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From the Collection:
Nelsonic Donkey Kong Wristwatch Is Nothing Like the Real Thing—And That’s Okay

-Keith Lehman (PA) 2/17/17

I am a child of the ’80s. My first president was Ronald Reagan, my first favorite song was “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, and my first favorite pastime was playing video games. Many fond memories and friendships were forged to the clanking sound of quarters sliding down arcade coin slots and the furious tapping of home game control pads.

 

Among the pantheon of classic video games, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong is one of the greatest. That’s why I was so excited to see Nelsonic’s 1994 Donkey Kong wristwatch added to our novelty wristwatch display at the National Watch and Clock Museum. I borrowed the watch for the day, and it was a nostalgic trip back to the neverland of my childhood.

The game begins with a little jingle that is similar enough to the opening theme song of the game. Mario must navigate through something like the conveyor belt level of the original game. Donkey Kong looms on the top of the screen tossing down barrels for Mario to avoid. Points are achieved by jumping over barrels and grabbing the items on the screen and a roaming fireball and parasol for Mario to collect, but that’s it as far as similarities to the original game.

 

For instance, at the beginning of play you must swing on a horizontal pole bar and launch vertically into the air to acquire a hat. This hat allows you to climb up a ladder. Next you must grab arrows to move throughout the level and activate the conveyor belts. Pauline, the damsel in distress, that must be rescued in the original game is absent, along with the hammer used to smash hostile objects on the board.

 

Despite the lack of game authenticity, the watch is just fun with great artwork on the crystal and the case along with the red Nintendo logo printed on the strap. It’s also well made to fit comfortably on the wrist. It's not surprising that these watches are collectible, currently on eBay for around $100. The website gamewatchgusys.com showcases an impressive collection of watches if you’d like to have an idea of what other type of game wristwatches have been made over the years.

 

To watch the game in action, checkout the demo on gamewatchguys.com. If you want to learn more about the history of Donkey Kong, check out the podcast Retronauts and enjoy four episodes in its Donkey Kong archives.

Smartwatch Caste System Affects All of Us—Well… Most of Us.

-Keith Lehman (PA) 2/16/17

Last year in November I wrote in part 1 of our of our series, Is a Smartwatch Really a Watch?, that the Apple Watch currently had no real competition. I knew it would only be a matter of time before that statement would ring hollow, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

 

As the smartwatch market continues to gain momentum, Apple fans’ “smartwatch of choice” is and will be limited to which Apple Watch to choose from. Other brands, such as Fossel and Samsung, do offer limited support for the iPhone, but as updates to software to both iPhones and the watch operating systems progress, cross users are bound to be disappointed.

 

How could we have known that our choice in smartphones—a decision many of us made nearly a decade ago—would lead to our choice in smartwatches? For younger consumers, the decision of their parents affects their choice in wearable technology. It is almost as if there is a smartwatch caste system. Android users have many more options to choose from, but if they want an Apple Watch, they are left in the cold because watchOS 3 is not compatible with Android Phones.

 

As usual, it’s important for the consumer to be aware of his or her options. Hugh Langley takes an informative approach to choosing a smartwatch based on what phone the user owns in his article Apple Watch v Android Wear: The Battle for Smartwatch Supremacy on Wareable.com.

 

Online reviews are good ways to know if a particular smartwatch works for you. The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffery Fowler takes a look at some of the latest Android smartwatches in Smartwatches Grow Up. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier - Review | Everything You Need To Know! TeQreation takes a look at the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier which is considered a strong contender of the Apple Watch. Lastly, MW Technology’s review Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3 takes a side-by-side comparison of the two watches and discusses their pros and cons.

 

In his book The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche takes a brutal look at how rigid mind states limit spiritual progression and how we can escape from them to reach our true potential. Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice with smartwatches short of unbricking our phones.

The Real Reason(s) for the
Contracting Swiss Watch Market

-Keith Lehman (PA) 2/14/17

Certainty is the lubricant of all economic engines, and the Swiss watch industry is lacking because exports of Swiss watches have fallen since 2015. Some experts believe that sales in 2017 will bottom out but nothing is guaranteed; 2016 was a year of panic for the industry with midyear figures showing a 16.1 percent decline from the previous year and The Swatch Group suffering a more than 50 percent drop in sales; by the end of the year Swiss exports suffered a 9.8 percent decline in export sales overall.

 

Since 2000 Swiss exports have slowly declined, but why the dramatic swing in 2016? As Jack Forster describes in his Hodinkee article, “Mid-Year Swiss Watch Sales Results Show Industry Beset By ‘Perfect Storm”, many factors affected the market. Changing consumer tastes, the shrinking of consumer incomes, the rise of the smartwatch, and declining tourism are all factors. Another factor is the continuing crackdown of corruption in China. China is the fastest growing world consumer of luxury Swiss watches, and luxury gifts are commonly used as political bribes. Protectionism could also be a factor as new regulations require all watches labeled “Swiss Made” to have a Swiss-made movement and at least 60 percent of the manufacturing costs generated in Switzerland.

 

Despite all the gloom, the Swiss watch industry has proved that it can defy trends. In 1983 the Swiss watch market appeared doomed as inexpensive quartz movements from Asia flooded the market. More than 50 percent of watchmakers were out of work as Swiss manufacturers struggled to compete. In response the Société Générale de l’Horlogerie Suisse SA, ASUAG, was formed. Out of that union came the Swatch watch that saved the Swiss industry and firmly reseated it as true market competitors. Latest figures show the average price of a watch made is China is $7, whereas the average price of a Swiss watch is $749. Although it is shrinking, the continued demand for mechanical Swiss watches is an economical and technical conundrum and a masterstroke of marketing genius.

Part 2: Is a Smartwatch Really a Watch?

-Keith Lehman (PA) 2/13/17

Photo of Mr. Halimi Lacharlotte. Courtesy F.P. Journe.

A few months have passed since we last asked industry professionals if smartwatches are really watches. Since then the industry continues to boom and evolve with daily updates in our news feeds about the market’s latest and greatest and its winners and losers.

 

Whether you are in the smart, quartz, or mechanical watch market, it’s an uncertain and exciting time in the watch industry.

 

Last October, along with Jack Forster, editor of Hodinkee, I had the privilege to collaborate with Pierre Halimi Lacharlotte, general manager of Montres Journe America, presenting “The History of the Calendar,” a panel discussion presented by F.P. Journe and hosted by the New York Horological Society.

 

I asked Mr. Halimi Lacharlotte his thoughts on smartwatches, and he was happy to share his thoughts, which are bulleted into three categories.

 

  • Semantics: Dumb is the antonym of the word smart. Because there are no “dumb watches,” watches that do something other than tell time should have a different name. For argument’s sake, let's call these type of watches “watches plus.”
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  • Tradition: “Watches plus” are a fantastic tool, but like a hammer, it stays just that—a tool. When you buy a mechanical watch, there is a man behind the piece, not a machine producing electronic outputs. A little bit like art, you can have a fantastic reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica but owning it, seeing the original in person, makes an emotional connection. Technology does not replace or provide emotion. There is a reason why there are more museums being built now more than ever.
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  • Philosophical: Like watches with LED displays, a “watch plus” gives only a snapshot of what time it is now. On top of that snapshot, an analog watch with a circular display offers time in terms of past and future—a duration. A “watch plus,” much like a GPS, only gives your actual position, whereas an analog watch, like a map, gives you the position where you are traveling. This perception gives you depth.

 

Thank you, Mr. Halimi Lacharlotte, for sharing your thoughts.

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