Why do people still wear wristwatches?
Why do people still wear wristwatches?
I ask myself this question at times.
Surely everybody has the time on their phone. And who doesn’t have a phone?
As I sat in a Florida mall, waiting for my sister-in-law to buy a watch, I made a quick (but undoubtedly accurate!) survey in my head of the folk walking past. I had hazarded a guess that no more than 10% of men still wore a watch on their wrist. To my surprise, almost 50% sported the timepieces.
People clearly continue to wear wristwatches. Popularity dipped, I’m sure, but the ship seems to have steadied. And at a pretty good percentage.
I also thought it would be only older people (stick-in-the-muds, who couldn’t break the habit), but again I was surprised to see watches remained cross-generational.
In other words - wristwatches are still here, and clearly beloved by many.
First of all, where does the story of wristwatches start? ...and how has it ended up where it is now?
Where did watches come from?
The idea of a portable watch goes back as far as the 1500s. Before those days, the closest thing was basically a sundial that you could put in your pocket!
Some German watchmakers began to innovate with miniature spherical timepieces that you could hang around your neck.
This slowly evolved into the mechanical pocket watch, which became a men’s fashion staple for generations. Wristwatches, however, were initially only used by ladies. By the late-19th Century, men too got in on the act - when the military began to realize the utility of having a watch ‘on hand.’
After all, every good First World War movie has to have airmen synchronizing watches!
It was in the post-WWI era that the market for wristwatches went boom. It became part of the essential gear of the businessman and a luxurious fashion accessory for the stylish gentleman.
There was no looking back for the world of watches - but then came the 1990s. Over the course of a decade or two, almost everybody started to carry a super-accurate time device in their pocket - the cell phone.
Usage of wristwatches declined, and a new generation came through that had very little interest in watches. Our Gen-Z in-house artist, Maria Alejandra, told me, “I don’t use accessories - I use the phone to tell the time.”
The rise of the smartwatch, which does more than just tell the time, attempted to change the fortunes - but it remains pretty niche.
Perhaps the destiny of the wristwatch lies in the question: what makes 50% of men who I saw wandering around that mall continue to wear these timepieces?
Why are watches popular today?
People have all kinds of motivations for strapping time to their wrists.
To get a taste of ‘public opinion,’ I asked around the Beckett Simonon office to see if anybody wears watches and why - and got some interesting and diverse answers.
To tell the time
Yes, people wear watches to tell the time. It may be obvious, but the watch is a handy device to keep track of the hour.
Whether you want to time how long the journey takes to the baker’s, exactly when you have to leave for your date, or even just check the passage of day - this is the technology you need!
For most of the 20th Century, almost all men would have some kind of watch to tell the time. I remember as a kid, if someone asked the time, the answer was inevitably, “Time you got a watch.”
Sure, we have clocks and stop watches on our phones, but it’s easier to glance at your wrist than to pull out your cell on a busy street.
However… this can conversely be a reason that people avoid wearing watches. Continually feeling time pressure can be negative and stressful.
Tigre, my fellow writer on the Beckett Simonon blog, hasn’t worn a wristwatch since he was a teenager: “If I had a watch, I would be checking it constantly. I started to develop that habit when I was younger and decided it was better to do away with them altogether.”
I tend to agree - if you don’t know the time, you can never be late!
These days, this is probably more important than telling the time.
Wearing a watch looks good - it has become a classic style that shows a man in control, elegant, and ready for action.
The co-founder of Beckett Simonon, Andrés, told me that, “On top of the practical reason - to tell the time - I think they are a great accessory to wear. They can dress up any outfit.”
This is a great tip for somebody looking for stylish accessories. The fact is that they come in such a variety of shapes and sizes that you can always find the watch that suits your style - from business meeting to rugged gentleman.
Professional and powerful
As I mentioned, watches are associated with men who are in control, and a wristwatch can even be seen as a power or status symbol.
Beckett Simonon photographer, Luis, said, “I love wearing wristwatches. I’ve been wearing them since I was very little. When I was younger, I saw it as a way to relate to my parents, to feel older and wiser (like I understood time).”
As Luis grew older, he says he began to love them as an accessory. Nevertheless, that idea of the watch as something ‘adult’ and ‘sensible’ is ingrained into society.
On the other hand, some people are not so keen on the idea of the watch because they have come to represent power. Tigre said to me, “I find the idea of a wristwatch being a status symbol a little off-putting,” and that is one of the reasons that he doesn’t wear one.
Another strong reason, especially for the generations that grew up before mobile phones took over, is that of habit.
Andres said to me, “I have worn one since I can remember; I honestly feel naked without one.”
Yet again, there is another side to this. Sometimes not being in the habit is the reason people cannot adjust to wearing them.
Our Head of Customer Happiness, Felipe, explained, “They bother me. If they are too tight, I keep wanting to take them off, and if they are loose, they just go up and down my wrist, so I don’t wear them.”
Isn’t that so true?
Miguel, in Customer Happiness (another of-Generation-Z), said, “I don’t wear wristwatches. I do not like having things on my wrist.” Although Miguel acknowledged that he would like to start wearing one - if he could get into the habit!
Some watches are works of art - and they have price-tags to match!
Many people buy watches as a way to invest their money. If you know what you are looking for, this is a fun way to turn your cash into something both useful and that should grow in value.
Beckett Simonon’s other co-founder, Nicholas, said, “I think they are one of the few items you can wear that have an appreciation factor (if you shop well). You can buy something now, wear it for years and then, if need be, sell it for an equal or, in some cases, higher amount of money.”
Nicholas said he also loved the heritage factor that comes with a nice watch: “With automatic or mechanical watches, I’m intrigued by the stories they are able to tell. You can pass it down to a loved one or inherit one, and at some point, they gain a sentimental value. That is fascinating to me.”
Head of Responsibility, Adela, gave a great example of the emotional appeal that they can have: “I am currently wearing an amazing heirloom watch. It belonged to my great-grandmother Adele Fajury, after whom I am named.”
The only time I wear a watch, personally, is when I go for a run. I haven’t found any alternative that matches the watch’s combination of light-weight timekeeping abilities.
Nicholas also wears a watch for sport, but says that that same utilitarian aspect of a watch is really attractive for day-to-day use: “I have a small collection of watches, but 90% of the days I wear a Garmin GPS watch. I use it for cycling and I just got accustomed to it.”
When I say sport, it can also be useful to wear a watch to remind you to do something, or to be less sedentary!
Luis, the photographer, told me, “Now, in the era of smartwatches, I have fallen back in love with them. Especially during the times we are going through, I appreciate it when my watch reminds me to get up and walk around, to hydrate, or to let me know if I’m burning enough calories throughout the day.”
Watches can be discreet and subtle.
Sometimes it’s just far too obvious if you check the time on your cell phone - for example, in that boring meeting! A little glance at your watch can be much more under the radar.
Adela told me, “I use my watch a lot when I go out, so as to avoid getting my phone out on the street.” This is a very sensible point - walking down a dodgy street at night, you don’t really want to keep whipping out your latest i-phone.
I confess, I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with clockwork, even if I have hardly ever worn a watch. Mechanical cogs telling the time through intricate dials tick-tocking; it’s all beyond my ken.
Then the straps, whether natural leather or shiny metal, can be incredibly eye-catching.
Nicholas said he is drawn to the whole spectrum of watches, “I like watches in general. Their design language interests me, beyond their ability to tell time. Across all categories, there’s something attractive to me.”
Nicholas further explained, “I appreciate the craftsmanship and meticulosity in a fine mechanical watch, but I also like the simplicity and practicality of a digital watch. Likewise, the functionality of smartwatches can be amazing.”
But, as you might expect, this love for the design of watches is not felt by everybody. Tigre again gave the other side of the watch face: “I don’t particularly like the way they look, no matter what the brand or the design.”
I guess there will never be a consensus on watches! The debate will rage on.
Whichever faction you side with - you cannot but admit that watches are a very special accessory and inspire passionate opinions.
The bracelet - those other wrist accessories for men - have an even longer history, and can be just as controversial. Tigre, although clearly not a fan of the wrist-based timekeeping device, wrote a fascinating blog about the variety of bracelets you can find, called 5 Bracelets for Men.
Check out my Complete Guide to Men’s Accessories, where I have a whirlwind look at the wide range of accessories available for men.
What’s your opinion on watches? Do you wear them? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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