This could be a dangerous question for a watchmaker to ask. My industry colleagues might start sharpening their swords, but I think it’s important to face this question head-on.
When someone considers what kind of watch to wear or which brand to invest in, it’s vital to consider why a man should wear a watch in 2017 when it simply isn’t as necessary as it once was. I’ll be the first to admit that the iPhone in my pocket can tell the time as accurately, if not more so, than the watch strapped to my wrist. So why bother?
If you ask watch journalists and bloggers, the responses you’ll receive fall along two channels of thinking: the beautiful technical craft of a watch, or the fact that you can’t wear a Porsche on your wrist! I feel both of these responses have a few too many holes in them to be satisfying.
Wearing a watch certainly is an easy way of displaying your status and refined taste. When you’re at a bar ordering a drink or shaking hands with a new acquaintance, people can see your watch right away – much more easily, perhaps, than your expensive car or your house in an exclusive postcode. Well, that might be the case for a lucky few, but for the majority who don’t own a fancy car or live in an exclusive address, this isn’t a convincing reason to invest in a watch.
What of the expert craftsmanship and exquisite technology displayed by the watch itself? I once heard a master watchmaker say that people like watches for the same reason they like traditional steam locomotives: they have a heart. Well, this might be true when considering the realms of ‘haute horology’ (the most mechanically complicated watches that can take many months to make), but it rarely applies to the elegant two- or three-handed timepieces that most men wear.
What, then, really drives men to wear a watch every day? I would suggest that the reason many men strap a watch to their wrist first thing in the morning actually has more to do with humble shoelaces than it does with sports cars or locomotives.
Shoelaces! Has the watchmaker has gone mad? Allow me to explain: the laces we wear on our shoes every day are like many items that needn’t exist. For centuries, the most effective way to fasten a shoe to the foot was with some kind of lace or rope. The invention of elastic, Velcro, buckles, and zippers has made laces redundant. No one would suggest that a shoelace is quicker or easier to fasten than a Velcro strap. Nor would they argue that it is more secure than a zip or buckle. Yet the humble lace wins out time and time again.
Imagine turning up for an interview, which requires you to be ‘suited and booted’ and looking your smartest. You’re wearing an impeccable suit, a crisp shirt, and shoes that you’ve carefully polished to a perfect shine. Now imagine that those shoes are fastened with Velcro straps. You’d have to be incredibly charming to land that job.
The shoelace isn’t the only item that we continue to use despite it being outperformed by newer technologies. Consider the cufflink, replaced by buttons years ago. How about the belt around your waist or the braces over your shoulders? Both less effective than elastic waistbands. The necktie? Mere decoration – the issue of getting your head through the top of a shirt and then keeping it closed at the neck has again been conquered by elastic and buttons.
Over its 100-year lifespan, the watch has repeatedly been superseded by newer technologies that allow you to tell the time easily without lugging a clock about with you. These include radio pips (introduced in 1924), the talking clock (1933), personal computers (1970s/80s), mobile phones (1990s) and, of course, smartphones. However, if you wouldn’t turn up to an interview in Velcro-fastened shoes, wearing trousers with an elastic waistband and a t-shirt, then I’d argue your wrist shouldn’t be bare.
A watch is not simply about telling the time. It is about style, refinement, and good taste. The charm in using an ‘out-moded’ form of technology when newer, more expedient options exist rests in what it says about the man using it. The man who embraces the elegant solution is a man who values more than just efficiency. He doesn’t rest on the easy option, he uses that extra bit of effort when he gets ready to go out in to the world. Applying this effort marks you out as someone who recognises subtle details and appreciates their value.
So, the next time you are asked the time, consider using the most elegant of solutions to respond.