LCD was quite a buzzword once, I think people forget now how in the old days an LCD display just reeked of futuristicness, because we’d never seen a display like it before- reflective and whose workings were beyond everyday imagining, almost like a little square of magic. It’s a pity how quickly the future becomes dated.

    Anyway, I think they’re probably dying out, slowly but steadily.

  • Analog Seiko on my wrist. Stopwatch sweep-second hand for timing turns in an airplane. (That was crucial when I was shopping.)

    I didn’t wear a watch for years until my work got to the point where it was embarrassing to keep asking production managers what time it was. (Time is life and death in my business. “The show must go on.” That’s no joke.)

    Here’s a watch note I’ve never forgotten, from a discussion about twenty years ago: a cousin of my father’s generation was granted possession of my grandfather’s pocket-watch, which the latter wore and used on the railroad (he drove trains) forever. Robert was a high level executive at Bethlehem Steel. He said that he loved wearing Grandpop’s watch, but he preferred a wristwatch while working, because it was always easier to sneak a discreet glance at a wristwatch during a meeting.

  • Daughter refused a wristwatch, claiming the mobile phone was good enough – until it came to exam time, when the mobile phone wasn’t allowed into the room. Cue scramble to buy a fashionable, and accurate, wristwatch!

  • Kim du Toit

    I hate anything on my hands or wrists (no rings, bracelets, or watches), so when I need to tell the time (e.g. in business meetings and such), I tend to use an old-fashioned fob watch. I have three: a Victorinox “Swiss Army” in a leather holder/belt holster, and two cheap ones, each on a chain, that I just drop into my pocket for emergencies.

    My only gripe is that most “new” fob watches are of the revolting battery-powered design, which means that I have to replace the stupid batteries each year, for something I hardly ever use.

    What I want is a good old-fashioned wind-up piece, but they seem to be hellish expensive, because most are antiques, which drives up the price.

    Bah. It’s hell being a 1910 man in a 2010 world.

  • Midwesterner

    Ian B’s comment reminded me of an LED wristwatch I had that, with the push of a button, emitted bright red futuristic numbers. It was the only digital watch I’ve had that I could actually read without squinting and angling it.

    The last wristwatch I had was a Timex Ironman with an electronic compass in it. I tolerated the digital because I wanted something cheap, indestructible and water proof to several feet at least. The compass was (once calibrated – an onerous procedure) quite accurate. It was particularly fun on flights to have our bearing to within a couple of degrees.

    When I did office sort of work I carried a pocket watch, a cheap Armitron quartz analog, on one end of a watch chain and a Companion (now called the Executive) Swiss Army knife on the other end. One device got dropped in each vest pocket. It stopped that wrist clunking that annoys Mark and it was very easy to reach either of them whether standing or sitting.

    If I were to carry a dedicated timepiece again, it would probably be an industrially shock resistant pocket watch. Just saw Kim’s comment. Agree.

  • Chris H

    I can remember when I thought that LCD digital watches were really cool, I thought that the lack of moving parts was incredible and the fact that the calendar functions could calculate shorter months and leap years. Then I read the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where it mentions a planet where the inhabitants are so primitive that they still think that digital watches are a pretty neat idea and I had a good laugh at myself. I still think that digitals are more practical but now I prefer an analogue. For work I use a Seiko Titanium military style chronograph which is very hard wearing and practical. When not working I have a Citizen Moonphase calendar watch which has quite unusual sub dials for the date, month and day. I got these watches for about £90 each by shopping around on the internet. There is a practical part of me that says that I can buy an accurate watch for a tenner and spending any more than that is a waste of money but I like them, I have a great deal of admiration for the people who designed and produced them at an affordable price. I don’t like jewellery at all apart from watches and I suppose that if I was quite a bit richer than I am I would be tempted to buy an expensive one despite that practical part of me.

  • Adam Maas

    I gave up on wristwatches for years while carrying a pager and cell phone (both later replaced by a Blackberry) for work. It came down to nothing more than too many devices to carry/wear.

    Now that I’ve moved to a position where I don’t have to be reachable 24×7, I’ve gone back to wearing a wristwatch (a nice Seiko model in my case) and left the cell phone at home.

  • Laird

    Thanks, everyone, I’ve now learned that you Brits append an (extraneous!) “ue” to the end of “analog”. Who knew?

    Fun thread.

  • Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

    Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

    I miss him.

  • Ian B

    Laird, you may also be fascinated by dialogue, pedagogue, synagogue and demagogue, though possibly not agog.

  • tranio

    I gave up wearing a wrist watch when I took a personal development program that required us to leave our watches on a table at the end of the room. This was to stop us feeling tired or hungry at our regular hours. This was 22 years ago. Now of course we have clocks everywhere. I only wear my watch when travelling, can’t afford to miss an airplane, also my internal clock gets a bit disoriented with multi hour time changes.

  • llamas

    I wear two Breitlings – a classic mechanical Navitimer during the week, and a quartz analogue Navitimer on the weekends. The mechnical navitimer was designed before the widespread use of chainsaws and impact tools, so no fair asking it to soak that up.

    Why Breitling?

    a) that’s what my father wore
    b) see a).

    But even if I wore a Timex, it would have to have hands – I can’t format time in my head from a digital display.

    My mechanical Navitimer will still be running long after the batteries in a phone or a digital watch have gone dead. There’s mass of solid, reliable self-winding watch movements available today – I’m suprised that some bright spark isn’t marketing these as ‘green watches’ – no batteries required.

    As regards high-end watches – well, yes. Most people like to wear jewellery or personal adornments of one kind or another, be it gold, or tattoos, or whatever. Anyone who says they don’t, is deluding themselves. African tribesmen daub themselves with mud in pleasing colours. I know a man who has the Browning logo lasered onto one of his teeth. To each his own. My particular preference just happens to tell time, as well – and in a way I like, and that connects me to my dad, MHRIP. I could have bought Rolex-es, but I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing one. If Mitutoyo or L. S. Starrett made a wristwatch in this class of quality and durability, I might well wear one of those.



    I use a wet-ink fountain, pen too. Old technology is good technology, or, to quote from Steve McQueen in ‘The Hunter’, ‘new stuff is No Good.’

  • llamas

    Once more smitted . . .



    [we feel your pain, Llamas – The Management]


  • Laird

    Thanks, Ian B, you made me smile. This is a fun blogue!

  • Robin Goodfellow

    I used to be a die-hard watch wearer. I very much felt naked without a watch when out of doors. Even so, I frequently removed my watch when using a computer or sitting at a desk. Eventually I realized that I almost never needed my watch to find the time and I made the leap to just leave it at home. Phone, car, computer, microwave, stove, clocks are now so ubiquitous that it doesn’t make sense to carry around a dedicated time piece amidst civilization.

    That being said, there are still some times where I find a watch is useful and necessary (especially away from civilization, such as while backpacking), but it’s a rarity.

  • mac

    I wear a Casio G-Shock that is so old that I’m on the second battery, the “G” of G-Shock is the only remaining legible letter of the name, and a plastic piece broke off the pin cover. It has been in diesel, salt water, fresh water, lube oil and sludge. Except for its cosmetic appearance, it still works fine. Like the Timex slogan of old, it “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

    I have a Rolex (a gift), a Wenger (another gift), and another new-in-the-box G-Shock. I continue to wear this old one because a) it works well, and b) I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about my watch.

    I feel about my watch the same way I do about my tools and my firearms. I want them solid, functional and extremely reliable. Any extraneous ornamentation is unnecessary and detracts from the overall usefulness. Expensive, decorative watches are the same as engraved firearms: they make the owner reluctant to take it places where it might get damaged. My work and recreational pursuits require me to take these things into tough places and situations. I expect them to perform properly and not be easily damaged.

    O, and I wouldn’t want engraving on my Bosch impact drill, either.

  • As regards high-end watches – well, yes. Most people like to wear jewellery or personal adornments of one kind or another, be it gold, or tattoos, or whatever.

  • Les

    I think the wristwatch will be around for a long time, but maybe as a piece of jewellery rather than a timepiece. I suppose the wristwatch and cellphone will eventually merge.

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