There was a time when a proper watch wasn’t seen as an affectation, but rather, a necessity. The first marine chronometers opened up trade to the New world, pocket watches kept the trains running on time and united America, the first mass-produced wristwatches synchronized the WWI war effort, while accurate mechanical dive watches helped Cousteau plumb the depths of the silent world. In fact, right up to the mid-nineties a wristwatch was pretty much de rigeur, regardless of what one’s occupation or station in life was.
So, what happened to change all this? Simple: the humble cellphone. In an ironic twist, what started out as a status symbol for the wealthy and powerful—just like the first pocket watches—soon became a ubiquitous accessory of day-to-day life for the masses, and ever since, wags have been predicting the demise of the wristwatch. And why shouldn’t they? In addition to cellphones, there are clocks in our cars, on our computers, and pretty much everywhere you would want to know the time. So, why on earth do we still need the time on our wrists?
This is an excellent question, and since you asked, here’s the answer:
There’s a reason that the wristwatch eventually supplanted the pocket watch as our preferred method of personal timekeeping, and that’s because it’s easier to check your wrist then pull a lump of metal and glass out of your pocket. And this is exactly why it’s still easier to tell the time on a wristwatch than it is on a phone that’s in your back pocket, somewhere on your desk—or under the table at the bar you were drinking at last night.
We live in an impersonal world
It’s no secret that the Industrial Revolution brought with it wealth and prosperity to a large swath of mankind, but as it played out to its logical conclusion, it also ironed out a lot of the personality that had previously been baked into products that we used to get through our lives. Sure, you can run out and purchase a mass-produced quartz watch that keeps perfectly good time, but why not spend a little more and buy something that reflects your individuality and taste? More so than clothes, a watch can be a truly personal reflection of yourself and a powerful statement to those around you. Discreet and elegant? Large and in charge? Somewhere in between? It’s all up to you.
It’s an heirloom
When was the last time you heard someone say that they were going to hand their iPhone down to their grandchildren? Exactly.
In light of the above, it should be clear that much like a good suit, or a good pair of shoes, a good watch remains as much a necessity today as it ever did, though certainly for different reasons. True, you probably won’t be timing rocket burns in an effort to return safely from the moon to Earth (as the Apollo 13 astronauts did with their issued Omega Speedmasters), but that watch on your wrist remains a mission critical tool for your day-to-day slog as a means of silently telegraphing to others just who the hell they’re dealing with.
Vive la wristwatch!
Photo courtesy of Watch Anish. Do check out their most splendid reportage from the world of watches, cars, menswear, and other fine things.
Adam Craniotes is a lifelong watch collector, senior moderator on Timezone.com, and a contributing writer for numerous publications, such as iW Magazine, Gear Patrol, and Supercompressor. Adam is our ace on all things horological and can be yours, too. If you seek consult on a purchase, or just want to know more about a watch that’s struck your fancy, schedule some time with Adam and pick his marvelous brain.
By the way, you can also find Adam holding court at Manhattan’s weekly watch society Redbar. Go there, and tell ’em Eleven James sent you.