watches, and why I wear one
August 2, 2006
The Wikipedia entry on “watch” contains this note:
“In the early 2000s, the carrying of mobile telephones has become ubiquitous in many affluent and even some developing countries. As these phones typically display the time on their screens when not in use, it has become common to rely on them for time-keeping, effectively making the mobile phone serve the function of a pocket watch.”
While it would seem inevitable, in this age of incomprehensibly accelerated technological development, that such a cultural shift would occur, it is to me a minor tragedy, for a watch was–and still is–not merely a device for keeping time. If it were, we would all strap on our blandly utilitarian Timexes (or pocket our phones) and that would be that. Rather, a watch is a personal statement; with such a proliferation of models available, a wearer’s chosen type and style can say a great deal about the character of the individual, his idiosyncracies and habits, his vocation and income level. Whether extravagantly bejeweled or inexpensive and unadorned, a watch means something.
Consider my own watch. It belonged to my grandfather, who wore it for many years before he died, after which it passed to me on my 18th birthday. I can still recall my father’s words: “wear it proudly.” I do. The case has scratches, yes, and the springs within the links no longer function as they once did, but the gold is thrillingly luminous in the right light. A pleasant heft reminds me constantly of its presence, and a nearly imperceptible ticking reassures me that its innards continue their merry rotations. Most of all, however, it makes me remember. I think of where this watch came from, where it will go. And yet nowhere in society do I see the magnificence of heirlooms like this celebrated; how many young people today will have something like this watch to leave to their children?
Even among those who still wear a watch–an increasingly uncommon breed, if the population of my campus is any indication–the marvelously intricate multi-jeweled automatic movements that characterized watches worn decades ago have largely been forgotten for those of the mass-produced quartz variety. Certainly they are more accurate than those they replace, and for that they are to be commended, but the disposability of their harshly molded plastic, steel, and crystal forms engenders no connection between the wearer and the device. We have lost something in our ruthless quest for things newer and better; mobile phones and digital watches, which many of us toss away annually, seem a poor substitute for what were once finely crafted marvels of engineering. It’s one area where technology hasn’t made things better.
–D. S. W.