Some Musings on the Future Desirability of Mechanical Timepieces

Nov 12, 2019,18:01 PM
 

My dad collected grandfather clocks. He moved to England in the early 1960s and over the next fifteen years or so amassed a collection of forty-something fully operational and striking grandfather clocks. Had he sold them when he retired to The States in the early 1990s, he would have turned a nice profit on his investment. Alas, he did not, and when he died last year and my mother downsized to a condo, we ended up sending thirty of them to auction. They yielded pennies on my dad’s estimates and I’m glad he was not there to see it. The reason is simple, the generation who love grandfather clocks is my dad’s and their numbers fall by the day. As demand decreases so does price and today many view grandfather clocks as just another form of unwanted brown furniture.


And so this brings me to mechanical timepieces. I’m guessing here, but I would wager that most folks who post on this site belong to the Baby Boomer or Gen X generations. In other words, most of us here were born before 1979. We are unique in that we are the last generations of Digital Immigrants. That is, we remember a time before email, text, the internet, social media, iPhones, 24/7 connectivity and technological advances such as electric cars. We will always have a special place in our hearts for analog and mechanical devices as they harken to our youth. But what of the generations who follow us? The Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z are Digital Natives and have never known a world without the advanced technology of the past few decades. Will someone who is born today and grows up entirely in a family with electric and/or self-driving cars ever appreciate or want to own a vehicle with a V12 combustion engine? Maybe I’m wrong and maybe today’s boys will grow up to be adult men who love their mechanical baubles every bit as much as we do. But I’m cautious as I believe every technology has its time. And so it makes me wonder what the world’s general interest in mechanical timepieces will be thirty years from now? Will it still be a passion shared by many or are mechanical timepieces destined to go the way of grandfather clocks and die a slow and silent death as those who truly love them pass on and are not replaced by those who follow? Only time will tell.

NickO



This message has been edited by ChristianDK on 2019-11-15 00:24:58

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Very interesting observation. Have also been thinking about this over the past few weeks.

 
 By: Euroasianstar : November 12th, 2019-19:11
Whilst the wristwatch seems to have transcended generations and multiple technological disruptions, I can surely see the likelihood of the scenario you paint. Mentally my answer has been to maybe limit the number of pieces I leave behind, to go for qualit... 

I think a lot of us are innately interested in mechanical things

 
 By: nwk00 : November 12th, 2019-19:31
to see them in operation is very satisfying. I suspect this has to do with the fact we are also analog creatures. I don't believe this will disappear. Clocks are on the decline because it's really difficult to service them, whether in terms of finding qua... 

I have been thinking about this a lot the past couple of years..

 
 By: Echi : November 12th, 2019-20:14
I was doing a mental timeline on how long these watches will stay on people's wrists. My daughter isn't into watches. She likes the Reverso but told me that she's not really into it like how I was. The way she said it kind of summed up everything that I w... 

Amen. [nt]

 
 By: VMM : November 13th, 2019-00:36

As long as auction houses keep showing cars and watches are a new asset class...

 
 By: I_am_Clueless : November 12th, 2019-21:56
And great “investment” potential, the mechanical engines and watches should still exist but not for its original purpose of telling time. Now, watches are an accessory, also for some is a way of showing “how successful I am”, just like many posts saying w... 

Just one metric...

 
 By: pplater : November 12th, 2019-21:58
Hey Nick! Respectfully, your analysis is spot on - but as far as it goes. Here’s an alternate perspective. If there were only one dichotomy at play then the future for mechanical timepieces - as with clocks - might indeed be grim. But is it as simple as ‘... 

Again another great read !

 
 By: Mr.Gatsby : November 13th, 2019-08:16
I’m reading this post backwards 😂

You make some good points oh mighty nun

 
 By: NickO : November 14th, 2019-14:18
But I do take exception to your wag: while the escalator has not obsolesced the stairs, I do believe digital media has taken a huge chunk out of print media (books, magazines and newspapers). And that’s the point, I’m not sure (to use the great example so... 

Are They Really Worth It?

 
 By: bradleg : November 12th, 2019-22:23
I have thought about this subject often, The retainability, the servicing and maintenance cost of mechanical watches - are they really worth it. Watches have no intrinsic value as with any other personal property. They are worth only what someone will pay... 

I see your point very well, Nick, but I am quite confident in the fact that there will always be a place for mechanical beauties ( cars or / and watches and / or paintings ).

 
 By: amanico : November 12th, 2019-22:34
At the point to own several as we do, I don't know, though. Pocket watches are old fashioned, desirable, but not practical. Wristwatches are also an element of style and of our personality. I don't see them threatened. Young people from today or tomorrow ... 

It is a very thought provoking post...

 
 By: KMII : November 13th, 2019-00:17
And I have to say that in many ways I fully follow your reasoning (including having a father into grandfather clocks, of which definitely not all will survive him by much). Some issues have been raised in response that are also relevant. An interest in th... 

A very thought provoking post and contributions, dear friends - we are indeed in a wave of the 3rd Industrial Revoloution

 
 By: nomadgiles : November 13th, 2019-02:29
All before it will indeed look antiquated and old hat to the next generation as the pace of human evolution of available tools - for interaction with others & the world around us - continues at an ever increasing pace. I remember as a boy going to Tractio... 

Beautifully written NT. [nt]

 
 By: Mr.Gatsby : November 13th, 2019-08:12

Why, thank you Mr Gatsby :-) [nt]

 
 By: nomadgiles : November 14th, 2019-01:05

Great post

 
 By: Mr.Gatsby : November 13th, 2019-08:09
Very well written and definitely thought provoking. Enjoyed reading the numerous responses as well that are well articulated. The one thing fundamentally different between a watch and a grandfather clock is that one would always relate better to the forme... 

I think

 
 By: watch-er : November 13th, 2019-08:52
interest will wane over time.

Marketing will make the difference...

 
 By: jmpTT : November 13th, 2019-09:45
One key difference between grandfather clocks and mechanical watches would be the amount of money spent on marketing new mechanical watches. I’ve never seen an ad for a new grandfather clock in my life (that I can recall). Creating social desirability thr... 

This was a point I wanted to highlight too. Marketing and $$$

 
 By: Jay (Eire) : November 16th, 2019-19:38
The outcome hinges at least in some part on the vast sums of money Rolex, Patek, Omega/Swatch, Cartier/Richemont will spend on selling luxury. Would you back those horses to win?

Like most everyone else who posted here, I compliment you on raising a thought-provoking topic.

 
 By: DruidPadj : November 14th, 2019-05:37
Rather than give you my views on the subject and my reasoning, let me give you an anecdote. I have two daughters. One has worn a watch that was gift from a boyfriend a total of one day. The watch is still somewhere in our house, but she couldn't tell you ... 

+1

 
 By: maverickmahesh : November 14th, 2019-10:38
true Tony...actually the first thing i see when i meet a person is what is on his wrist ;-)

NickO...i'm optimistic that like bicycles from 1817s - wrist watches are still going to be relevant at least for next generations...

 
 By: maverickmahesh : November 14th, 2019-10:37
i'm quite positive not just because i see the interest of my son who is 9 now.... but also i see hints and these are serious efforts from young watchmakers ! may be one of them is building the next Calatrava or the Royal Oak - to be part of the future hol...  

Thanks Mahesh, I agree with you that there will always be skilled artisan watchmakers making wonderful hand-made pieces

 
 By: NickO : November 14th, 2019-14:02
And a sophisticated and cognizant audience of collectors to appreciate those watches. But it’s not the independent watchmaker making 100 pieces a year I’m worried about - it’s the global demand to satisfy a broader industry of mechanical watch manufacture... 

If the youngest generation only wants experiences not things, and uses...

 
 By: Ronald Held : November 14th, 2019-11:18
A cell phone for time, that seems not promising. Even if they wear a smartwatch, that still doesn't bode well. Further if smartwatches overwhelm the under USD 1K market, that is another strike against mechanicals.

That’s an astute set of observations and I agree with you 100%

 
 By: NickO : November 14th, 2019-13:57
By the way, in the thirteen or so years you and I have been floating around this place, I’m pretty sure that’s the longest post from you I’ve ever seen. I’m honored, Ronald 😀 NickO

Pithy; concise; precise, perhaps...

 
 By: pplater : November 16th, 2019-22:20
...but rarely terse! Cheers, pplater.

Wow, I got the reclusive nun out of hiding (twice) AND a literary explosion from Ronald!

 
 By: NickO : November 17th, 2019-08:59
This may be my favorite thread I've ever started ...  

Here’s a hat trick for you...

 
 By: pplater : November 17th, 2019-15:33
See what happens when you say something sensible? A welcome throwback to different times. Keep it up! Cheers, pplater.

In So Cal, there are intersections . . .

 
 By: Dr No : November 14th, 2019-15:14
. . . with three gas stations. (Never seen one with four, but wouldn't be surprised by one, either.) I wonder what happens to the value of car collections when stations are fewer and farther between. Eventually, they will disappear altogether. Not in our ... 

I don't know the answer but here's some reasons why Mechanical/Automatic watches are very relevant today

 
 By: reintitan : November 14th, 2019-15:28
1. They are Green technology. No batteries to replace (good for the environment especially landfills and our water resources). No external energy required except for the action of your wrist or the winding action of your fingers so no extra energy infrast... 

Sometimes our enthusiam blinds us...

 
 By: onnomon : November 15th, 2019-10:26
This subject matter is worth musing, even if it has been discussed time and time again. Let us all check-in with ourselves about how we spend time and resources. Comparing wristwatches to grandfather clocks is not nearly as appropriate as comparing wristw... 

Great conversation Nick, thanks for starting it.

 
 By: Jay (Eire) : November 16th, 2019-20:03
As has already been pointed out the Roger Smiths and Gronefelds of this world are likely somewhat immune. For these special craftspeople and watchmakers there will likely always be a consumer. On the bigger, broader picture, I think much of this outcome w... 

Thoughtful post.

 
 By: Horo_Traveler : November 17th, 2019-18:25
I believe that a certain segment of social media driven "must have" pieces will do well like luxury handbags, as well as truly artisanal high horology (like art collection). One can project a brand or their own personality or sense of style from their wri...