To Watch Or Not To Watch – That Is the Question

Global financial crisis aside, the luxury watch industry appears to be in pretty good shape. The emerging markets – especially China – possess enough connoisseurs to keep the haute horlogerie brands in profit, and there are even reports that the industry is returning to pre-2008 levels. But something has been nagging at the wiser heads, those who know that the glass might be half-empty. Just as the ‘proper hi-fi’ market lost the under-40s to the iPod, the watch industry is desperate for new blood, too: the “i” generation neither needs nor wants wristwatches.

Note the use of the word “need”. There are so many tellers of the time surrounding us today, from microwave ovens to the banners below the TV news to every mobile phone on the planet, that simply wearing a watch seems as unnecessary buying a newspaper: your phone or iPad can take care of the news, too. But you’re holding a newspaper right at this moment because you want a physical carrier for your information, just like those who haven’t given up LPs or CDs because they want a physical disc rather than an amorphous download.

My son, 21-years-old, and who has been surrounded by both killer hi-fi equipment and enough watches to fill a showcase on Bond Street, cares about neither. His music is on 24/7, but he listens to it through the weedy speakers in his laptop, or the noxious-sounding earbuds attached to his MP3 player. He’s not remotely interested in the 12,000 LPs I’d like to leave him in my will. And he cares not about the time, a slacker to the core, though he manages on occasion to catch the bus or the train with an 80 per cent success rate. It would be 100 per cent if he’d wear a watch. Or even look at his mobile phone.

I suspect that he’s typical of his age group. I look around at the 15-year-olds clustered in front of McDonalds, the 18-year-olds pouring out of H&M, the 20-year-olds blocking the pavements in front of pubs. Few, if any wear watches. And if they do, they’re more likely to be worn for effect than for either utility or prestige. I always wondered where those truly kitschy, nasty watches, the ones that look like props from the next Transformers movie, ended up after their brief appearances in T3 or Stuff. They’re worn by kids weaned on computer games, or Pokemon.

Belatedly, there have been moves to win back a lost generation. Swatch has, wisely, reintroduced its original models as the “Classic” line, reissues of watches that were coolly minimalist, the individualism ranging from bold colours to sick-inducing patterns. Casio’s G-Shock has had A-list street cred for years, and the company has kept up a steady stream of clever models at sane prices to ensure that they remain desirable and attainable. Sekondas, Pulsars – these are reasonable watches for pocket money.

And price is an issue: as affordable as the Hamitons and Tissots and Orises and Victorinoxes mioght seem to those who can aspire to Rolexes, £200-£1000 for a watch – whatever the pedigree – is not something that will woo an unemployed teenager who’s worn a path to the job centre and prays for a gig at McDonalds. But that’s not to say they don’t harbour a secret longing, or that they can’t be seduced.

My aforementioned, watch-free son borrowed a subdued, solid and sane Hamilton Khaki from me when undertaking a few weeks of work experience with PR companies in the watch biz. (“Nepotism” is another word for saying you love your family.) Upon arriving, his mentor commented favourably on the piece. My son has worn it ever since.

Honesty prevents me from (mentally) berating his contemporaries who don’t wear watches, because a substantial number of older people have given up wearing watches. Times are tough, money is tight, so why should anyone, regardless of age, buy or even want a watch when the time is omnipresent on every iPad/iPod/iPhone? Hell, it’s also on every microwave oven, digital radio, flat-screen TV, car dashboard, taxi meter and till slip. Probably the only place you won’t see a clock is in the lobby of a NatWest bank, where they’ve removed them so schmucks like me won’t know we’ve been queuing for 27 minutes.

Then again, to their dismay, I still wear a watch.

(Brummell, 2011)