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Thread: Is there a future for mechanical watches?

  1. #1

    Is there a future for mechanical watches?

    I was doing a bit of thinking today (for a change) on the future of mechanical timepieces.
    In my musings I found it very difficult to see much of a future for our beloved chronometers once the current generation of die hard wearers have passed away. It seems to me there is a double whammy a play, the advent of the smart watch which will continue to gain market share and more significantly still the increasing costs of servicing a mechanical watch. I am finding the ownership of multiple timepieces is now getting into the realms of stupidity considering how difficult it is to get them serviced competently and at a reasonable price. Considering the decreasing demand in the future for mechanical watches I can only see the situation regarding servicing getting worse. There will be fewer and fewer independents in the market and the big branded companies will be charging more and more for servicing. It seems to me that soon enough ownership of mechanical watches will becoming the equivalent of owning and running a classic car in the future, the preserve of the well off only.

    Does anyone see a brighter future?

  2. #2
    Grand Master Wallasey Runner's Avatar
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    In all fairness Rolex are now suggesting that a brand new watch need not be serviced until it is about 10 years old, unless it has had a hard life.

  3. #3
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    I see a long future. Mechanicals have not been replaced by digital and are still going strong. Therefore I don't see them being replaced by smart watches or anything similar.

    I think there is a slow move to people not wearing a watch at all and relying on phones etc, but I don't see a complete annihilation of watch wearing anytime soon, and I don't see quartz taking over from mechanicals any more than they already have.

    I suppose I see the status quo ongoing for a while.


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  4. #4
    Grand Master Der Amf's Avatar
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    Most the people I know who wear mechanical watches grew up with quartz available. The post-quartz generation is already in existence, and flourishing contentedly.

    Prices of quality examples of obscure vintage mechanicals are constantly rising, showing that we are in a renaissance of interest in mechanical watches, and that appreciation of the pleasures of mechanical watches has strong roots despite their having been superceded in technical terms.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wallasey Runner View Post
    In all fairness Rolex are now suggesting that a brand new watch need not be serviced until it is about 10 years old, unless it has had a hard life.
    Not so. Rolex have not offered any such suggestion. This arises from a letter to ADs last year, announcing the new green tags and extended guarantees. The letter said that the average owner now had his watch serviced every ten years. It was a statistic, not a recommendation. Some ADs seem to have misread this, because it suits them to do so when selling new watches.
    Search as I have, I can find nothing from Rolex, the company, mentioning any specific number of years. Perhaps it would make life easier if they did. Like cars... It would be less confusing.
    As for sales of mechanical watches; who knows. Fashions change, buying patterns change. But there will be a watch industry, and there will be mechanical watches. We just don't know in what numbers.
    Last edited by paskinner; 13th May 2016 at 09:39.

  6. #6
    Master Tokyo Tokei's Avatar
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    Will be as niche and "valuable" as old mechanical typewriters. http://forum.tz-uk.com/showthread.ph...atches-will-be

    Paul

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by paskinner View Post
    The letter said that the average owner now had his watch serviced every ten years. It was a statistic, not a recommendation.
    Presumably people aren't sitting around looking at their broken watches for years before taking them to be serviced, though. So it's a reasonable indication that the average Rolex can go ten years between services without major problems.

  8. #8
    Cheaper and more accurate alternatives to the mechanical watch have been around for 30-40 years. In theory, my generation should have marked the end of the mechanical watch but it didn't. On that basis, there's no reason to think that this generation will be any different.

  9. #9
    Grand Master
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    I agree with the OP, I can see mechanical watches going into steep decline for the reasons he outlines. The majority of younger folks won`t be interested, and those that are will struggle to afford to buy them. I can only see the cost of servicing going upwards and the restrictions on parts supply will be a major cause. Buying secondhand will be even more hazardous than it is now because fewer and fewer watches will get serviced as they should.

    The smartwatch thing is here to stay; I hate the damned things but for many people they are appealing and make a more sensible alternative than a Swiss mechanical watch costing £1000s.

    The Swiss are cutting their own throats in my opinion; pushing the brands upmarket may seem fine in the short-term but the industry needs to sell sufficient volume to survive in it's present form. Sensible pricing and no restrictions on parts supply would help a lot, but they're doing just the opposite.

    Having taken a few steps back from the watch world recently due to other commitments I`m starting to see things from a different perspective and I`m seriously thinking of offloading a few of mine. Continuing to work on them, and struggling to source parts, is looking less appealing too.

    Paul

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by walkerwek1958 View Post

    The smartwatch thing is here to stay; I hate the damned things but for many people they are appealing and make a more sensible alternative than a Swiss mechanical watch costing £1000s.
    £300 on a new smart watch every 2 years and soon a mechanical watch won't look quite so silly...

  11. #11
    Grand Master Dave+63's Avatar
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    I have to agree with Paul and the OP. Sure, mechanical watches survived Quartz (just) but we are living in different times now as already outlined.

    There will always be a market for mechanical watches but if (servicing) prices get out of hand, the likes of us will probably only have one or two watches whilst "normal" people just won't bother.


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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by paskinner View Post
    Not so. Rolex have not offered any such suggestion. This arises from a letter to ADs last year, announcing the new green tags and extended guarantees. The letter said that the average owner now had his watch serviced every ten years. It was a statistic, not a recommendation. Some ADs seem to have misread this, because it suits them to do so when selling new watches.
    Search as I have, I can find nothing from Rolex, the company, mentioning any specific number of years.
    http://forum.tz-uk.com/showthread.ph...l-Announcement Ė post #50

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by bitfield View Post
    Presumably people aren't sitting around looking at their broken watches for years before taking them to be serviced, though. So it's a reasonable indication that the average Rolex can go ten years between services without major problems.
    Wasn't a ten year service interval what George Daniels was trying to achieve with his co-axial escapement, so as to rival a quartz watch? I'm not sure how successful he was as I've heard that Omega apply lubricant to their version of the escapement.

  14. #14
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    I tend to agree with the OP.

    Thereís a parallel in the world of Hi-Fi. Whilst many ďaudiophilesĒ remain committed to their admittedly wonderful sounding systems, I donít see much interest from the younger generation. The advent of streaming services and simple iPod/Phone docking systems has negated much of the need for complex systems and for the majority the sound is good enough. Iím a member of a Hi-Fi forum and I suspect the demographic is heavily biased towards relatively affluent middle aged (and older) men. Itís not going to die away completely but is becoming more of a niche market. This is how I see it to be similar to the OPs position re. mechanical watches.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by jools View Post
    Wasn't a ten year service interval what George Daniels was trying to achieve with his co-axial escapement, so as to rival a quartz watch? I'm not sure how successful he was as I've heard that Omega apply lubricant to their version of the escapement.
    I think the idea of reduced friction and service intervals is sound, although Swatch Group's attempts to market it as some gee-whiz new technology ŗ la consumer electronics BS may not be as wise.



    More generally, the appeal of a mechanical watch is that it's a mature, durable technology that doesn't rely on electronics. Though it's been obsoleted in specs by newer stuff, they keep time quite well enough for normal people, so who cares? It's like vinyl; still going strong after technologies with superior specs have fallen by the wayside due to its aesthetic and nostalgic qualities.

    As long as nobody expects them to be the mainstream standard, I think the future is quite good for quality mechanical watches as the niche product that they've become.

  16. #16
    Journeyman
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    Wink

    mechanical watches ARE the future

  17. #17
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gary1064 View Post
    I tend to agree with the OP.

    Thereís a parallel in the world of Hi-Fi. Whilst many ďaudiophilesĒ remain committed to their admittedly wonderful sounding systems, I donít see much interest from the younger generation. The advent of streaming services and simple iPod/Phone docking systems has negated much of the need for complex systems and for the majority the sound is good enough. Iím a member of a Hi-Fi forum and I suspect the demographic is heavily biased towards relatively affluent middle aged (and older) men. Itís not going to die away completely but is becoming more of a niche market. This is how I see it to be similar to the OPs position re. mechanical watches.
    In that case, high costs for servicing watches is the horological equivalent of £1000 cables. ;-)

  18. #18
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    Smart watches are a fad and in 20 years time kids will have implants or Heads Up Display lasered onto their eyeballs

  19. #19
    Interesting replies guys, thanks.
    I am beginning to think I would be better off unloading the 10 or so mechanicals I own and just concentrate on owning and running one decent one and a beater.
    Perhaps the new Explorer??
    Agggh...I thought I was cured!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by markrlondon View Post
    In that case, high costs for servicing watches is the horological equivalent of £1000 cables. ;-)
    Don't even go there! Cable threads inevitably turn into cable wars and then run and run ad nauseam. People have been banned! :)

    A better analogy is the cartridge (stylus) since like servicing this is a recurring cost. High end carts can be many £K and they wear out FFS !!!
    Last edited by gary1064; 13th May 2016 at 13:34.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by walkerwek1958 View Post

    The Swiss are cutting their own throats in my opinion; pushing the brands upmarket may seem fine in the short-term but the industry needs to sell sufficient volume to survive in it's present form. Sensible pricing and no restrictions on parts supply would help a lot, but they're doing just the opposite.
    They can always reverse and go downmarket too, when the market dictates.

  22. #22
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    I consider mechanical watches in lots of ways to be similar to high end jewelry. A highly personal, aesthetic choice that will always be an option.

  23. #23
    Sure, smart watches are selling and will continue to sell.
    But , who is buying them- those who otherwise wouldn't wear a watch or would be wearing a Swatch or a MIchael Kors or some such shit.
    Very few mechanical watch wearers have switched to smart watches.
    Nobody knows the future of mechanical
    Watches but my owning and enjoying them has nothing to do with how well they are going to sell in future.
    This is a pointless exercise made worse by people who don't know what they are talking about.

  24. #24
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony View Post
    They can always reverse and go downmarket too, when the market dictates.
    If they are brave enough. The criticism of Tag Heuer (which the 'cheap' tourbillon) is that they are bringing prices down. It is clear that much of the Swiss watch industry really fears this.

    I think they are foolish to fear lower prices. They still have plenty of profit margin at more sane prices, and the larger market size that lower prices bring builds resiliency.

  25. #25
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RAJEN View Post
    Sure, smart watches are selling and will continue to sell.
    But , who is buying them- those who otherwise wouldn't wear a watch or would be wearing a Swatch or a MIchael Kors or some such shit.
    Very few mechanical watch wearers have switched to smart watches.
    The very long term question seems to me to be: Will the younger generation who are currently probably the majority of smartwatch buyers age into luxury mechanical watch buyers and replace the current generation of (more mature) luxury watch buyers OR will the current generation of luxury watch buyers die off without being replaced as the younger generation age but buy other goods (luxury smartwatches or new fads not yet imagined)?

    The above contains many generalisations and there are other variables too. How will the massive markets of China (and India) develop? There is still massive long term growth potential in these markets.

    Perhaps there are too many variables to be able to predict anything; perhaps it's just too chaotic.

  26. #26
    Have we reached 'peak watch'? My guess: yes, even allowing for increased demand for a bit longer from the emerging markets. But Swiss mechanical watches as a sign of middle class status just don't resonate as much for the under 30s as they do for the over 40s, and there are already millions of newish watches out there.

    Market implications? People holding relatively common watches with one eye to investment - I'm thinking sports Rolex from the eighties onwards plus almost everything mass produced from recent years - will have the pleasure of ownership, not inconsiderable running costs, and very low real terms capital appreciation. Just my guess, of course, but I only own one good watch - my investment money goes elsewhere...
    Last edited by simoscribbler; 13th May 2016 at 14:05.

  27. #27
    Grand Master Seamaster73's Avatar
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    I think there's a possibility that smartwatches might reverse the decline in watch-wearing and potentially reinvigorate the market for "real" watches. Purely anecdotally, I know a couple of people who hadn't worn a watch for years, bought an Apple Watch, and are now looking at mechanicals for the first time.

  28. #28
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    People still ride horses and cook over wood fires and hunt and fish and garden and churn their own ice cream. None of these are a necessity for most folks yet they still get done on a hobby basis. So it will be with people wearing mechanical watches.

  29. #29
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saxon007 View Post
    People still ride horses and cook over wood fires and hunt and fish and garden and churn their own ice cream. None of these are a necessity for most folks yet they still get done on a hobby basis. So it will be with people wearing mechanical watches.
    This is true but it means that mechanical watches will become an ever more expensive hobby as the critical mass of suppliers, servicers, supplies, and interest drops. That will take a lot of fun out of it for many people.

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by markrlondon View Post
    [...]Perhaps there are too many variables to be able to predict anything; perhaps it's just too chaotic.
    Market prognosticators are about as credible as astrologers.

    We've enjoyed wearing shiny things at least as long as we've been able to make cave paintings. Though they don't appeal to everybody, enough people will want a nice watch to keep the industry going for a long time yet.

  31. #31
    I think some are missing the point, and it isn't that there are better/cheaper ways of telling the time and therefore the need will diminish amongst those not brought up with wristwatches as a functional item. What won't diminish is the desire to own a piece of male jewellery, or the desire to display wealth in a conspicuous manner. The function aspect is surely an irrelevance. Nobody (well hardly anyone) buys a watch for what it does; they buy it for what it looks like and what it represents. Technology won't have an impact on that.

  32. #32
    ^

    Precisely. As long as they remain the only socially-acceptable piece of male jewellery, high-quality wristwatches will do fine. The whole point of a mechanical watch is that it's technology-proof and will keep running for ages, anyway.

  33. #33
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jdh1 View Post
    What won't diminish is the desire to own a piece of male jewellery, or the desire to display wealth in a conspicuous manner.
    For what it's worth, I think these things could very well become very unfashionable. There is already a growing backlash against conspicuous wealth (linked with anti-capitalism, the downsizing movement, and so on) and it could become a world trend. Or not. Who knows. But I don't take the desire to show off as an inevitable constant.

  34. #34
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    I can certainly see both sides of the argument, & we also shouldn't dismiss new even crazier technologies, google glasses, become google lenses etc... Overall I suspect we're not that far away from the end of smart phones & watches.

    Anyway, to use my own experience.
    I'm an 80's child & with the exception of a timex "tell the time" I only ever had quartz watches until about 10years ago.
    My father was also was a quartz man (& still is, Rado).
    My best guess as to where my interest developed is from Bond, but I'm not sure that's 100% the source.

    Now I'm sat here wearing a birth year 5513 that's worth more than my car.

  35. #35
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulpsz008 View Post
    Overall I suspect we're not that far away from the end of smart phones & watches.
    I think you're probably right, although the form of the paradigm-shifter is not yet apparent. The overriding trend in technology (for a very long time) is ubiquity -- always there (increasingly so), whilst being less and less intrusive. Who knows how that will be expressed next but it will be something that quickly makes smartphones look very old fashioned.

  36. #36
    Quote Originally Posted by markrlondon View Post
    For what it's worth, I think these things could very well become very unfashionable. There is already a growing backlash against conspicuous wealth (linked with anti-capitalism, the downsizing movement, and so on) and it could become a world trend. Or not. Who knows. But I don't take the desire to show off as an inevitable constant.
    Has there ever been a civilisation or society where the comparatively affluent DIDN'T look for ways to show off their position. That doesn't have to be a watch of course, but it won't go away. As far as I can see, the only people that anti-capitalism is popular with are those with nothing to lose. When they all stop buying lottery tickets I'll take their ethical stance a bit more seriously.

  37. #37
    Grand Master markrlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jdh1 View Post
    When they all stop buying lottery tickets I'll take their ethical stance a bit more seriously.
    :-)

  38. #38
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    I think smart watches are driving up the average price people will pay for a "watch".

    Where it used to be something costing £25 from Argos was fine for a year or two, people are now spending £250 to £400 on a smart watch to go with their smart phone.

    The swiss makers need to see this as an opportunity and make very, very good smart watches at good prices, get people "into" their brand where they'll become aware of the rest of the makers watch family.

    I think it's a case of breaking into new demographics, if people have an impression of "mechanical watches == that old, small, gold thing my grand-dad used to wear" they'll never buy one, they'll never even bother to look for them, so their pre-conceptions will persist.

    Most people who see one of my mechanical watches like them and, well I can't be sure, but it's like they haven't considered that "old watches" (i.e. non quartz) can look good.

    Rather like high end audio, high end AV gear, it's a shrinking market that's only sold in very few shops.

  39. #39
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    Who buys a watch to tell the time these days? If that was the case why would anyone buy an AP or PP when a cheap digital would surfice.

    People buy watches for the fashion, style and almost be an extension of their personality. The telling of the time is a sub function of a watch.

    How often does anyone buy a watch and go "this one looks like it will tell the time really well". Or more often not is it "that looks great!". I would even go as far as to say the features on the watch are more for style; chrono, moon phase etc are more for making the watch look better than practicality.

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnthemull View Post
    I was doing a bit of thinking today (for a change) on the future of mechanical timepieces.
    In my musings I found it very difficult to see much of a future for our beloved chronometers once the current generation of die hard wearers have passed away. It seems to me there is a double whammy a play, the advent of the smart watch which will continue to gain market share and more significantly still the increasing costs of servicing a mechanical watch. I am finding the ownership of multiple timepieces is now getting into the realms of stupidity considering how difficult it is to get them serviced competently and at a reasonable price. Considering the decreasing demand in the future for mechanical watches I can only see the situation regarding servicing getting worse. There will be fewer and fewer independents in the market and the big branded companies will be charging more and more for servicing. It seems to me that soon enough ownership of mechanical watches will becoming the equivalent of owning and running a classic car in the future, the preserve of the well off only.

    Does anyone see a brighter future?
    I don't think there has ever been a post on this forum that I've ever disagreed with more. Mechanical watches are art, art is part of and always will be part of human life. It will never die only the size of the appreciation will change.

  41. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by gary1064 View Post
    Don't even go there! Cable threads inevitably turn into cable wars and then run and run ad nauseam. People have been banned! :)

    A better analogy is the cartridge (stylus) since like servicing this is a recurring cost. High end carts can be many £K and they wear out FFS !!!
    But even they can be serviced (retipped) for a few hundred...

  42. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by CVByrne View Post
    I don't think there has ever been a post on this forum that I've ever disagreed with more. Mechanical watches are art, art is part of and always will be part of human life. It will never die only the size of the appreciation will change.
    I get what you are saying and agree, except for the art part.
    Watches, or in fact anything that has a purpose other than existing for its own sake cannot be art.
    Artistic, beautiful, pleasing to the eye and mind, yes, but art no.

  43. #43
    Quote Originally Posted by nunya View Post
    I get what you are saying and agree, except for the art part.
    Watches, or in fact anything that has a purpose other than existing for its own sake cannot be art.
    Artistic, beautiful, pleasing to the eye and mind, yes, but art no.
    Not actually untrue, as you have, rightly, used the "for its own sake" definition. However, to my eye, there are elements of many watches that are crafted the way they are purely for aesthetic merit - and are certainly "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination" - even if the watches are not, in purpose, art - they contain art and have been worked on by artists - good enough for me.
    Man jewellery with a bonus feature of being able to tell the time.

  44. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by in_denial View Post
    But even they can be serviced (retipped) for a few hundred...
    Cable wars, cartridge retips, vinyl, valve amps; the audio hobbyist needs no lessons in how to turn a minor disagreement into a raging dispute. But you could see mechanical watches as a bit like records. Obsolete, but greatly loved by a small but influential section of consumers. The vinyl LP will be around when CDs are gone, mechanical watches will be around when the current smart-watch is as dead as the Sinclair C5.
    Call it nostalgia, love of craftsmanship, a desire to be 'cool'; the mechanical watch is here to stay. Probably with smaller sales, but that's survivable. They are just nice things!
    Mind you, i'm also developing a soft spot towards quartz; a bit like an unloved pet.

  45. #45
    Master Alansmithee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marcus fenix View Post
    £300 on a new smart watch every 2 years and soon a mechanical watch won't look quite so silly...
    But given what we know about consumer electronics with in a few years the mainstream punter will be wearing a £50 smart watch not a £300.

  46. #46
    I've argued that there will be a continued demand for, and interest in mechanical watches, but there's perhaps another question; is there a demand or taste for NEW mechanical watches going forward. If there's anything innovative in either design or function happening, I'm not recognising it. Where you can look at a new car and say "that does stuff better than the one I've got", I'm not sure you can say the same for watches. And there doesn't seem to be any aesthetic improvement either. In fact quite the reverse to my eye. Given a watch can last a lifetime and beyond, maybe most of the mechanical watches we want and need already exist?

  47. #47
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    I think it will be fine. People's tastes change as they age and things like craftsmanship matter more. There will always be people who want to buy nice cars, antiques, high end audio systems and fine watches. As someone said, if you only wanted a watch to tell the time you could use a phone or a cheap quartz. Yet Rolex alone still happily shift a million watches a year.

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  48. #48
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    Hi tech has a massively short life before obsolescence.
    So smartwatches may well become as expensive a hobby as a decent mechanical.
    Most wrist-worn tech is too small to do anything useful other than notify, and many phones have got significantly larger than they previously were.
    Also, there is the heirloom, status symbol, exclusivity and fashion item and man-jewellery apects to a watch, most motably to mechanical ones, not smart ones.
    As well as the aspects that people like us go on about, movements, heritage, design etc.
    I think the future is assured for mechanicals.
    Perhaps not for every day and every thing.
    But a future, why not?
    Just look at the plethora of bright young things starting their own boutique watch brands.
    It's not all old fogies.
    D

  49. #49
    I see watches like pieces of art and I appreciate the craftsmanship in horology. In that sense, I can't see it ever going away.
    I am not looking for something that just shows the time, I'm looking for something mechanical and beautifully decorated with a rich history.

  50. #50
    Quote Originally Posted by PhiloStan View Post
    I see watches like pieces of art and I appreciate the craftsmanship in horology. In that sense, I can't see it ever going away.
    I am not looking for something that just shows the time, I'm looking for something mechanical and beautifully decorated with a rich history.
    It would have been much easier to say that you are an Invicta fan:-)

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