In 1969, Seiko launched the world’s first quartz wristwatch, which was more affordable and accurate than any mechanical Swiss watch. It’s one of the major blows to the traditional watchmaking industry, but mechanical watches still could turn things around impressively.
For the time being, mechanical timepieces seem to find themselves caught in the middle of the second “quartz crisis” since Apple launched its smartwatches in 2005. The situations bring us to the question: “Are watches obsolete?”, or more precisely, “Are mechanical watches obsolete?”
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Are Watches Obsolete?
Traditional watches have become obsolete as functional items. However, they have a renewed purpose in life: a form of self-impression. Mechanical watches won’t go anywhere soon as long as people still adore their fine craftsmanship and uniqueness.
These days, most people don’t buy mechanical watches to be able to tell the time. As we’re talking about the ability to keep time accurately, nothing can compare to quartz watches.
In watchmaking, the quartz crisis is one of the tremendous upheavals that revolutionized watches. At the crisis’s peak, around 1000 watchmakers in the Switch industry went out of business, and in all seriousness, mechanical tickers almost vanished.
This event marked the death of the traditional watch’s function of time-telling. People found no justification for sticking with them while there are a whole host of more affordable and accurate options.
The top-of-the-line mechanical timepieces still may lose from 5 to 10 seconds a day. Quartz watches, on the other hand, may only lose around 4 seconds per month.
Following the quartz era, mechanical watches also witnessed the advent of smartphones and smartwatches. Unfortunately, these technological marvels further render traditional tickers obsolete as a time-keeping tool.
6 Reasons Why A Classic Timepiece Still Has A Place In The Watch Industry
Mechanical watches are the epitome of fine craftsmanship and engineering. A sheer amount of attention is paid to making them; all the parts, from the dial, movement, to the case, are meticulously built and joined together.
It requires months, if not years, of labor and meticulous care from master ưatchmakers to build a perfect watch. Such dedication to details gives brands like Rolex a solid status in the industry.
Just like manual transmissions always have a special place in the hearts of car enthusiasts, nothing can’t replace well-designed mechanical watches for fans.
Due to the long hours and expertise required for manufacturing the components and assembling them, top-notch mechanical movements will always be more expensive than quartz movements and remain exclusive.
We doubt that the affluent need a tool that tells time on their wrists. In contrast, the uniqueness of classic timepieces is what convinces them to shell out thousands of dollars for a timepiece.
Not only for exclusiveness but thousands of dollars are also spent on the belief that a well-crafted timepiece is made to last. When we mean “last,” we want to talk about the durability and the ability to stay relevant to classic watches.
A mechanical watch is designed to span generations if it is well maintained and serviced. It can run for decades or centuries, never crash, and only needs periodic winding.
In addition, it’s commonplace to pass a quality watch down from generation to generation. If you’re lucky enough to inherit a family timepiece from your parents, you probably have heard the stories and the history behind it.
Patek Phillippe interpreted this sentimental value of a timepiece with the motto: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.”
That is not the story with smartwatches. It’s unlikely to see people give a digital clock to their son on his wedding day and expect him to take good care of it so that the piece can be passed down in their grandson’s marriage.
In essence, digital watches are technology, and just like other gadgets, their lifespan is relatively short. Soon enough, they will be superseded by new, updated models and end up in landfills.
Indeed, luxury brands don’t resist change and welcome it instead. However, they renovate their products at a way slower pace than tech giants like Apple. New models might be released every year, but they won’t render their older siblings obsolete.
A Status Symbol
As mentioned, the quartz crisis has changed the rhythm of the watchmaking world. The revolution has pushed Swiss watch brands towards the higher end of the market.
Since then, mechanical timepieces have been more known as luxury goods with elaborate craftsmanship, fine engineering, and aesthetic values. Brands like Rolex, Harry Winston, or A. Lange & Söhne have successfully built a solid fan base since their products indicate affluence, exclusivity, and refined taste.
The exorbitant price and marketing strategies like limited versions somewhat made these wristwatches less accessible to the masses.
It means that once one can afford even the entry-level prices for a Hublot or Patek Philippe, they are upgrading their social status. A watch on your wrist lets the world know about your taste and achievement, much as a fancy car does.
Traditional luxury watches seem to perform pretty well with the role of status symbol that they take on. In 2020, global exports of Swiss watches were valued at 16.9 billion Swiss francs, the majority of which is from luxury brands.
Like A Wearable Art
A mechanical watch on your wrist is like a piece of art. Indeed, these accessories make art more accessible to the general public. Instead of admiring a piece of art hanging on the art gallery wall from afar, people now can appreciate the fine art of craftsmanship and engineering put into a watch right on their wrist.
An Investment By People
The value of a horological beauty will likely remain consistent, if not go up when they’re well-maintained. The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, one of the world’s most coveted watches, is a case in point. The Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239, owned by legendary actor Paul Newman, was sold at a staggering price of $17.8 million at an auction in October 2017.
Digital watches, on the other hand, cannot hold their value and popularity at the march of technological progress. A sought-after model today will quickly become a thing of the past when the newer iteration is released. The reduced retail price and stagnant sales figures reflect how fleeting smartwatches and technology are.
Can Mechanical Watches Survive The Digital Age?
Many luxury watch markers in this day and age grapple with the 2 big questions: How far will they be affected by the digital disruption? And how traditional tickers can prove themselves alongside technological developments.
As long as the belief in the refinement of mechanical watches exists, there is always a market for them. Selling a product is always about winning the customer’s heart. When the reverence for fine craftsmanship is still there, a timepiece crafted by a skilled watchmaker can outcompete what’s coming out from a production line.
We’ve witnessed the revival of mechanical watches after the quartz crisis. A decade or so following this upheaval, the two types of movements, mechanical and quartz, could co-exist in the watch world and have their market niches. Today, when Apple and other tech giants get involved in the competition, we can expect a similar happy ending as the quartz-mechanical coexistence.
Energetic young generations are more likely to be drawn by a smartwatch and keep upgrading to the newer versions. However, at some points in their life when they need something to suggest about their status rather than to promote their attractiveness, a finely-crafted Swiss luxury watch will no longer be under their radar.
Another reason to believe that classic Swiss timepieces still hold a special place in the hearts of watch fanatics is that smartwatches will struggle to position themselves as genuine luxury items.
In other words, mass-produced smartwatches are not direct competitors to luxury watches until they are legitimate luxury products. To achieve this status, they have 2 obstacles to overcome:
- Exclusiveness: This pointer is essential for all luxury goods, including watches. With low and mid-priced ranges, smartwatches are within reach of more people. It is no denying that affordability is what fuels their popularization but also hinders them from entering the luxury category.
The economy of scale makes the low price tags possible. Still, it also means that smartwatch markers can’t use precious raw materials and invest in skilled labor like luxury traditional watch manufacturers.
- Emotional attachment: Like fine wines, luxury watches have evolved with time, and there’s a story to tell in any timepiece. Smartwatches struggle to achieve this as long as they still come out from an automatic production line.
Top 3 Luxury Watch Brands
When talking about the top luxury watch manufacturers, it’s impossible to leave Rolex out of the conversation. “A Crown for Every Achievement” that’s what Rolex wants to highlight as a brand for successful people.
To live up to its name, Rolex has proven itself with its high position in the watch world, unmatched media recognition, and its consistency in making top-quality luxury models.
Datejust is one of the most well-known product lines from Rolex. Its popularity shows no signs of waning over a half century’s worth of fashion trends. Besides, the GMT-Master Pepsi and Daytona are among the most worth-collecting timepieces of all time from the brand.
2. Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe SA, a Swiss luxury brand founded in 1839, is one of the world’s oldest watch manufacturers. Every Patek Philippe is beyond an accessory; it’s an heirloom with unwavering qualities that stood the test of time. For more than a century and a half, Patek Philippe has never failed to set the bar high for the industry.
One of its popular designs, Nautilus, shows how perfect and elegant a watch can be. The Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 is currently the most sought-after timepiece among aficionados with its impressive features and powerful mechanism.
3. Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet is a Swiss watch manufacturer that has been in the business for over 140 years. In 1972, Audemars Piguet introduced its finest wristwatches, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which helped the brand rise to prominence in the watchmaking world.
The Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore are the most popular and collectible collections from the brand. Whichever model you buy from these collections, rest assured you’re getting your hands on one of the world’s finest luxury watches available.
Mechanical watches won’t be going anywhere soon. Their time-keeping function has been made obsolete by the arrival of quartz watches and, most recently, smartwatches. However, watchmakers have repositioned mechanical timepieces as a luxury item and have done a great job promoting this renewed purpose.
Last Updated on September 21, 2021 by The o.d.m team
The o.d.m team is a group of watch enthusiasts and experts who share their knowledge to watch lovers all over the world. The o.d.m team has won many popular watch design trophies including the iF Design Award China, Germany’s Reddot Design Award & IF Design Award, USA’s Good Design Award, and Japan’s Good Design Award. They’re also a regular guest of the Baselworld trade show.