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Is a Smartwatch Really a Watch?

Keith Lehman 11/18/16

Part 1

 

Since installing the smartwatch display here at the National Watch and Clock Museum the question, “Is a smartwatch really a watch?” began to float around. At first the question seemed like an inside joke. After all, here at the Museum we are surrounded by some of the greatest mechanical timepieces in the world, but there were already differences of opinion. As it grew more into a discussion, it became clear that it was a question worth asking outside the Museum’s walls.

 

As an ongoing WatchNews series, the question of whether a smartwatch is really a watch will be answered by watchmakers, collectors, enthusiasts, and industry experts.

 

My personal take on this question? Yes, a smartwatch is, in fact, a watch. Mainstream dictionaries do not definitively describe a smartwatch as a watch, but it does perform functions of and beyond those of what we typically think a watch does. Developments in technology have continuously challenged what we call just about everything. An electric guitar is still a guitar even though advancements in technology made the original guitar an acoustic guitar. I imagine the same question arose when the electric and quartz watches came out and I can only imagine the din when LCD displays hit the market.

 

I will also argue that the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch, meaning that it currently has no real competition. But that is a different discussion for another time.

Noel Poirier, director of the National Watch and Clock Museum, had a different take on the matter:

 

  • “Simply calling something a watch does not make it so. The simple definition of a watch is 'a small timepiece worn typically on a strap on one’s wrist'. I would add also though that a watch is purpose built to tell the user the time. That is its role; it’s what it was built or manufactured to do.
  •  
  • “Were we to extend the name ‘watch’ to any object that has the ability to tell you the time, we’d have to include your microwave, your car, and the thermostat in your home. All of these have the ability to tell you what time it is. They were not, however, built to do so. A car is built to take you from point A to point B; simply putting a means to tell time into the design does not make it a timepiece.
  •  
  • “So it is with smartwatches, designed to allow the user to interface with their phone and the world using a variety of applications. The fact that one of those applications has the ability to tell its wearer what time it is does not make it a watch.”

Roland Murphy, watchmaker and founder of RGM Watch Company gave us his insights:

 

  • “Yes, I think a smartwatch is a watch, but it is also more than that. It is a watch with a short life-span as advancements in technology will make it obsolete very quickly like a mobile phone and you will need the next generation.
  •  
  • “I also think these smartwatches are getting younger people used to wearing a watch. They used their phone for a time, but now they are wearing a smartwatch on their wrist. As they get older they will also want a quality watch to wear on occasions and keep long term besides their smartwatch.”

Adam Harris, guest wristwatch curator and NAWCC instructor of the courses “Luxury or Lie” and
“Time is Money,” also provided his thoughts on the topic:

 

  • “Putting aside personal preferences or emotions, the definition of a watch from Webster’s dictionary is: ‘a device that shows what time it is and that you wear on your wrist or carry in a pocket.’ Maybe not a great definition, as a sundial is also a device that shows what time it is. In comparison to a sundial, maybe the pocket watch should be termed ‘smart pocket watch’ and a wristwatch a highly complex smartwatch.
  •  
  • “The fact remains, there is nothing in a smartwatch as far as telling the time is concerned that watches [mechanical timepieces] could not perform since the 1700s. Indeed, at least a wristwatch can power itself by self-winding, something no smartwatch can do!
  •  
  • “Yes, a smartwatch is surely a watch. It can perform all the functions a mechanical watch can do, additionally but nothing to do with horology. It can perform other functions like track a heartbeat or messaging but that is not horology.
  •  
  • “Let’s be honest, the term ‘smartwatch’ is a joke. It’s really a miniaturized computer on your wrist; its most humble feature is telling the time.”
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  • “If the above was untrue then why do people who do not wear a wristwatch on the basis they have an iPhone buy a smartwatch? They buy one for the additional gadgets, not to tell the time.”
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As you can see there is a wide range of opinions on this matter. Look forward to future posts about this surprisingly engaging topic.

 

What do you think? Is a smartwatch really a watch? If you’d like to share your thoughts email watch_editor@nawcc.org. We’d be happy to hear from you.

Provenance, Provenance, Provenance

Adam Harris 11/16/16

I could have named this thread ”Always Expect the Unexpected” or “In Horology Strange Things Happen.” But remembering the buying property adage “Location, Location, Location,” I decided that in horology it’s “Provenance, Provenance, Provenance.”

 

But where is this leading? Years ago while in Switzerland, I took time (as always) to visit my mentor and horologist Mme Cinette Robert. It is always a great pleasure to meet and talk with her, and this time was no exception.

 

As always, I showed her my latest acquisitions since our last meeting. I have gathered a lot of ephemera on the beginning of the wristwatch, including some original pictures from the Boer War (1899-1901) with officers wearing wristwatches.

 

I then showed her my new acquisitions of watches from World War I—mainly American timepieces with offset crowns and Depollier cases—with supporting advertisements/ephemera from the likes of Depollier and Elgin.

After handling and discussing these articles and timepieces, Cinette said, ”I think I have a watch like that Depollier.” I was surprised, because Mme Roberts’ collection is mainly (from what I have seen) Swiss timepieces.  She retrieved a little box, which she duly opened and took out a small piece of paper that reads:


“This Waltham wrist watch was given to me while I was in training at Camp Johnson, Jacksonville, Fla. Dec 1917 to March 1918 when we were first sent to France. First one was lost or stolen from the mail; insured, they sent me a second one.” (signed) EPN

 

Cinette then handed me the box. Inside was a mint condition silver Waltham Depollier cased KHAKI’ wristwatch—100% original with KHAKI strap and box—not any box, but the original box to this timepiece, as can be seen from both the watch serial number and the Depollier case number!

 

The box and Waltham movement, with serial number 20394563 dates it to 1915. Center, 3rd , 4th, and escape wheel are gold or gold on brass. The box and Depollier silver case is marked Depollier and Son – Sterling. S/No:425820

 

Wow!

Here we have a 1915 Waltham Depollier wristwatch in its original box with the provenance of the U.S. soldier who wore it in the trenches in France! Be honest. How many so-called “Trench Watches” ever got within 10,000 miles of France?

 

All that plus the note from the original owner! Wow! We can learn to always expect the unexpected, in horology strange things happen, and provenance, provenance, provenance!

 

You decide. All I know is this is an amazing find—a very early (1915) American-made Waltham wristwatch, with an early patented (1912) Depollier case.

 

I asked Mme Robert where she got this “Fantastic Find.” It seems Dr. Adolf L. Benz bought this watch in about 1980 in the United States. Mme Robert purchased it from him, and it sat in Switzerland for the past 33 years, and now it is mine!”

 

Acknowledgment: Mme Cinette Robert

Basic Watch Components

Vortic Watch Co. 11/15/16

The following is a segment pulled with permission from Vortic Watch’s Co. blog that describes basic watch components and wristwatch types. Today we’ll look at the basic external components of a watch.

 

(A) Crown - This is the knob used to set and wind a watch. It is located at 3 o’clock on a normal watch, but it is most often at 12 o’clock on Vortic’s watches because they are powered by pocket watch movements.

 

(B) Lugs - Lugs come in many shapes and sizes, but they are always what the strap is attached to on the case.

 

(C) Case - The case houses the watch mechanism and is almost always made from metal. Vortic’s watch cases are 3D printed from metal.

 

(D) Dial - The face of the watch. This is the physical piece that we see from the front of the watch, usually having numerals or markers that the hands point to.

 

(E) Crystal - A watch crystal is the glass on the front or back of the watch that allows us to see inside the case. All of Vortic’s watches have Gorilla Glass crystals, but most watch crystals are made from mineral glass or sapphire.

 

(F) Hands - Watch hands point to features on the dial. They come in many shapes, sizes, and materials.

 

(G) Sub-Seconds Dial or Small Seconds - Many mechanical watches have a small subdial for the second hand. This is referred to as a "sub-seconds" dial or "small seconds" by many. These subdials can be located anywhere on the main dial, but Vortic’s sub-seconds dials are almost always at 6 o'clock.

 

(H) Strap - The band holds the watchcase to your wrist.

 

(I) Movement - This is the mechanism that powers the watch and regulates time.

Supermoon Surprise

Keith Lehman 11/14/16

Skeleton clock with orrery found at National Watch & Clock Museum.

As Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” In October I was one of three panelists at the meeting of the Horological Society of New York. I focused on early numerical counting systems and the influence the lunar calendar had on early civilizations. I read a lot about the moon as I prepared, but nowhere did I read about the phenomenon when the moon is closest to the earth.

 

Most commonly called a supermoon, it is also known as a beaver or frost moon. Because the moon travels around the earth in an ellipse, its distance from us varies. Today, the moon is nearest (perigree) to the earth and will appear brighter and bigger than any other time in the last 69 years. The fact that the moon is full is extra special for us lunar observers who won't enjoy this sight again until November 25, 2034.

Moonphase pocket watch found at National Watch & Clock Museum.

Hodinkee editor Jack Forster suggests that perhaps the moon's distance could somehow be displayed on a wristwatch. It is an interesting challenge to consider. How would a watchmaker tackle this problem? Because the moon travels in varying distances from the earth and has a closest (perigree) and farthest (apogee) point, perhaps the answer lies there. Certainly, the calculations could be translated into gears and wheels, but I think the variation of the moon distance also would be a challenge.

 

Moonphase chronographs and their operations are a popular topic in the horological world. Gear Patrol features a nice article on moonphase watches along with some of the most famous brands that make them, and Hodinkee discusses them in their Watch 101 section. Perhaps the distance between the moon and the earth is a "complication too far," but it’s still fun to think about the challenges that it may entail.

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