By any logical measure, the idea of a traditional timepiece in 2017 is completely pointless.
In an age when time is displayed everywhere, from our cell phones, to our cars and computers, the concept of a mechanical device dedicated solely to timekeeping is antiquated. If the wristwatch were invented today, it would have no place in our modern world.
Yet watchmaking today is thriving. Why is that? How has haute horologerie become such an integral part of our lives?
To give a simple answer to a not-so-simple question, watches are extremely human machines.
Time is the sea upon which we sail, and the measure by which we define our existence. Without time, life is meaningless. The symbols of the time surround us. Birthdays commemorate another year of life, diplomas certify time spent in our studies, and in the end, funerals mark time spent on earth. A watch is another symbol of time, but the full reason for their continued popularity isn’t quite so trite.
The Pulse of Life
Watches are human in more ways than one. The human body (and all living things) rarely stops and starts. Living things don’t click over silently in one-minute increments, only to return to immobility like electronics do. Instead, we pulse. We flow, rhythmically ebbing and flowing in a symphony of processes.
A mechanical watch movement is much the same. The escapement throbs back and forth, smoothly driving a congeries of gears, propelled by a release of mechanical tension like the contraction and extension of muscle tissue. We describe the frequency of a watch’s pulse in beats, just like the human heart.
It is no accident that watch movement is a pulsing mechanical heart. We may not always understand this consciously, but we’re born with an innate affinity to this pulse. One of the ways to soothe a restless baby to sleep is to wrap a ticking watch in with its swaddling. The baby is comforted to sleep because, at a primal level, it senses this as another heartbeat.
Like human beings, watches are more than a collection of physical processes. We are expressive animals, displaying our emotions and personalities in everything we wear. Timepieces are no exception to this. Everyone finds their own hobby that defines them best. I came to watchmaking through my passion for cars. For me, that’s always been vintage racing chronographs and design-focused efforts like Seiko’s ‘60s and ‘70s “Grammar of Design” era. There’s an entire world of expression out there, and once you dive in you’re sure to find something that resonates with you.
Watchmaking, like the human race, is anything but stagnant. It’s a growing, constantly evolving art form, with advances in design, technology, and craftsmanship that constantly pushing the frontier, defining eras of the culture along the way.