Do People Still Wear Watches?
The watch seemed destined, like so many other objects, towards extinction. Nowadays, who needs more than a tool to watch the time and little else? Today we have smartphones, computers, and smartwatches. What good is a watch? How important is a high quality watch?
Yet, the answer has been different than what could be expected. Not only is there great interest in wristwatches, but their sales - and prices - are continuing to rise, so much so that in 2021, the Swiss watch industry had its best year ever. So what's the secret behind these devilish watches that are still wrapped around many wrists?
A bit of watch fashion history
Once upon a time, the watch was part of the items a gentleman had to wear, along with his cane and top hat. And the timepiece had to be of a specific type to qualify as such. Over time, this association has changed. Watches moved from the pocket to the wrist, but they still retained important characteristics that were codified in that unwritten but widely known etiquette manual.
This went on until the 1970s, when the disruptive change to the past resulted in the questioning of many legacies, including that of wearing a watch - and more, which watch.
Classic gold dress watches were repudiated, and practical, rugged sports-cut watches took their place. The function of the watch did not change, but its social experience did. From being an ornament, timepieces became oriented towards their practical meaning, becoming egalitarian, and this has been the scenario we have seen unfold to this day.
And right now, we are entering a new phase: that of the fashion accessory. And the highlight of this trend reversal was precisely when Patek Philippe withdrew from production the watch that had become the symbol of this historical phase, its ref. 5711 Nautilus in steel. We are returning to an era where the watch has become an important tool and a stylish accessory.
How many people still wear a watch?
The introduction of smartwatches a few years ago had a significant effect on the traditional watch market, and many commentators and experts speculated that classic watches would disappear soon, relegated in history like the Walkman or the radio. However, recent history did not support this scenario: smartwatches have grown exponentially, but their penetration into the watch market has primarily resulted in supplementation rather than replacement. Smartwatches have mostly eroded sales of lower to mid-level watches, leaving higher-end watches untouched.
To answer the question, today, there are more and more people wearing traditional mechanical wristwatches or buying them as an investment, as this is one of the hottest trends these days.
Even though digital natives use smartwatches and smartphones all the time, even to check the time, only three out of ten people on average do not wear a watch. More, only one in ten do not even own one watch. These are often family items, coming from gifts or legacies - they might be unworn, but that doesn't mean they're not there. In addition, it is becoming increasingly popular to wear a watch as an object of social recognition, especially of the most prestigious brands, or as a form of investment. Therefore, we can conclude that many people do not wear timepieces, but this does not mean they do not own a watch.
Furthermore, we need to add that those who own a watch rarely own just one. Research in this regard reveals that most people who own timepieces have at least a dozen in their watch collection, and they buy and sell some every year, fueling the bustling second-hand market. And in fact, we have no trouble believing this kind of "addiction:" a watch has its own style and character and is suited to a situation, or a state of mind, more than another.
This is why watches can be equated to other accessories that define our personal style, such as shoes, belts, and ties. In short, what a watch says about your personality is important - and it is well-expressed by your choice to wear a mechanical one, a quartz one, a smartwatch, or nothing at all.
Do Millennials wear watches?
One of the universally recognized characteristics of Millennials, at least in marketing reference texts, is their substantial difference from the generations that preceded them, especially in terms of propensity to buy objects.
In a nutshell, Millennials don't trust traditional brands and prefer experiences to possessions. Put like that; it would seem that conventional watches are out of place for a typical Millennial. In reality, it's precisely the opposite.
The arrival of Millennials in the watch scene has coincided with exponential growth in the market for second-wrist watches. That is, Millennials love to buy vintage watches because they represent a reminder of a bygone era. A vessel of memories and untold stories.
This trend of appreciation toward vintage has spread to many other fields such as furniture and decor, clothing, and music. For the typical Millennial, the vintage watch, especially if different from what the crowd wears, is a way to wear an emotion and make themselves unique and different. Millennials like to break the social rules, but conservatively. They might question the established brands, and at which wrist to wear a watch, but not to destroy the scene: they seek difference, experience, and uniqueness.
And this also explains why nowadays, all major brands offer Heritage watches, that is, with a design similar to others that were launched years ago, usually around the Fifties and Sixties.
Why do people wear watches?
There are many reasons why people wear traditional watches, but what we would like to emphasize most is that wearing a watch is no longer just a practical matter: it is, above all, a statement of personality and style. There is no doubt that a watch on the wrist is immensely more practical than a phone, especially if we need to check the time: just a quick glance, and we instantly know what time it is - no fumbling in a pocket to extract a pocket watch - err, a smartphone.
But all this now represents an ancillary aspect to the main issue, which is that the watch has increasingly entered the field of style and expression. And if we think about it, this has always been one of its fundamental functions. The only time a precious object such as a watch became "technical" was during that iconoclastic phase of the 1970s when the distinctive and social function of the watch was called into question.
Nowadays, the watch is once again taking on this function, which goes beyond its original purpose, just like a handbag or a pair of shoes for a woman. They are all objects where the function is accompanied by a personal pleasure that resides in its presence, almost as if it were a "Linus blanket" to refer to, so an object that becomes a comfort for us and a way to express our character. And ultimately, ourselves. You can express through wearing a peculiar watch. Or many watches. Do you want to succomb to the fad of wearing two watches (know as double-wristing)? You can. Do you want to wear the watch upside down? You can. You are in charge.
Also, as we mentioned, one of the aspects determining the modern appeal of watches is investment, a major trend of the last 10-15 years. We've seen that in this time frame, some watches have reached very high prices on the second-hand market, and because of this, more enterprising people have started investing in this market to secure the benefits of a good ROI.
As we often do, we must remember that investing in watches is less straightforward than it seems, precisely because each watch is unique and, as such, has its own history. It's been worn, locked in a drawer, taken in for maintenance, sometimes ended up on the floor or banged up against a corner, maybe broken and fixed: and all of this has its own weight on the final value of the watch.
In summary, as we have seen, there is no single reason that leads people to wear a watch. People do it for taste, for pleasure, for practicality, to remember something or someone. But what's really interesting is that they do it and that they continue to do it. And that seems to tell us a lot about the future of these beautiful tiny objects that have faithfully accompanied human life for the last five hundred years... without missing a beat!