Why do people still wear wristwatches?Written by Gavin Humphreys
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.
I wore a Casio AQ-164W dive watch for swimming and standardized tests in middle and high school. I put the watch away after that.
A bit recently I found pictures of an AQ-100W and I had such a nostalgia trip I bought one for $60. I wear it every day now. It looks cool, reminds me of past memories and it tells time!
I worked for the industry leader in luxury watches for 15 years and found my timepiece to be the ideal accoutrement to complement my fashion ensemble. However, since leaving the company I have found my Rolex to be cumbersome and burdensome in the workplace and personal affairs. It’s ALWAYS necessary to remove when using a laptop or writing, and it gives the impression of being ostentatious and outdated when wearing in social circles, especially at evening events. Digital introductions have simplified, modernized, and facilitated most things in life, vs making them increasingly complicated as with a gaudy, pretentious, and impractical luxury timepiece, so wearing a smartwatch, or simply using a phone, to check time is unquestionably more beneficial. Plus using the latter to determine the time, even during business meetings, can be surreptitiously performed by appearing to view incoming text or email messages. In fact, such action is commonplace and not in the least manner disrespectful. Consequently, I prefer not to be considered a Luddite and opt for more conventional means of telling time today. As for my Daytona, it just sits in its soft carrying case in a draw at home as a relic of a past era…and another lifetime.
I work in Law Enforcement, and it’s far more simple to just glance at my wrist when I need a time, than it would be to pull out a cell phone.
And there’s others who work at jails and correction facilities and are not allowed to take in cell phones and need to know the time.
There is no phone battery can last more than a day..
There are solar/atomic watches which can still be ticking over 20+ years without changing battery..
I don’t use the phone to tell the time..
Many people work in environments, which do not permit cell phones or smart connected devices. DoD, defense contractors, 3 letter agencies, and restricted corporate R&D divisions come to mind. These restrictions can be for safety or security reasons. Having a “Dumb” watch that has a couple functions (complications) can be just as helpful, as they were before smart watches.
I too love watches. I have had one nearly since I learned to tell time. My first few watches were Timex. I now wear a Breitling Super Ocean for dress but have an Omega Moon watch I have had since new in 1972. My Wife just bought me the TAG Hauer Red Bull special edition for Christmas. I do not wish to look at my cell phone every time I need to see what time it is. With a wristwatch, you can see the time without being noticed by anyone else. I too feel naked without a watch. I have had many different watches that I have worn for work or play and still have all of them even if they no longer work. They are treasures from my past!
A gentleman in a business suit without a watch looks naked. I prefer automatic watch to go with it. I also wear digital watches with matching colored straps and dials to match color of shirt I wear. It is a fashion statement.
At a flick of the wrist, it tells the time and also an accessory specially if it’s a Rolex .
I won’t strap my cp on my wrist even when I jog.
Low IQ question. I still wear my wrist watch because it’s easy and convenient to see the time. My phone, if I’m not using it, is in my pocket
To me a watch is for telling time and much more. A watch is a status symbol a mechanical marvel and an open expression of ones taste. It tells who you are. I know that this means nothing to some. But to those that get it, get it. Nothing like a conversation about your watch.
My watch is my constant companion. It has been with me throughout the good and bad times of my life. It shows me that good times don’t last, and bad days are temporary. Which leads me to the reason why I wear a watch. It reminds me constantly that I am mortal and makes me aware of what little time I have left, just seeing the seconds ticking away, so that I do not procrastinate.
I wear mechanical watches as an appreciation for the non-digital, an escape from the noise and attention drain of the ever-present cell-phone. There’s also the physical engineering and execution of a real-world, tactile object that can be visually and conceptually understood and related to in ways that flipping bits cannot. And even though the watches I can afford are not hand-crafted, they are assuredly hand-assembled, with their physical components’ shape, structure, and materials being chosen for both asthetic and practical reasons. I appreciate my ‘67 Timex automatic (practically considered a throwaway) in ways I’d never appreciate an Apple Watch.
Yes, yes, yes! To watches of all shapes, sizes, colors and functionality. Watches should be an important male accessory. Especially in business. An expensive and stylish watch can make an important success, power and fashion statement; enter Rolex Submariner (one of my favorites to wear). High-end pens hold an important place in business for many of the same reasons. For personal use, watches are stylish, practical, utilitarian and just plain fun to collect and wear. In fact, I feel underdressed without one and will often return home should I forget a wrist watch, expensive ink pen and high-end pocket knife; these too I collect and cherish. Gerald
Why? First of all, you should understand why a high quality mechanical watch is so exiting – including it’ history. After this you might be able to understand everything. That’s all. No one can leave without the knowledge of the actual time: what would you do if you need to see the time? A glimpsie on a beautiful handmade mechanical watch or a glimpse on an iphone? I have chosed the first one. It gives you a completely different experience. And there are many other watches with interesting complications for different occasions with different movements etc. It is a classic, pure, elegant tool that supports your life.
Don’t get started on watches..it can be addicting. I use to have a fossil watch gifted to me by my then gf now wife. I wore that watch 10 years ( and I still use it from time to time). One day the battery went dead and I was to lazy to have it changed Ina shop so I ordered a Casio in Amazon. The Casio where you can count your steps, Bluetooth, etc..soon after I started looking for a better one..and oh, I thought the citizen bn0150 looks cool. So I bought then. Then I saw the Seiko skx..I said whoa, automatic. So I purchased it but then it doesn’t keep time I sold it. Soon after I did some research on automatic movements and I learned some. Nh35 or nh35. I bought a diver from a micro brand..and It started to accumulate. If I like the design. Doesn’t matter if it’s quartz or auto, if it’s affordable for me I buy it..but now I’m holding of. I rotate my watches and that makes me happy..
I stopped wearing a watch around 2004 when I switched to using my phone. It was a disaster. For nearly a decade I had no idea how much time had past. I was late to things, I would take too long on tasks, and overall became very disorganized. I started wearing a watch a few years ago and it helped a lot. I tried smart watches but the delay for the time to display made them unusable as a time piece (much as the first digital watches that had a button you had to press). I switched to a digital watch, but a few years ago I realized an analog watch presents time in an easier to comprehend manner, though maybe less precise at a glance than digital. I have become fascinated with mechanical watches and have been wearing one for about six months now.
Basically, as far as time keeping goes, smart phones function much as pocket watches did, and smart watches function as the original digital watches did. All of them are too clunky as timepieces for my needs. My smartphone is a major part of my daily carry, but right alongside my mechanical watch.
I have always worn a watch, since junior high school at least. I feel kind of naked without one. I have some really well lumed watches I even wear to bed. (I’m nearsighted so it’s easier to check my watch in bed at night than put glasses back on to see the clock). I bought a Rolex recently to mark a “milestone” birthday. I absolutely love it and have barely removed it. I have quite a collection of watches and am not sure what will happen to them. None of my nephews wear watches. Neither do my nieces!
The time should never be on a device where hundreds of other actions happen. The time should be sacred on your wrist, preferably on a mechanical watch where the continual movement on the dial represent the time of your life. Once we die our children take over the timepiece and continue the movement. The time is sacred, the timepiece is the symbol that holds it.
A watch is an essential accessory of a gentleman and tells what kind of person he may be. Since men generally don’t wear ornaments therfore, a watch may be considered a men’s fashion accessory . Beside telling time it’s a thing of beauty elevating spirit. It’s kind of a trusted companion to a wearer at all times. A beutiful ladies watch enhances her feminism beside jewelry.
Not growing up wealthy my family all wore decent watches, men and woman. It was just taken for granted after my grandfather was awarded a Patek in the old country. You never heard of a more proud man of his beloved watch. It was far more than his personal excellence It represented perhaps the most important thing in life …time. Nothing is of value without time. As the younger generation came into their own, the first thing of joy was a watch. I take my watch off for ONLY 15 minutes a day while showering. IF by chance I left home without my watch….I’m going to become late for work. I NEED my watch (Oris Aquis) otherwise I’m going to be staring at my hairy wrist all damn day. I don’t consider a digital quartz timepiece a watch.
It has no “soul” a Breitling quartz is as accurate as a dollar store watch. A watch to my mind needs to be audiable…Tic Toc baby.A mechanical Decent watch is a work of art, labour, and intent of design and purpose. It’s not a battery. A decent REAL watch can be an extremely fine investment. So I urge a closer look into the real deal, not the digital crap. Rise above be informed, it’s well worth it.
2 years ago I inherited Papa,s beloved Patek. It’s 94 yrs old and valued at more than TWICE the value plus of my home…
Hey …smell that ? Yeah it’s the coffee.
Most jobs I’ve had you couldn’t have your cellphone with you. As a Retired Merchant Seaman, we all used watches. As on deck out in the Atlantic or any other Ocean a cellphone could get easily damaged, or lost. So as a Deckhand wrist watches are best.
Who wants to find their phone when they want to know what time it is. Watches, well nice ones, are works of art. Never hire anyone who doesn’t wear a watch.
I’ve loved watches since before I had one. My father always had one on and though they were always inexpensive I still liked how they looked.
I’m 68 and have gone through a few phases. I went from the standard 39 – 40 mm to the larger 46 – 48 mm high profile and now back to the smaller sizes sizes which is the current trend. Would be nice if I could afford afford a luxury brand. Can’t have everything.
So anyway, having over a dozen watches, for me it’s about it being a statement accessory and enjoying wearing them.
I do wear a watch and in my opinion this article indeed does capture some of the most important reasons I wear a watch. I was born in the 80’s and adopted as a child. One of the first things my adopted dad gave me was a watch, I was very young and as you can imagine it eventually met it’s demise, though it lasted a couple of years before it did which I believe was the start of my love for watches. Later in my preteen years, I bought myself a Casio calculator watch which I though was the coolest thing I had ever seen (I might have been a bit of a nerd). For a few years I did not wear a watch in my late teen years. In my early 20’s, I had married, started a family, and was very broke. One year, my wife bought me a little watch she saw in a department store. I wore that watch for over 10 years, mostly because it was a gift from my wife, and it represented her love even in times when I really had nothing to offer her. I still have that watch. In my easy thirty’s, I bought a Citizen Brycen which was about $250, mostly because I wanted a practical watch I could wear daily and O loved the look and eco drive. When turned 35, by brother-in-law bought me a Citizen PCAT he noticed I had been eyeing, and to me this watch has come to represent our friendship forged though our family connection and the bond created by being married to two sisters very much alike. Around the same time, my best friends gifted me Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M. When he gave me the watch, I did not know the value or much about it, all I knew was it was a symbol of our life as friends which started in grade school. None of what I am saying is to flaunt anything…it is only to say that each watch can represent so much more than just a fashion accessory, including my little guess watch my wife bought me years ago, every one of them have people and memories attached to them. I agree that I wear a watch for three reasons, the first obviously is my history with each piece and the people connected to their histories. Second, and agreeing with Fredrick that smart watches and cell phones are full of distractions. I have owned a few smart watches over the years including apple watches and a Samsung galaxy S3 Frontier, they are effective but do take you into a rabbit hole. Lastly, I wear them because I like being punctual. My Dad growing up and many bosses who I have reported to have military backgrounds and have an unparalleled sense of importance for time. Being on time is an expected form of respect for others even in 2021. Just like the watches remind us, details matter, and in an ever-changing world, even a minute has its importance. It’s up to us at what level we respect something as critical.
I agree with a lot of the points, and it differs somedays.
I wear a Submariner- its a status watch, a heritage watch, classic watch, a if you catch it just right in the sun, a thing of beauty watch.
My everyday is a Garmin, which has all the bells and technical metrics people want in the 21st century, although in the pure form of time- nothing better than the simple watch that allows you to convey so many things with a twist of the wrist. Great Article though- hit so many points
Okay I am a senior, 72 but also think it’s quite rude when people have their nose in their phones whether there with one person or group, for that matter it can be dangerous as well we’ve all seen the videos of people walking into ponds or fountains not to mention streets.
With me yes it is a habit but one I can’t imagine I would want to break because I feel it’s respectful to be on time when you have an appointment but I don’t want to be checking my phone so regularly as to be what I would call addicted. For that matter I often don’t bring my phone with me just so I do not develop that kind of habit!
At any rate thank you for the thoughts.