Wristwatches matter. Each and every aspect of our lives revolves around the axis of time. In fact, you could even argue that time serves as the most important criterion upon which we judge the meaningfulness of our days. How much time have I spent today on doing this and that? How much time have I got left to get something done? And how much “me time” do I have at my disposal today?
Given the fact that it is all about time, keeping track of it emerges as an essential part of our daily routines. The traditional way would be to wear a wristwatch and utilize it for this exact purpose. However, the interesting question of the 21st century is, have wristwatches become outdated? Does a modern person really need a time-telling standalone piece of equipment in order to stay in the know?
The answer is, of course, no. In this day and age, time is ubiquitous. Our phones, TVs, computers, tablets, and even microwaves, they are all capable of telling time. Furthermore, when you set foot on the street, digital and analog clocks are all around. So, why are we even manufacturing wristwatches anymore? What is the point?
In order to add more depth to this discussion, let us briefly run through the history of wristwatches. Knowing how they came into being and for what reason will help us understand why they still have not lost their primordial appeal.
A Brief History Lesson
Since we are accustomed to seeing wristwatches everywhere, a false notion arose that they have been around for quite some time now. That really is not the case. In fact, wristwatches, as we know them today, became popular and accessible to the common man only about a century ago. Prior to that, things were looking completely different. As you will soon find out.
The Watch Uprise?
It might come as a surprise to you but up until the 18th century, being aware of the time wasn’t much of a concern of the general public. Most of it had to do with the fact that watches were not really available to it. Back then, if you wanted to know what time it is, your only option was to go to the town square and glance at the public clock. That was basically it (A Brief History of the Wristwatch). However, as technology progressed, a demand for more portable timepieces started to arise among the common folk, mostly because clocks were seen as long-term investments and heirlooms. Therefore, smaller, more portable watches became a common occurrence at the turn of the century.
At this point, it is important to point out the psychological background of this transition. Apart from mass-production, the industrial revolution brought forth a different set of social norms. Most notably, people started to nurture individualism a tad more. In the context of time, people had an urge to be able to control it instead of it controlling them. That being said, it is apparent that the increased demand for portable watches had a psychological force governing it.
The Fashion Fad?
Before you knew it, in the 19th century, wearable watches became a game changer in the world of high fashion. However, having them on a precious bracelet around your wrist was reserved solely for the female audience. For one reason or the other, wrist watches were rarely considered as being manly regardless of their increased practicality and ease-of-use. That is until they had no choice but to utilize them. But more on that later.
What was left, for the opposite gender, were pocket watches for men. Now, you may think that there is a superficial reason for why men were mostly using pocket watches. On the contrary, the reason was much less fashionable and far more practical. You see, men, more than women, had to deal with ruthless external conditions including cold, heat, moisture, dust, and so on (A Man’s Guide to Wristwatches). All of these factors would usually take a heavy toll on a regular wristwatch’s intricate parts, causing it to lose accuracy and rendering it completely unfit as a man’s daily wearable. Pocket watches were perfect due to their extra layer of protection in the form of a metal lid. Atop of that, they would always be in a pocket, meaning that they did not have to withstand freezingly cold temperatures.
Even though pocket watches like the Stuhrling Original are still being produced because of their “relic” status and historical significance, men of the olden days had no other choice but to settle for them. Until all hell broke loose around the beginning of the 20th century when the second transition of the watch took place. Apparently, bad things can sometimes give birth to great things.
Wars Made Them Do It
You really do not have to be a history buff in order to know that wars were oftentimes the most fertile ground for all sorts of scientific and technological advancements. I mean, it is pretty easy to understand how come. When you are in a life-threatening scenario, each and every step you make has to be up to par. Even the tiniest of details have to be thought through in order to avoid making a costly mistake. More often than not, deadly mistake.
We now know that during the late 19th century, British soldiers used to wear improvised wristwatches called the “wristlets”. Both during the Burma war and the Boer wars afterward, soldiers would use leather straps and cups to mount their pocket watches on to their wrists. It was nothing more than a matter of pure convenience and practicality. At all times, soldiers needed both of their hands to be free just in case misfortune strikes. Also, when a certain attack was being planned, everyone involved in it had to have the means of knowing at exactly what time to strike.
Yet Another War
It did not take long, after the soldiers came home, for some watchmakers to spot a potential future trend. The likes of Girard-Perregaux and Timex began producing wrist watches, especially for the military men. The famous jeweler Louis Cartier even put out a pilot watch called the “Santos”. The story goes (it could be apocryphal) that Louis’s pilot friend Alberto Santos-Dumont had told him that it is incomprehensibly impractical to use a pocket watch whilst trying to pilot an aircraft. However, when it comes to day-to-day carry, it would take yet another war for the trend to catch on among the general public.
And so it was. Since the World War I saw an uprise of the mechanical warfare, more advanced means of communication amongst soldiers were needed. Vast battlefronts and claustrophobic trenches made that communication even more difficult. That is exactly when the aforementioned coordinating purpose of the wristwatch truly shined through. Needless to say that the market for wristwatches completely exploded in that period in time because almost all British watchmakers were competing for the front seat of supplying the soldiers with bona fide wristwatches. They used to call them the “trench watches”.
You see, when those watchmakers started competing with one another, truly great innovations saw the light of day. Cases of wrist watches became much tighter and better sealed in order to provide more resistance to detrimental elements like water and dust. Moreover, instead of fragile ceramic dials, metal became a more prevalent material used for such purposes. Luminous hands and hour markers also arose during that time, thus providing better visibility in low-light ambiances like a trench would be. All of these improvements were stirring up a game-changing transition in the world of wearable accessories which will soon take the world by storm. One hundred years later, what is the status of the wristwatch? Irreplaceable, is it not?
Why Are Wristwatches Still Relevant?
Knowing that warfare and existential struggles greatly influenced the commercial success of the wristwatches adds a whole new layer to the conversation of their relevancy. Even though that is a major constituent of the story, there is a myriad of additional reason why wristwatches are timeless accessories which continually stand the test of time. In order to explain our perpetual longing for them, here are a few most prominent reasons for our long-lasting infatuation with them.
Truth be told, when we entered the 21st century, the demand for wristwatches seriously plummeted. Most of us got caught up with the idea that the new age of mobile phones had made the wristwatch an obsolete piece of time telling equipment. Even to this day, some are wondering what the whole fuss is about when knowing the time is just a click of a button away.
Luckily, it only took us 9 years to get a grip on reality and understand that the level of convenience and practicality between a wristwatch and a mobile phone is incomparable. Reading the time off of your smartphone includes more than one step. First, you have to pull it out of your pocket or a purse and then unlock it for it to reveal the time to you.
Now, I am not saying that is a particularly laborious endeavor, but it definitely is not the most convenient one. Moreover, it can often be dangerous and pretty uncouth. Imagine riding a bicycle and wanting to check the time on your phone which is well hidden inside your pocket. Not very prudent, right? As far as the uncouth part goes, even though it is becoming socially acceptable, when you are on a meeting or a date, reaching out for your phone to check the time is not the most friendly and unobtrusive way of doing so.
It goes without saying that the wristwatch is an antidote to all of these weaknesses. It is unquestionably the easiest and most convenient way of telling time. Only a brief glance at your wrist solves the whole mystery. There are no redundant moves to be made, there is no danger surrounding it, and it is perfectly inconspicuous whilst socializing.
Status and Personality
I would say that the question of status has most to do with the cultural preservation of wristwatches. We all know that material things like cars are unmistakable signals of social status, but wristwatches, due to their somewhat esoteric history, more than any other objects showcase how well people are doing in their lives (Why Wristwatches Won’t Go Out of Style).
Even when mass-production of wristwatches began around the first couple of decades of the 20th century, only a chosen few had the privilege of owning a luxurious watch. We can see that the same principle perpetuates through the years. Nowadays, almost all successful men will have the best Fossil watches on their wrists, Rolexes. Louis Cardin pieces, etc.
Atop of that, watches, among all other accessories, have the biggest potential of showcasing one’s true personality. No one can argue with that. For example, if you nurture a healthy lifestyle and you are an adamant sportsman, there is a great probability that you will sport a watch like the Polar M400. Also, if you are a frequent visitor to the great outdoors and support mountaineering, hiking, and camping, only the best outdoor watches will be of interest to you.
Of course, variations and combination are innumerable. Some wristwatches are so versatile that they could be worn both on formal occasions as well as sports gatherings. It all boils down to personal preferences and likings.
The Perfect Heirloom
Unfortunately, in this day and age, heirlooms are not something people pay too much attention to. Is that not sad? If you think about it for a second, heirlooms, out of all other things we could own, possess the most sentimental value (Why Analog Watches Are Better Than Digital).
In the olden days, tradition would have it that you would eventually inherit your grandad’s watch. That watch came with so many priceless stories and memories to which you are indirectly related. In case you have already forgotten, feel free to scroll back up to the “A Brief History Lesson” section in order to freshen up your memory regarding the relationship between the wars and wristwatches.
Oftentimes, men who left their lives on battlefields in their final moments requested to have their watches passed on to their sons. Many movies were even made with these symbols in mind. Remember “Pulp Fiction” when Bruce Willis’s character risked his life to go back to his old apartment to fetch his heirloom? It was, of course, his father’s watch.
I will make the best of this moment by urging you to give the concept of heirlooms a second thought. We have lent our lives to material things more than we should have but some of them are worth owning and taking care of. There is something beautiful about being able to create a very personal tradition within your family. Think about it.
The Essence of Craftsmanship
Okay. You can definitely show-off with your smartphone. I will not take that away from you. Nevertheless, electronic devices are all mass-produced and, I am sorry to disappoint you, but they usually do not take a long while to manufacture. The same cannot be said for genuinely luxurious wristwatches.
Most of us are not at all aware how many months it usually takes for at least a couple of craftsmen to manufacture a single wristwatch. The whole process is painstakingly meticulous. Is it even necessary to mention how many years of experience it takes to actually become able to craft such a piece of mechanical art (7 Reasons to Wear a Watch)?
While we are on the subject of art, wristwatches can, without a doubt, be considered as pieces of art. From the bracelets and dials all the way to bezels and hands, so many parts of the watch have the to potential to showcase the artistic prowess of its craftsman. And so they do. With watches, you do not only pay for the brand. You also pay for the history, artistry, and craftsmanship. No other wearable can compete with that.
Practicality and Timelessness
Even though it is somewhat paradoxical, the more mobile phones started to get smarter, the more people started to go back to wristwatches due to their irreplaceable practicality. You see, we have to recharge our mobile phones almost on a daily basis (Why Wristwatches are Still Popular). Granted, that is not much of an inconvenience, however, when the going gets tough and you find yourself in a tight situation, if your battery is empty, you are pretty much doomed.
Think about wristwatches for a second. Electronic ones use batteries as a power source which you would not have to replace more than once a year. Manual watches do require winding but only a couple of times per week. Then, there are automatic watches which are powered by you and you alone. If they are worn on a daily basis, almost no maintenance is required in order for them to keep on running impeccably. Basically, the energy created by the movement of your hand suffices their thirst. Unlike smartphones, wristwatches can hardly ever quit on you when you need them the most.
Lastly, wristwatches are timeless. For the past century or so, they have been made by adhering to the same original recipe (design-wise). The reason for that could not be simpler. It is a beautiful and effortlessly practical design. Sure, some manufacturers do tweak it up a bit in order to deliver a domain-specific watch like the Casio G-Shock Mudmaster which would fall into the outdoor watches category. Nonetheless, regardless of the category, the core always remains the same.
At Least We Got Something Right
Time bends everything, including us. The world we were born into is changing at a rapid pace because our inherent need for perfection governs us to constantly modify it. That being said, we should really take a minute or two to learn the lessons wristwatches have to teach us.
Above all, they teach us that perfection lies in simplicity. We are able to create something that can stand the test of time, as well as repeatedly prove itself as a pinnacle of human ingenuity. Also, they teach us that the value of objects should not only be measured by money. Objects can sometimes have the potential to be outlets through which we show ourselves to the world. Moreover, they can be the bearers of tradition and history. Both personal and social.
What I am trying to say is this. Wristwatches are not going anywhere anytime soon. They are a constant reminder of our limited time on this planet. They help us organize our daily routines, remember our ancestors, as well as show ourselves to the world. No matter how advanced technology will become, nothing will ever be able to replace them.
On that note, I truly believe that it is time to put this case to rest.