Look back to the quartz revolution of the 1970s and, you’d probably recall the near-demise of Swiss watchmaking industry, with many traditional watch manufacturers staring into the abyss. The then new technology fuelled the demand for cheaper yet, highly accurate watches that require little maintenance.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and a similar revolution is taking place. Perhaps not on the same scale, but the watch industry is facing competition from digital smart watches that do more than tell time or wake you up in the morning.They can take your pulse, count your steps, play your favourite tunes, alert you to incoming calls and text messages, and, oh, tell you the time.
Traditional mechanical watches, on the other hand, tend to be more practical. Many simply tell you the hours and minutes, while complications may have perpetual calendars, and day/date/moon phase indicators, among others. They do not have all the bells and whistles like their smart counterparts — and, they definitely don’t come cheap. Brands like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Breguet require serious moolah to own even their lower-end models.
So why should you choose an old school mechanical timepiece over a smart watch? Here are five reasons why:
1. It’s grounded in history.
Watchmakers take pride in their longstanding traditions and reputation. One of the oldest is Breguet, which some say was the first to create a wristwatch.Founded in 1775 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the brand has been instrumental in its development, such as the invention of the Breguet balance spring and the pare-chute (a shock protection system). Buying a mechanical timepiece means wearing that piece of history and showing an appreciation of time.
2. It’s a legacy.
Think about your smart watch, say, 10 years down the road. Will you be wearing this same one? Technology moves so quickly that it will be obsolete by then. The Apple Watch was launched to great fanfare but was recently dubbed a flop by many media outlets. Unlike the ubiquitous iPhone, it has not become a must-have for tech wearables due to a lack of good apps, limited battery life, and poor user experience. A Patek Philippe will probably outlast you, enough to give it to the next generation, and it still does what it does best — tell time.
3. It’s all in the complexity and craftsmanship.
It takes skill to manufacture and assemble the intricate gears, springs and levers to produce a watch that ticks accurately. The movement is the heart of every mechanical watch and while the number varies, there can be as many as 300 parts housed within a watch case. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor Chronograph Ceramic has just that, with date and day/night indicators, double timezone, and chronograph function. And as long as it’s wound up properly, you’d never need to replace a battery.
4. It’s a work of art.
Some timepieces feature delicate enamelling, engraving and gem setting, making them a joy to behold. Take Girard-Perregaux’s Chamber of Wonders watches that depict ancient cartographic reconstructions of the Far East, Arabian Peninsula and the New World on the dial. Combining stone marquetry and miniature painting, artisans painstakingly cut and polish selected stones such as blue sodalite, white jade and aventurine, before adding the details.
5. It’s jewellery.
This is particularly true for men, who don’t have a lot of opportunities to wear jewellery without raising the odd eyebrow. Watches, especially the ones with pedigree and a grand name, convey status and prestige much better than the smartwatch of one’s driver or secretary.