Everyone needs one. Technology-based watches today tend to be overly priced and expensive. And yet publications today are stuffed with adverts for power watches – and the wooden watch industry is actually booming for many reasons such as eco-friendliness among others.
An ordinary, inexpensive watch by a relatively unknown manufacturer has recently racked up millions of sales in America and is now doing the same in the wooden watch markets. Its success has a lot to do with its design, craftsman ship, and the eco-friendly nature of the materials. Owning one of these puts you in the same club as the most powerful men in the world; and men like being members of clubs like that.
Wooden watches are big business these days. And the last five years have seen extraordinary growth in the sector. The wooden watch industry, for example, saw its exports grow from hundreds of millions in the 1990’s to today. All this despite the fact that the primary function of the watch – to tell the time – has been rendered pretty much “traditional” comparing it to the invention of the mobile phone and technology-based watches.
So why are we still buying them? Why do some of the most powerful men in the world still give wooden watches to their hosts on the occasion of state visits? Why are the most common items stolen from wealthy athletes, not sports cars, but watches? Why are the pages of men's magazines such as Esquire and GQ, or publications such as the Spectator and the New Yorker, festooned with glossy advertisements featuring A-list celebrities wearing watches that cost many thousands of dollars each?
It wasn't so long ago that your father would hand you a gold-plated watch on your 21st birthday and that would be that. It never crossed a man's mind that he might need to add another two or three by the time he hit 30. And it certainly never crossed his mind that when he reached 40 he might be grateful to receive a smart wooden box with different felt-lined compartments in which to keep his "collection" of watches. Today, many collections are wooden watches rather than plastics or metals, believe it or not.
The fact that men are still buying and cherishing quality timepieces is of great comfort to an industry that, in the early 1970s, thought its time, if you will excuse the pun, had come. The invention of the quartz watch (in analog or digital form) in 1967 might initially have been hailed a great technological achievement, but it wasn't long before it was also seen as the biggest challenge the traditional timepiece had faced since the wristwatch first became popular at the end of the first world war. The fact that a cheap Casio with a flashing LED time display was what every young hipster soon craved, coupled with the economic doldrums in which the world found itself in the 1970s, spelled disaster.
It took a few years of navel-gazing and re-evaluating what a watch was truly for before, in the mid-1980s, a few forceful and inventive characters in the industry came back with a design philosophy and marketing program that brought the sector back from the brink. These horological pioneers decided that watches would not merely be timekeepers, they would be mini-masterpieces that showcased extreme craftsmanship, represented tradition, incorporated technology and embraced innovation. They would effectively be a Savile Row suit, Ferrari sports car, Mayfair member's club and Nasa spaceship rolled into one package that could sit neatly on your wrist.
And despite their size, and passive presence, watches could even have a hint of sport, danger and adventure about them. It was 25 years ago, for example, that Tag Heuer signed a deal with the formula one McLaren team and suddenly its timepieces were associated with one of the world's most glamorous, high-octane sports. What man wouldn't want to have a little part of that?
The idea that technology would deal a fatal blow to the watch, simply hasn't panned out. Men now own mobile phones as well as, not instead of, their timepieces. Watches are one of the few items that a man can wear that he believes display true character, signal that he is a member of a particular club and indulge in a little dose of extravagance without, generally, drawing criticism. Watches are the acceptable face of male jewelry. A watch today, however, whether it’s rosewood and ebony and dual wheel automatic Ambila, is viewed as wholly acceptable and demonstrates environmental consciousness.
Savvy men and obsessed watch wearers point out that men's dress codes are quite limited. Men’s wardrobes consist mainly of suits, shirts, sweaters and jeans, so a watch is one of the few places that you can express your personality, or the way that you are feeling.
Men also point out that the only other item that men traditionally use to express themselves, or to show off with, is their car. But the flashy car is becoming less popular: not only are cars big, expensive, environmentally unsound, dangerous and over-the-top nowadays, but they have another major disadvantage compared to the watch: they are parked in the garage rather than being displayed where all can see them. A wooen watch is a Porsche that you can take to meetings – and it doesn't harm the planet either.
To take full advantage of all this, the wooden watch industry has done three things: one, made its creations technologically advanced and awe-inspiringly complicated in construction, ever more like a world-class sports car in fact; two, made sure that it continually introduces new models; three, spent a lot of money letting us know about them and the benefits to the natural environment as opposed to metal.
The technology aspect is, of course, crucial. Men are, intrinsically, nerdy; they love nothing more than an item that not only looks good but has myriad functions and a construction that will have taken a lot of craftsmen a lot of time.
The economy has also dictated a shift in what men are looking to buy. Watch customers are also no longer looking to make an ostentatious statement. The showy buyers of a bull market are long gone. Most men are looking to make an intelligent purchase; looking to be part of an unspoken club of those who know, understand and appreciate the complications of a wooden watch timepiece.
And speaking of intelligent buys, it's true that if you choose a watch carefully it will hold on to, or even increase, its value. One reason that auction sales of timepieces remain buoyant is because buyers recognize that the quality of a pre-owned watch is a safe haven for cash.
But it's also about simple pleasure, of course. Most men own at least five watches enjoy them all equally. And, like it or not, the model or type of watch you wear does say something about you. And it isn't necessarily about the price.
Whether it cost $50 dollars or $5,000 dollars, men clock the watch in the same way some women might take note of another's shoes. It's what we do. And the wooden watch industry is very happy about that in addition to men being aware of the eco-friendly nature of their timepiece all the while they are making a bold fashion statement.