I bought my stainless steel Apple Watch the first day that it was available. I was incredibly excited about it; a big new splashy technology platform from Apple! Fitness! Apps! A digital crown! What’s not to like?
Sadly, this honeymoon phase didn’t last very long.
While I was enamored by the gorgeous hardware design, I found myself frustrated by a battery that needed charging every day, toothless third-party apps, and a fitness data regime that centred around me pacing up and down my hallway hourly, swinging my arm around.
These flaws aside, there was one silly thing that I really enjoyed about the watch – the date and time! This revolutionary watch feature (along with my work calendar) became incredibly useful to me.
Looking back, this was the major accomplishment of my Apple Watch in 2015. It trained my stupid monkey brain to finally look down at my wrist for the time.
Speaking of, you know what is (still) terrifically unreliable on the Apple Watch? Yeah, checking the time. You do a subtle wrist turn. Nothing. You try again. Nope. Before long, you’re snapping your wrist up like a French mime waiting for an imaginary bus.
It’s the Onion article that writes itself: Guy With A Smartwatch Flamboyantly Checks The Time, Accidently Elbows Innocent Bystander Child In The Face.
The sad conclusion was that my favourite feature of this product made me feel like a dill every time I used it in public. So I never wanted to use it.
It was around this time that I started to look around for alternatives.
By coincidence, around the same time, Kevin Rose (remember him? the former CEO of Digg?) had left his weirdo-startup North Technologies to become the newly-minted CEO of an up and coming watch blog called Hodinkee. Not a smartwatch blog, but a traditional mechanical watch-oriented blog.
I found this quite interesting, why would a very technologically-oriented person choose to fixate on what I had always considered an antiquated piece of medieval wrist jewelry? What’s going on there?
Spurred on, this started my journey of digging deeper into traditional watches.
If you’re currently looking around as a watch rookie, perhaps you’ll find some of these sites I used useful.
Obviously, I enjoy reading Hodinkee. Even though 95% of what they write about is outrageously out of my price range, I still liked seeing what’s was around. There’s also Watchville, A Blog To Watch, Worn & Wound and Watch Snob. All excellent resources for newcomers and pros alike.
For buying, I found the subreddit /r/watches immensely helpful. They have a watch FAQ, a brand guide, and a buying guide that I found very useful starting out. There I found a lot of like-minded folks seeking advice about affordable starter mechanical watches. Lengthy comment threads about brands, styles, and size were like gold to me.
Eventually, I picked up a Seiko SARB065, aka the “Cocktail Time” watch. It’s a lovely 40mm watch with a sun-burst dial, a Seiko mechanical self-winding movement, has a date complication, and comes with a deployant leather strap. I picked mine up from Massdrop for just over USD $300. It’s brilliant.
From a practical standpoint, I think it’s quite easy to explain why I ended up gravitating toward a mechanical watch. Out of the three things I liked the most about the Apple Watch (time, date and calendar) I can do two of them with the mechanical watch, which runs forever, never buzzes, and looks fantastic on your wrist.
As popular Apple blogger Marco Arment said recently, one of the reasons I became enamoured was because a traditional watch is strikingly anti-gadget. It’s not buggy. It can’t restart. There are no sync issues. No tap targets. No loading spinner. As long as I keep wearing it, I never have to charge it.
As I look around me, at a constellation of other ‘smart’ devices, that’s a very appealing quality to me. Especially for a device I strap onto my wrist every day.
I feel like I’m just getting started. Maybe in a few years I’ll pick up a NOMOS. When they make one, I’ll take a Tangomat 38 Datum with the new DUW 3001 movement and a crystal back, please.
So, I guess the question I’m left with — are mechanical watches some kind of analogue hipster fad? Is this the equivalent of vinyl records for your wrist?
Well. Maybe…? I don’t know. Regardless, I do like the idea of a gadget that’s timeless. It won’t get any better (or worse) one year, ten years, or even twenty years from now.
It strikes me that a mechanical watch isn’t like a phone, or a tablet, or even a Fitbit. It’s more like a sculpture, or a nice piece of furniture. It’s made with care, and precision, and it’s designed to be a piece of wearable art.
I think the Apple Watch is not a piece of art. It’s cool, but it’s a device. It will eventually date, and become obsolete, and you’ll throw it in a drawer and forget about it.
For now, I think I’ve got enough of those kind of gadgets.
Time for something new.