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August 23rd, 2017

Insight

Watches

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published Feb.25, 2016

It's almost daylight savings time again, time to set our clocks and watches ahead one hour, unless you have an iPhone or iPad, in which case it will happen automatically. See that? The kids don't even have to know how to reset a clock anymore since it is done for them. Just another way to avoid having to use your brain brought to you by the tech industry. These are the times in which we live. And speaking of time…

Ask a millennial what times it is and you're likely to get one of two responses. Either they won't have a clue at all, or they will take a quick glance at their smart phone. The probability that they will be wearing a wristwatch is pretty slim, after all who needs a wristwatch if you're staring into an iPhone all the time? For most young folks the idea of a wristwatch is about as arcane an idea as using a land line phone.

Well made pocket watches and wristwatches do much more than simply keep time, they add enjoyment and a bit of panache to one's life. The difference between a cheap watch and a well-crafted timepiece is like the difference between a pencil and a beautifully made fountain pen, or a cheap Nissan and a Lamborghini. Think of a great watch as fine jewelry that happens to tell time. Functional bling.

Pocket watches were created long before wristwatches. The history of pocket watches started in the late 1400s and early 1500s when mechanical engineering reached the state when simple spring devices could be made. By using the invention of the mainspring, German inventor Peter Henlein was finally able to create watches that did not require falling weights as the source of their power. This invention gave birth to the first wave of small portable watches, which were in the beginning worn as a pendant on a chain around the neck.

Then in 1675 a new fashion style began – pocket clocks that were small enough to be wore in the pocket and not like a pendant. In the beginning they weren't all that accurate, often loosing several hours in one day, but improvements came in the early and mid 1800's and soon accurate inexpensive pocket watches were available to everyone.

During World War I pocket watches went out of fashion when miniature wristwatches became extremely popular. The wristwatch went through many innovations and style changes throughout the decades while retaining its place as the favorite portable timepiece of people around the world. Then came the 21st Century, when mobile phones and smart phones with built in clocks made watches seem redundant and old-fashioned to many young people.

But no matter how "smart" smart phones become, they'll never have the class and elegance of a beautiful wristwatch. Not everyone can afford to own a really great watch, of course. My father owned two wonderful wristwatches, a Vacheron Constantin and a Le Coultre. Both are traditional wind-ups, not automatics. His dream was to own a Patek Philippe, arguably one of the world's finest (and most expensive) watches. He never got that one.

Today I wear my dad's Vacheron and my brother has his Le Coultre. Lucky us. Every time I put on that watch I feel special and well dressed, and it goes without saying that it gives me a personal bond with my father. So much wonderful feelings in wearing that watch. I could spend hundreds on an IPhone with all the bells and whistles and apps and everything else, but it wouldn't give me anywhere near the satisfaction and enjoyment I get from my wristwatch.

I'm not a big fan of daylight savings time, matter of fact I dislike it intensely. But when Sunday March 13th gets here, I'll enjoy that sweet little pleasure of resetting my watch, my dad's Vacheron. It may not reset itself automatically but it speaks to me in a language that all the wizards of Silicone Valley could never understand.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.

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