March 14

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Are Watches Becoming Obsolete?

By Victor Dietrich

March 14, 2020


​This is an interesting question that has many angles, the short answer is no, because watches have evolved over the last decade. It is important to note the watch is a concept from the 16th century.

As a device for monitoring the time, they died many decades ago, when the first mobile phones went to the mass markets, wrist watches were dead in their current format.

​But the mobile phone did not kill the wrist watch

But they did not die like other pieces of technology, compare them to disposable cameras when the digital camera came ​fruition.

What happened is the watch industry lost many of its market segments ​but some of the remaining segments grew. Up until the 90s mobile phone boom, watches covered a ​wide range of market segments, they served as a device to ​display the time for everyone. There were different groups who required different types, for instance a survivalist required a certain type, a diver ​needed ​specific capabilities, an explorer going to the north pole needed one that could withstand low temperatures and there was always ​a market for the expensive watches. To me this ​luxury market was about status and fashion, ​and this was confirmed when this market didn't die after the mobile phone boom. This market actually grew! This was great for watch makers like me who concentrated on quality.

So yes, we lost the casual market who used a watch to tell the time, but our other markets stayed strong and the luxury watch industry experienced a boom. This was simple, people who ​purchased expensive watches for status did so to separate themselves from the average person, their luxury watch stood out to the ordinary watch. But when people stopped wearing watches this enabled ​the luxury watch ​buyers to ​stand out even more, hence the industry seen a boom, a status boom is what I would call it.

​"The wrist is an extremely convenient place to access information, I cannot see this changing." - Victor Dietrich

​The ​unexpected evolution of the watch

​Just when I felt the watch industry had plateaued and there was only one direction we could go (downward) ​the modern smartwatch trend began. The smartwatch has been around a long time, the first one was made by Ruputer in 1997 but it was never popular, it never solved a problem. Fitbits revolutionized the pedometer industry, Samsung joined the smartwatch industry in 2013 with their first model and in 2015 Apple released their first Apple watch (now there is even a waterproof range). This was a snowball that had been picking up momentum for years, they new age smartwatches had combined features from the pager​ (a small device used to receive short messages), the Fitbit and the smartphone in a way that had not been done before. This is how we got to where we are now, a booming smartwatch industry.

This is interest in smartwatches over the last 10 years (data from google trends)

​What happens from here

​I guess my guess is better than yours, ​I it depends on​ how technology evolves over the next decade or so but what i know is that we will always need something ​to display information. There are two main reason watches have become ​popular for displaying information,​ they are easy to carry and easily accessible. So unless another device can beat watches on these two points I think the watch will continue to evolve. The wrist is an extremely convenient place to access information, I cannot see this changing.

Victor Dietrich

About the author

I was born and raised in Vienna Austria. When I was 16 years old I started working for a watchmaker in the city, 50 years later I retired after running the business for the previous 10 years. I am now a contributor to ExpertCog where I share my knowledge on watches.

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