Why Mechanical?

Why Mechanical?

Quartz watches play a significant role in my love for horology, and they subsequently occupy a meaningful portion of my personal collection. I’ve found most of them to be reliable for 30+ years, as long as you don’t throw it in a junk drawer and forget about them for decades. That being said, if a quartz watch is your main timekeeper, there will inevitably come a day when your battery, or your watch suddenly dies, and this 100% always happens at an inopportune time. I was endlessly amused with my first quartz watch until it happened to me. I once took ownership of a Lorus Mickey Mouse watch on an early family vacation to Disneyworld. It was the first of many watches I’d eventually lose to jumping into a swimming pool shortly thereafter, forgetting they weren’t water resistant. With age, came wisdom - I finally realized something waterproof was needed. And so, the quest for the perfect watch began. This was years before I understood what a mechanical watch was, all I knew was that it’s the late 80s - early 90’s and I was fascinated by the LCD screens in the Casio counter, I just didn’t watch to be ‘disposable.’

Consider also the hyper-connected world of smart watches, which have exponentially more functionality and practicality in today’s world. The fitness and health features are unmatched against traditional watches. My apple watch could check my email, text messages, the price of bitcoin, and flood me with all sorts of metrics other watches cannot provide, but with this wealth of information comes the pitfalls of severely limited battery life. I resented having to be tethered to a charging-fob every day or two, making a smart watch a non-starter for me until the chipsets become efficient enough to be powered by kinetic energy.

Another shortcoming of smart watches is their rate of obsolescence. Even assuming that your smartwatch lasts you 5 years (which it won’t), would you still want to use the same smartwatch at the rate at which technology advances? Every smartwatch is designed to fail because the manufacturers expect you to buy a newer model far before you ‘need’ a new watch. Many folks will have several smart-watches before deciding they want something that lasts a bit longer. Total up how much all those smart watches cost you over the years, and you’ll find it’s a lot to spend on timepieces you that end up relegated to a junk drawer.

Sure, these issues might be only a minor gripe for some, when owning any watch today is a redundancy. You can get the time from your phone, your computer screen, or your car’s dashboard, so nobody needs a watch anymore. Even if you do, the quartz crisis of the 70s and 80s brought us dependable, accurate watches for as little as $10, in digital or analog flavor varieties. So why do consumers still seek-out mechanical watches that cost thousands more? 

Jean-Claude Biver suggested the reason people continue to support traditional watchmaking is because mechanical watches are built to run eternally; by wearing them we make a connection to eternity. In a world of disposable technology, mechanical watches are more popular than ever because behind the hefty sticker price is a promise that that this watch was built in a way that a competent watchmaker anywhere on earth can keep it running, no matter what life throws at you. That promise is what inevitably lead me, personally, to my first mechanical watch, and it’s ultimately why I feel current smart watch users will become tomorrow’s mechanical watch enthusiasts. It really lets you focus on enjoying the watch for a lifetime, as it earns its patina and becomes an heirloom your kids will appreciate far more than your novelty bricked Apple Watch.

Steve is a photographer based in New York.

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