You Asked Us: Will Watches Become Obsolete? The public asks and we respond by Rob Nudds April 10, 2020 MIN READYou Asked Us: Will Watches Become Obsolete?
It’s been a while, but our once-again regular column returns. In this space, we take-on readers’ questions about watches and give our honest answers. Some of the answers are based on facts, some on opinions, but all exist for the purpose of furthering the conversation. Please feel free to get in touch with your queries, and we’ll add as many as we can to the list!
I’ve inherited a gem. There are very few formats that promise the same level of engagement that directly responding to questions does. And the best part? I am genuinely interested. We all are. That’s what makes writing about watches a fun profession. Every day I get to talk to like-minded people. And it is a constant education. Thusly, I’m going to do my best to answer any question posed to me. It would be great if you join in the discussion with your own thoughts and answers to the topic of the day in the comments section below.
Will Watches Become Obsolete
This isn’t just the question of the week; it is the question, full stop. I have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked the same thing. Those incoming queries vary in their respect level (with many people outside the industry taking a very dim view of our shared obsession indeed), but they all have their genesis in the same, quite valid, concern: Watches are already obsolete.
The mechanical watch as a functional item has been obsolete since the advent of quartz.
Let’s walk this back a little bit. Of course, timekeeping devices will never become obsolete. Their forms may change. They may be powered by different energy sources. Certainly, their regulation systems are up for revision. But timekeeping devices are essential to our daily life. And so the reason for having one on one’s person still persists.
What is meant by the question, really, is whether mechanical watches will become obsolete? Similarly, that is what I meant by, “watches are already obsolete.” The mechanical watch as a functional item has been obsolete since the advent of quartz. And while quartz itself has been surpassed by atomic levels of accuracy, nothing so cheap and wearable has knocked it off its perch yet.
And yet, mechanical watches still exist. More than that, certain segments of the industry (which itself is in a state of flux) are booming. Why is this?
Simply put, mechanical watches abandoned their original primary purpose the moment they were objectively surpassed by their quartz alternatives. Watches were repositioned as fashion items, later as status symbols, and now as collectible, practical works of art or highly specific tools for niche industries.
There are very few practical justifications for owning art at all.
The fact a mechanical watch tells the time goes some way to justifying its existence even though it is rarely the reason people buy watches anymore. The kind of art one would find hanging on the wall of a gallery seems totally esoteric. It is a luxury. A pure embellishment of one’s life. There are very few practical justifications for owning art at all. It is an elevated pursuit and the playground of the super-rich. People shun it for that reason, but there is value in the benefit of art that people should be able to find elsewhere.
In that context, art sounds a lot like luxury watchmaking, right? Except, I doubt many of us see it that way. Simply because a watch does something it seems so much better value than an inert object that’s primary purpose is to make us think and feel (two things that are, realistically, very valuable to humans, but less easy to justify when it comes to spending thousands of dollars/euros/pounds/francs, etc.).
As such, watchmaking has become an unwitting forum of art appreciation for “the masses”. And when I say “the masses” I do not mean the majority. I simply mean a wider segment of society that is able to access an industry that, in comparison to the industry of fine art, is genuinely accessible. And, crucially, justifiable.
Akin to art
Sure, you get watch snobs. You get snobs in every walk of life. You’ll encounter plenty of people that look down their noses at you Seiko Monster. Ignore them. They aren’t in it for the art. They aren’t in it for the love of the game. More likely, they are in it for the status. That attitude is a bit passé. Nowadays, those of us that have stuck through modern luxury watchmaking’s awkward teenage phase, are now part of something massive. Massive and inviting.
Is it totally glorious? Yes.
Everyone should be welcome in the watch fold. Because it gives us something akin to art. It gives us nuance and intrigue, opinions and emotions, and a togetherness that perhaps we never thought possible. Is it a form of madness? I would say so. Is it totally glorious? Yes.
And for that reason — for that shared community craziness, for that genuine appreciation of design and engineering, for the love of artisanal mastery, of creative use of color, of sculpture and form and fit — watchmaking is here to stay in all it’s forms. And all, whatever form they take, are welcome. Join the discussion below.
Follow me on Instagram @robnudds
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About the author
Rob’s first exposure to the watch industry was a part-time retail role for the Signet Group at the age of 17. An obsession with watches soon developed. Following an ill-advised BSc in Archaeological Science, he applied for sponsorship to undertake… read more
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