Why People Still Wear Watches

EditorsApr 13, 2017

Why People Still Wear Watches

Our Editor-in-Chief also dives into what sizes they prefer and how they feel about smart devices in her post-Baselworld blog post.

The time, date and day of the week is available at the press of a smartphone home button. It’s made the many functions of a watch like this Patek Philippe ladies’ 38 mm Ref. 4947 obsolete. So why do we still wear them?

It is not news to anyone that technology has usurped many of the functions once served solely by wristwatches.

Electric lighting, for example, supplanted the need for minute repeaters--watches that sound out the time, aiding the wearer when they are in complete darkness--and dive computers replaced the dive watch as a necessity, though many divers still don one as a back-up.

And, clearly the most recent and relevant, is the smartphone, which makes it so that everyone has the date and atomically correct time available to them at all times with the simple push of the home button.

Yet, the sale and wearing of watches persists. But who is wearing them, for what purpose, and what sizes are they buying?

After I got back from Baselworld, I posted these questions to my Facebook page and to friends via other means to find out.

Watches Are Still a Thing
Among those who responded to my various inquiries, I found that the number of people who wore watches outnumbered those who didn’t.

I also found that they buy their watches at a wide range of places--online stores, online auction sites, independent jewelers and department stores--reinforcing what we already know: that the market for buying jewelry and watches has become much more fragmented.

The responses from the watch-wearing men weren’t surprising.

Most said they wear watches because they feel their jewelry selection is otherwise limited. As one Breitling- and Rolex-owning but Patek-aspiring ex of mine put it: “Watches are the only jewelry I wear. They are my accessory.”

The women’s responses were more varied and interesting (read into that what you wish): they wear a watch because it’s easier than digging their phone out of their purse every time they need a time check, and/or they look at it as an accessory that complements their outfit, in the same way that jewelry does.

How’s this for a watch that’s both a piece of jewelry and a complicated timepiece? The Ref. 5062 Patek Philippe Aquanaut Luce Haute Joaillerie is a 38.8 mm watch that’s powered by the caliber 324 self-winding movement. The dial is set with 160 brilliant-cut diamonds and 76 baguettes, with baguette diamond hour markers and hands as well (about $165,000).
One respondent who has a 38.5 mm quartz Omega Aqua Terra (which she purchased at an independent jeweler) gave an answer that was a blend of both: “I find checking my wrist is much more subtle than pulling

out my phone to check the time. Plus, it layers well with bracelets.”

A few other women said they have fairly substantial watch collections and love their timepieces just as much as they do their jewelry.

I have one friend in particular who has, in her words, “quite a collection,” the majority of which were given to her as gifts.

Her go-to, everyday watch is a women’s Omega Seamaster that she received as a graduation present (and also was purchased at a local jewelry store), but she has much higher aspirations.

A regular reader of this blog (good friend that she is), she has lusted after the Patek Philippe Ref. 6102R rose gold Celestial Grand Complication ever since I blogged about it after returning from the 2015 edition of Baselworld.

I don’t blame her.

Matters of Size
I also asked women specifically about their preferred watch size and found that they, quite overwhelmingly, preferred larger cases. (Note here: Since I was asking generally on Facebook and not just to the trade, I did not inquire specifically about millimeter size. I would not expect most people to know that offhand.)

Interestingly, a couple of the gentlemen who answered my query said just the opposite--they like the smaller men’s watches.

A former work colleague and friend in Atlanta noted: “I’ve always had an affinity for analog watches … I love a well-made, well-designed tool or piece of machinery, and watches also appeal to my fetishistic sense of sentimentality and nostalgia.

“I know you didn’t ask the guys, but I’m sorta bummed about the absurdly oversize faces on men’s watches these days … These bagel-size faces have got to go.”

A mutual friend whom he tagged in the post added: “Agreed! It’s gaudy and gauche. Makes one look like they’re trying too hard.”

Women’s want of bigger watches coupled with men’s desire to dial it down has led to what I saw a lot of at Baselworld this year--watches that can be considered either a smaller men’s or a larger women’s watch and are designed with gender neutrality in mind.

It’s the same thing that’s happening in clothing now. Just before Baselworld, in fact, fast-fashion retailer H&M launched a unisex collection of casual clothes called Denim United.

While Omega had two 41 mm additions to its Seamaster Aqua Terra Master Chronometer Collection, the brand also introduced this 38 mm stainless steel model with a blue dial.

Bulova has started steering away from categorizing their watches as men’s or ladies. The watches in the brand’s new Classic and Automatic Collections range in size from 39 to 41 mm and are not particularly “masculine” or “feminine” in nature.

Also at Baselworld, Longines released a beautiful addition to its Heritage collection that’s 40 mm, and 40 mm is also the size of another one of my favorite watches from the show, Oris’s Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition pilot’s watch.

The Longines Heritage 1945 (left) has a brushed copper dial with six Arabic numerals and six cabochons, and retails for $1,800. The Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition is modeled after Oris’s first pilot’s watch and comes with both a regular and a cuff strap, which gives it a bit of a jewelry touch ($2,400 retail).

I love the vintage look of both and as a woman who already wears a 38 mm watch, I would not hesitate to step up to a 40 mm for either one of these.

What About Smartwatches?
Invariably, the smartwatch discussion crept into the answers to my watch questions.

While overall more people reported wearing a regular watch, there were a few people who said they had abandoned a traditional timepiece in favor of a FitBit, Garmin or Apple Watch.

“I wear a FitBit, which is essentially a watch. Since the dawn of the cell phone, I have stopped wearing watches regularly,” one woman wrote.

The Apple Watch might not have been a huge hit, but people do like smart devices that not only tell time but keep track of their steps, calories burnt, etc. One person even noted that their Apple Watch has a “breathing” app that simulates deep breathing for meditation. OK.

But it’s also worth noting that, for some, wearing an activity-tracking device that also tells the time has served as a reminder that looking down at your wrist to check the time is just easier.

So, just maybe, they’ll be in the market for watch again someday.

As one respondent (who is also in the jewelry industry) sagely noted: “A lot of who wears what has changed so much due to technology. There was a time not too long ago where the smartphone served the purpose of a watch, but with the smartwatch there is a new and broader acceptance that gives a greater versatility to both men and women, young and old.”
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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