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Eye on tech: the evolution of watches

Kevin Crittenden

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Kevin Crittenden

Nobody who owns a cell phone needs a watch.

So why are they still around? What is the story of watches?

Dangling from the pocket by a gold chain, early watches were unreliable devices for time telling but nonetheless shiny and, therefore, attractive.

They started as clumsy machines that could only tell roughly what hour it is.

In the 18th century, Swiss and English watchmakers experimented with materials and engineered watches with a minute hand.

As technology developed, watches migrated from pockets to wrists. World War I saw the first widespread use of chronographs, wristwatches used to measure time at intervals.

And like many things military, the trend picked up in the general population. By World War II pocket watches became old news as new styles emerged which dropped any utilitarian pretensions like numbers or markings to represent hours.

Amid the hullabaloo of the 1960’s, the space race gave rise to the digital watch. While Cold War rivals duked it out for ideological superiority by scrambling for better rockets and nukes, American citizens bought the Pulsar LED watch with bright red numbers where hands used to be.

Time was compressed into its digital version, the least visually descriptive, yet the most commonplace in the 21st century.

The most recent development in watch innovation involves smart tech. It seems the historically popular accessory location of the wrist offers itself to new gadgets just as equally as the old versions.

But I don’t think that smart watches are a threat to the older, proven species.

People wear watches for a variety of reasons: they’re shiny, useful, and cool looking. While smart tech might be described as all of the above, I think most people like the option of putting away their phone.

Besides, most smart watches are redundant; they act as paired companions to a users main device.

The smart tech revolution won’t displace the wristwatch as a symbol of identity.

These are relics of culture used for a variety of purposes, to project specific images of individuality.

A smart watch says only, “I am a geek.”

Maybe I’m being harsh. I’m sure there are satisfied smart watch owners who lead rich, colorful lives with no regrets about purchasing their smartphone a wrist-bound buddy. I just haven’t met any of them yet.

Kevin Crittenden can be reached at [email protected] or @kevlodius on Twitter.

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Eye on tech: the evolution of watches