Technology is an ever-evolving process, revealing one marvel after another. One such epochal moment was the introduction of quartz watches in the 1970s, which seemed to spell doom for the mechanical watch industry. But the luxury watch segment prevailed and continues to do so even with the encroachment of the smart watch and even smart phones. Smart watches and traditional watches may belong to the same product category, share a similar design style and a place on the wrist, but their audiences are as different as chalk and cheese.
The evolutionary journey of the time-piece has too many major breakthroughs to recount here. That said, the primordial gesture in the horology school of thought is the manually wound function. The pocket watch, the table clock, the enamelled carriage clock and the affable wristwatch, they all had to be manually wound to function. And though it involved a complicated process, when wound, the precision was impeccable. The thought and actualisation of the mechanism validated man’s capability to build and construct on an almost cellular atomic level. The concise dimensions of the wristwatch made it challenging, yet the feat was accomplished. Thereafter, inventions such as quartz and automatic movements accentuated the mechanical aspect of measuring time. Quartz crusaded for a battery operation that resulted with timepieces becoming more of a mass product, while the automatic movement relied on the wearer’s hand movement and utilised the generated kinetic energy to trigger the wristwatch’s functionality. Currently, with the digital revolution at its zenith, the wristwatch has shapeshifted into various entities, from tracing the number of calories burnt to answering a phone call, it can now all be done through a wristwatch.
Nonetheless, the most discerning watch collectors and experts deem that the most desirable of the lot is the manually wound wristwatch. This was also the culmination of various research activities that AstaGuru undertook prior to conducting our debut standalone ‘Exceptional Timepieces’ auction in 2018. An auction statistic backs the thought-the world record for the most expensive wristwatch sold so far in an auction was a manual movement Rolex Daytona that originally belonged to Hollywood icon Paul Newman. This wristwatch, dated 1968, was gifted to the actor by his wife Joanne Woodward. It was put up for auction in 2017 in New York and fetched a selling price of $17.8 million (the figure includes the auction house’s margin/ buyer’s premium). Personally, I agree with the prevalent sentiment that manual movement supersedes auto-powered movement; the reasons being that the former signifies a heightened degree of human craftsmanship. Manually winding the wristwatch instigates a wide array of functions that are enthralling; it is also a more immersive process as well. Furthermore, in today’s fast-paced life, the exercise of manually winding one’s watch can be almost meditative. Another imperative is that they are not mass produced and are therefore extremely scarce and sought after. Even visually, manual winding wristwatches are more appealing since they are slender, as opposed to most automatic watches which tend to be heftier on the wrist.
Apart from the exclusivity aspect, the notion of the physical process makes the manually wound wristwatch more humane in comparison with its successors. Finally, the manual watch surpasses the automatic version because it retains within its core a giant leap, the very leap that catapulted our race to a higher dimension, wherewith we were bound in time and space, synchronised and in unison. This aspect of time is of utmost relevance; one of the most validating factors to this is the ‘10,000-year clock’ that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has commissioned. The clock, being constructed so as to work for 10 millennia, is intended as an edifice to the legacy of our race. The crux of the matter is this-reality, as we can hold on to, dictates that time will narrate our tale. In that sense, the manual wristwatch perhaps best represents our ongoing journey.
-The writer is CEO of AstaGuru.com, Tushar Sethi.