Is time up for the wristwatch?

Source: Otago Daily Times (published 2 February 2008)

 

Is time starting to run out for the once ever-present wristwatch? Some commentators point to big storm clouds gathering ahead, highlighting the widespread use of cellphones and the sharply falling use of ristwatches among young people. Because cellphones can also give the time, watches could become redundant, they warn. John Gibb investigates

 

OUTRAM watchmaker James Hay remains optimistic about the long-term future of the wristwatch.

 

More expensive ‘dress’ watches for men and for women, including as jewellery and as fashion statements, will always be made and always find a ready niche market, he says.

 

Watches with specialist features, including sports watches, are still popular and the cheaper prices at the lower end of the market are encouraging some people to own more watches, he says.

 

But the previously unchallenged supremacy of the watch, as something worn by most New Zealander adults, and nearly all senior high school students, has already begun to fade, particularly among teenagers, he says.

 

Young people were increasingly coping without watches, given the rise of the cellphone and the more widespread availability of clocks, including in cars and on tractors, and in offices.

 

“The bottom line is that the public just don’t need them any more,” he says.

 

An informal ODT survey of 22 young people attending the University of Otago’s recent Hands on Science camp showed that all but one (about 95%) had cellphones but only about 40% (eight) were wearing watches.

 

Two others had watches nearby but did not usually wear them.

 

The survey focused mainly on senior secondary school pupils, many aged 16-17, but also included a few university students in their early 20s who were helping run the camp.

 

Most of the youngsters who were not wearing watches linked this choice directly to their cellphones.

“I’ve got my phone now. I’ve been looking at that for the time,” Amy Morahan (16), of Christchurch, says.

“I probably don’t wear a watch because I have my phone,” Kathryn Gale (15), of Dunedin, says.

“I haven’t had one for so long I can’t remember,’’ Rita Maxwell (15), of Opotiki, says.

“I haven’t worn it for the last year,’’ Hannah McRae (17) says, adding that she kept it in a nearby room.

“As soon as I got that [cellphone], I haven’t worn a watch,’’ she says.

Science camp helper Alec Wild (19) now finds watch-wearing somewhat inconvenient, given the ready availability of his phone.

“It’s an extra thing [putting on a watch] to worry about in the morning,’’ he says.

Tama Bracey-Brown (16) said that in the past she had repeatedly lost her watch.

“I just use my cellphone,” she said. About half her class also did not wear a watch, she added.

Victoria Broad (17), who does not wear a watch, said many people who did were ‘just trying to show how expensive their watches are’.

Many of the school watch-wearers were wearing large, bold-looking watches, including at least one G-Shock watch and some other big, bulky watches.

Watch-wearers enjoyed having a watch as well as a cellphone.

“You can have both,” Emily Foster (15), who lives near Amberley, points out.

“I like to have both,” Nikita Engels (22) says.

 

Some pupils say timekeeping is more convenient with a watch.

 

“It’s easier to get the time off your watch than pulling it [the cellphone] out of your pocket,” Southlander Malcolm Rudd (16) says.

 

And pupils were generally discouraged from looking at their cellphones during school classes.

 

“I’m just really used to having one [a watch], and it feels really, really strange to be without one,’’ watchwearer Daniel Redmond (16), of Invercargill, says.

 

Mr Hay says the survey results are ‘really interesting’ and confirm his belief that fewer young people are wearing watches.

 

In future, many people were likely not to wear watches, but more expensive and fashionable watches would remain popular—as would specialist watches, including shockresistant items used outdoors, and watches used by divers and runners, he said.

 

Jeff Martin, who has been a Dunedin watchmaker for the past 40 years, also denies that time is running out for the watch.

 

“No, if by ‘running out’ you define that as ‘it’s going to be history’,” Mr Martin says.

 

“There will always be a place for it. Most young people have a cellphone these days and probably don’t own a wristwatch – except for Casio-type sports watches,” he said.

 

“It has definitely changed – that’s not up for debate.”

 

But high quality watches would ‘always be appreciated by people who like the finer things in life’.

 

An executive dressing to promote a fashionable image was likely to opt for ‘a nicely metal-cased analogue watch’ to complete the impression. “If you were an executive type and wearing a plastic watch, it doesn’t really say what you want it to say about yourself,” he said.

 

John Bezett, a Dunedin jeweller, watchmaker and Dunedin city councillor, says watch manufacturing and sales are continuing to thrive internationally.

 

Despite the impact of cellphone use, the watch’s future remained bright.

 

“I have no doubt that the wrist watch will survive and my reason for saying so is because it’s a visual piece of jewellery and it’s a fashion statement,” Mr Bezett says.

 

“The wristwatch is still very much in vogue.”

 

The cellphone might also be used as a timekeeper but ‘it’s not a visually attractive thing to attach to your body’.

 

“It may not be so for younger people, but for older people who are reasonably well funded it also can be a status symbol.

 

“I think wristwatches will have their place in the future as status symbols – that’s apart from telling the time.”

 

The overall cost of more basic watches had also fallen ‘dramatically’, making them generally more affordable than years ago.

 

And beautifully-made mechanical watches, not powered by batteries and with nothing digital about them, were becoming popular again.

 

Watches provided more convenient timekeeping, requiring the wearer to only ‘flick your wrist’ to tell the time.

 

And to wear a watch was also to carry an ‘intricate little piece of machinery that gives people a little bit of a buzz’.

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"I must govern the clock, not be governed by it." - Golda Meir