When I hear this week that wrist watches are making a comeback, it makes me smile. Apparently double wrist watching is ‘trending’ on the catwalk (models wearing more than one wrist watch, people) and I have it on good authority that it is not just double denim that is now making a comeback. Although the volume of watch sales has halved over the last ten years, the value of this market sector has doubled. Tick tock.
I smile because, when I remember my father, I instinctively associate his memory with the no-nonsense watch that would always be on his wrist; large, clear faced and reliable – much like Harry himself. He had a number of these watches, not through any sense of vanity or wealth, but purchased as reassurance that he would always be punctual – and he always was – sometimes ridiculously so.
In the days before watch batteries, it was reassuring to hear my father – regular as clock work – wind up his watch at night, and when sitting on his lap, it was comforting to hear the rhythmic tick of this timepiece. His watch straps were always leather, never flashy, and again, he would keep a stock of replacement leather straps in both black and brown in case of any untimely emergency.
When I eventually learnt to tell the time (believe me, my father had the patience of Job waiting for this to happen), I was delighted to discover that watches also came in forms more flashy than my father’s. Although my choices were never expensive (thank you Argos Catalogue), they definitely fell into the category of jewellery – style over substance. Even today my small watch face is chosen for its daintiness and it is frankly impossible to read. I am much too vain to replace it; it serves as a ticking time bomb of a bracelet and my father would be truly appalled. At least my watch is waterproof (great if I ever discover scuba diving) and it works off a very forgiving battery so I don’t need to get wound up about winding.
By the time Favourite Son and Favourite Daughter (FS and FD) came to take their school exams, it felt that only us ‘Boomers were keeping the watch retailers afloat. As neither FS or FD would be seen dead wearing a watch in public – they used their mobile phones to navigate themselves to appointments in a very approximate fashion – there would always be a last minute panic (a shameful irony) to find a working wrist watch to take into the exam hall. Mama J would be heard muttering unpleasantries as she scoured the house for a functional watch. Thankfully, as I couldn’t bear to throw away any of my father’s watches when he died, a watch would always be sourced eventually. The problem would then be delivering a crash course to read the time in analog not digital – hardly the ideal relaxation activity to eliminate exam nerves.
Of course the current watch market is much more complex and retailers fight hard in the fierce competition for space on a customer’s wrist. This potentially watchful customer needs to navigate the choice of smart watch, wrist tech and high end design as well as functionality. Purchasing a watch with this wealth of choice can be no speedy activity. Those with money can demand a watch that merges its personality with their’s; high art and craftsmanship are required if the wearer is to wear the watch rather than the watch wear the wearer. Difficult times.
This is a dream world for advertisers and the glossy mags paint the legacy a father will leave a son when he hands on his Patek Phillipe (other high-end brands are available), after all, ‘you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you just look after it for the next generation’ – a generation that, if you believe the adverts, while become scuba divers and fighter pilots just by inheriting said watch. (girls you can embrace these roles too, the marketing is just starting to catch up (thank you Lady Gaga).
Back in the day, I wonder if FS and FD would have wanted us to ‘begin this new tradition’ if we had actually been able to hand over a Patek (it was never going to happen, but we all love to dream). I have a feeling not. Today I wonder if an Apple watch would be better received, or, seen by the recipient as an unsubtle hint that time spent on the sofa would be time better spent tracking metabolic rate or step count. Personally, I would need to steer clear for fear of potential AWA (Apple Watch Addiction). The offer of one of Grandad’s old watches would certainly be more attractive to me.
I contemplate this as I wrestle with my own running watch on a weekend cross country bimble. I purchased my TomTom for its large, clear face and its ability to tell me how many miles I have run without over-complicating with negative split times, motivational messages or downloads to my Military Fit instructor. Unfortunately while running I trip on an unseen tree root and manage to wipe the watch face clean so have no idea how far I have run or how long I have been out in the cold and rain. I am grateful that I am double-watched – for I never take my ladylike watch bracelet off – I peer at the small watch face and realise I can not read this without my glasses. At least the watch has proved waterproof; at least when I get home, I will know how late I am. Time may wait for no man, but this woman feels well past time and a hostage to technology.
I am not smiling now. I set off in search of some functional utility even if it is not wrist-friendly or aesthetically pleasing. A sun dial will do, even if it is raining. I am ticked off and truly wound up but at least my father has ensured in his legacy that I will find a back up plan.