Tempus fugit, aeternitas manet. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero
When we talk about certainty we’re told of only two. Death and taxes. This I refute. Cryogenics can suspend life with the potential to continue it in a time where unimaginable possibilities exist beyond the scope of death. Taxes are only certain for those of us poor enough not to be able to avoid paying them. However it is, in my opinion and that of a large part of the scientific community, certain that one second will indeed follow the one behind it by one second. These seconds collectively accumulate into minutes, hours, days, weeks and so on, you get the picture. Let’s call it, as most do, time. It is within the scope of our understanding and purchasing ability to follow this uninterruptible progress by possession of a timepiece. Back in antiquity we had devices reliant on the sun, some on sand and a whole host of other miscellaneous methods devised by budding horologists. But this isn’t a dissertation on the history of time. This is musing on the relevance and respect for contemporary wrist watches.
I’ve always had a love of wrist watches. As a chap in my early twenties I would always have three or four on the go, regularly switching them around depending on my mood or choice of fashion. Back in the early seventies a new breed in timekeeping was emerging. The arrival of LED (light emitting diode) watches was upon us although their ascendancy was to be brief, disappearing before they really got going. They were to be replaced by the much more visible LCD screens (liquid crystal display). LCD technology was very new and exciting and of course this was reflected in the price. However with such popularity the price was sure to drop. Sure enough technology trickled down and the ordinary man in the street was gifted the opportunity to take advantage of this electronic wizardry. Not long after this the whole Swatch gig of the 1980’s (and still going strong now) took off which I, like so many others since, succumbed to.
These early dalliances with wrist bearing clocks planted seeds which, now that some of my income has become slightly more disposable, have started to germinate. I currently have a modest collection of around twenty and like to claim that I have an interest in watches. As a result I enjoy reading about new developments, marvel at the history, fantasise over what I’ll never be able to afford, save spare cash for future acquisitions within my budget and cosset and care for the ones I’m already lucky enough to own. I must state here and now that I’m not a watch snob but they do exist and this is sad. It’s sad because being a snob of any kind is a form of myopia and this prevents people from experiencing the many new things which come into existence outside of their view of acceptability. This came up recently in a topic on one of the forums which I regularly look at. A member had asked a perfectly reasonable question about a watch series that had been offered in various combinations of face colour, strap and movement. The bone of contention was the movement. To a certain type of collector choosing a quartz movement was not an option to be considered. A real watch should, it is believed by some, have a beating heart and not a pacemaker. This made me consider my own collection. It was true. Most of my collection had mechanical movements. I had chosen them with this detail being a prerequisite. Why? Because a real watch should have a mechanical movement just like they always had. But despite my resolve something was fizzing away deep within mental recesses. While reading the exchanges on this particular thread it occurred to me that I knew little about this battery-powered upstart which had so blatantly infiltrated the horological world. I knew the digital watches were just circuit boards but I felt sure this wasn’t the case for analogue. In essence I didn’t know. I couldn’t argue what I didn’t understand and I believe the best way to argue anything is to be armed with all the information of both sides so I read. I read about Seiko and the Japanese’s development of a battery powered motor that would keep better time. I read about the Swiss’s response to this new kid on the block with a battery powered motor of their own. On how Swatch had become the Phoenix rising from of ETA’s ashes by manufacturing Swiss Quartz watches in every colour way imaginable. It was the ultimate fashion accessory, functional, colourful and collectible and at a price attractive to the customer. The Quartz motor had made watches something that anyone could own. It fascinated me and humbled me at the same time to see how sublimely ingenious it was. What finally shredded any lingering doubt I may have had skulking around in my cranial recess was watching a man on YouTube take apart a Maurice Lacroix quartz movement and service it.
Wow. At what point did we become so clever, so superior that we could talk so demeaningly and deridingly about such a clever and intricate piece of engineering. If I lived for a thousand years I could never have conceived of something so clever. I had spent years standing in judgement based on the false premise that the only watches worth coveting should be mechanical and looking down my nose at this supposed poor relation in horology’s history. Well I know when I’m wrong and not too proud to admit it. I accept that there are poor quality quartz movements out there in the same way there are poor quality mechanical movements but a quality quartz movement is truly a thing of beauty.
In conclusion I return to my analogy of the beating heart and the pacemaker. Plenty of people have pacemakers fitted, a power source to keep the heart beating. Does this make them less of a person. Do we treat them disdainfully because that fundamental function of that vital organ has been replaced by technology? Do we sneer at their capitulation to modern electronics? Of course not. Our judgement is based on the very many characteristics that make the whole and the wristwatch that adorns our arm should be no different.