The future of the wristwatch

The commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch shows a string of “science fiction watches” through history. In a way, the clip illustrates that for almost a century, people have expected future watches to become dramatically different. But how much has really changed?


Roamer watch from the late 1920's 400px

Roamer wristwatch from the 1920’s


Until the early 20th century, “real men” carried their watches in their vest pockets, usually on a chain. Whereas women wore theirs like an armband. This changed during the First World War.

World War 1

In the trenches of WW1, soldiers started wearing their watches on their wrist, in plain view. In order to synchronize a military action, it’s crucial that soldiers know the time. And to execute this action, it’s rather useful that they don’t first put down their guns to fish their watch out of a pocket…

So after WW1 civilian watches left the vest pockets too. Nobody doubted the masculinity of the survivors of the Great War. And if they wore their watches on the wrist, then that was how real men wore them.

Tradition rules

The similarities between current and early wristwatches are remarkable. Sure, electronic watches made their entrance in the 60’s, and of course there are the digital displays, but most of the expensive watches are still old-school.

Rolex, Omega and other market leaders usually power their watches with “old-fashioned” automatic clockworks that are some 10-20 seconds slow per day. And after a 30-day month, you need to manually set the date on the 1st, because as far as the watch can figure out, the next day is the 31st.

Polar 400px

Polar “watch” mounted on bike

The future

Yes, watches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the Pebble or Polar’s sports watches will gain importance. But are they really watches? I use a Polar when I cycle, and I don’t even wear it around my wrist, it’s mounted as a dashboard that tells me my heart rate, speed, distance, etc. Same thing is true for the Galaxy Gear; it’s an extension of your phone. It’s a gadget.

So expect real wristwatches to stay pretty true to their century-old look. For most men, they’re barely timepieces anymore, They’re fashion accessories. We wear them because we like their look. If we want to know the exact time, we already have our phones.

What if…

Don’t be surprised if pocketwatches make a comeback. It could be any day now that a style-guru decides that they are hot. The pocketwatch might just be the missing element that the hanging crotch with grandpa beard & hat-look still needs.

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