The Wall Street Journal recently published an article suggesting that men around the world are wearing broken watches because they are now items of jewellery, rather than timekeeping devices.
The author of the article, Jacob Gallagher, said: “With smartphones practically glued to our palms at all times and smartwatches muscling in, traditional timepieces are just no longer as vital as they once were in any practical sense.”
It’s logical, too.
“Any digital time-keeping device, be it a phone or a G-Shock is going to keep much better time than any mechanical watch, no matter how high-grade,” a mechanical watch collector told Gallagher.
But if they have been surpassed technologically, then why are men still wearing what have effectively become artifacts of the past?
We spoke to Hamilton Powell, CEO of online luxury watch market Crown & Caliber , to find out.
“When I check the time, half the time I’m looking at my iPhone,” Powell concedes. However, he added: “If the watch were a pure time-telling device then it would have been replaced years ago.”
In 2017, Apple sold more watches than Rolex , Swatch, and the rest of the Swiss watch industry combined — a statistic that terrified traditional watchmakers everywhere.
Even Swiss watch exports seem to be recovering from a slump at the moment, and untracked sales through the grey market may mean the revival is even better than it seems.
“The fact that [the traditional watch] continues to not just survive but thrive has got to cause people to stop and think ‘what is a watch in 2018?'” Powell said.
So what is it?
Powell says the humble watch “represents something that mankind has been able to do through the forging of steel and gold and precious metal.”
He adds: “We have been able to capture the most elusive thing that there is, and that’s time. It’s maybe the greatest engineering feat of humankind in that we’ve actually been able to measure time.”
And a watch is a constant reminder of that feat.
In a world where we we are constantly connected, messaging and being messaged, and frequently receiving notifications, Powell says something as simple as winding a mechanical watch every morning offers a moment of serenity.
Powell says: “It’s kind of a poetic thing.” He says that by winding a watch we “create a small moment where we’re intentional about how we’re going to use that time.”
“So I think people have come to recognise that it’s not about telling the time of day,” he adds.
“It’s a moment where we remember that there’s a beauty to not being so busy, there’s a beauty to simplicity and this is actually the last simple thing that I own.”