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Kennedy: Wristwatches still popular

Kennedy: Wristwatches still popular

Predictions of it demise were greatly exaggerated
Kennedy: Wristwatches still popular
Photographer: Shutterstock

Remember the prediction that the iPhone would kill the wristwatch?

It came pre-Apple Watch, of course, but registered the concern that, as other products had been disrupted by iPhone functions (point-and-shoot cameras, tape recorders, camcorders), so too would be the wrist-affixed timepiece.

But a check of any mall this holiday season shows the forecast fell flat as counter upon counter, tabletop upon tabletop and kiosk upon kiosk displays watches.

Sure, the Swiss luxury watch industry is biting its nails: 2015 and 2016 saw consecutive declines in exports and the trend could repeat again this year. Three year-over-year drops have not occurred since the Great Depression, according to industry observers.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, which tracks the country’s watch exports, seemed buoyed by October’s statistics, though, the latest month available. It reported that most of the 30 main market countries for watches showed improved export value.

The U.S. was an outlier, however. While we have consistently ranked No. 2 in recent years in the world distribution of Swiss watch exports, the value of the products that make it here for sale has been declining.

January-October U.S. export value dropped 13 percent between 2015 and this year, according to data from the federation.

While many of us are unlikely to have a Cartier or Patek Philippe on our wrist, we do still buy watches.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, put our “personal consumption” of watches at $11 billion in the third quarter, versus $9.6 billion for the same quarter in 2015. That’s a lot of Timexes.

Even Daughter No. 2, my go-to Millennial, has occasionally sported a wristwatch of late. I recall her wearing one in high school with a stop-watch function when she ran track, but going watch-less in college as she relied on her iPhone for everything.

The magazine Fast Company suggests that millennials may save the analogue watch industry, both as consumers and as producers. The latter are twentysomethings behind sleek new designs evoking a Rolex or Piaget vibe, which the former find appealing for their sophistication and price.

The magazine asked the question “Why now?” on analogue and found a simple answer: to get away from ever-on technology. 

Over the summer, I spotted a chunky watch on Daughter No. 2’s wrist, worn like a piece of jewelry. It was a present from Daughter No. 1, an older millennial who prefers to wear a Fitbit activity tracker.

When I asked them this week about their choice in wristwear, style versus function, each offered a cogent explanation.

But No. 2, sounding a bit wistful, said both style and function would come easily with an Apple Watch — if only its price weren’t so out of her reach

Was that meant to be a Christmas wish-list hint? Maybe.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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