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Long considered an heirloom and the ideal gift for someone as they reach a milestone in their life, the watch industry is one which has – for its five century long history – relied upon the draws of luxury and the necessity for functional accessories. Even today the watch industry is still evolving, and as such retailers as well as consumers are consistently shifting their expectations in line with the provision and purchase of the latest models of watches – be they the single use watches of old or the multi-functional watches of the modern market.
But that’s not to say that the newer a watch is the more valuable and coveted it is. There is in fact a very distinct community within the watch industry of consumers who seek out and prioritise the purchase of old watches – often finding them at auction, purchasing and fixing them up, and then either keeping them as part of a collection or else selling them on for huge profits.
For the consumer seeking a great deal in the watch industry, one thing to note is that the popularity and prominence of luxury watches across a wide range of retailer, added to the consistent development of new and improved designs, means that high quality watches are always being sold for discounted prices as the new models outweigh their popularity – both through the traditional retail channels and also through second hand sites such as eBay and Gumtree.
What matters is ensuring that your good deal is in fact a good deal and not a scam, with the watch industry full of fakes watches which are intended to resemble the original as closely as possible.
The history of different types of watch
The very first watches which appeared in the 16th century were actually a variation on the 15th century spring clocks – and ever since then, watches have developed to become more mechanical and more technological in line with various advances across the industry and beyond.
One of the biggest moments in the industry’s history was in the 18th century when springs and rotating wheels were replaced by electricity and the support of a vibrating quartz crystal – replacing mechanic watches as the most popular product on the market and essentially providing the industry with a high end and more consistently reliable form of watch for everyday use.
Of course, tracking the way that watches work is one way of understanding and exploring the industry and its development – but another way of doing this is by breaking the industry down into the different types of watch which have appeared and disappeared with the times; understanding exactly where the development and movement of the industry has occurred in line with the end products.
- Clock Watches: A development made in the 16th century, the creation of clock watches marked the first movement of the clock industry towards providing something more portable and more usable in an everyday setting. These early clock watches were ornamental and decorative, and were often used as much for their aesthetic value as for their functionality and usability – with clockmaker Peter Henlein often credited for the invention of the watch given the time he channelled into defining how a clock could be made smaller and more usable. In terms of their use, clock watches had to be wound twice a day in order to retain their accuracy, and they were often worn around the neck or attached to clothing. However, of all the facts we could share about clock watches, the main one is this – the earliest examples of the clock watch were not very accurate, and often presented errors multiple times a day. If anything, these watches were used a sign of status, providing a novel accessory for nobility to wear and sitting more in line with jewellery than a functional time-telling device.
- Pocket Watches: Pocket watches are still around today in certain social circles, and are also used most crucially in modern times by doctor’s and nurse’s who can attached a pocket watch to their scrubs uniform and tell the time quickly and efficiently without having to keep a watch on their wrist. Pocket watches are said to have been developed in the late 17th century with the invention of waistcoats, with pocket watches being specially designed to slot into the pocket of those waistcoats to keep them safe and on-hang whenever they were needed. To tell the time, the mechanism in the earliest pocket watches was much the same as that found in the clock watch, though over time this has of course developed to allow for better timekeeping.
- Wrist Watches: The trend which shook the watch industry and is still rife today across both the most high end and luxury products and those which are cheap and affordable for the mass market. Up until the 20th century, wrist watches were largely only worn by women with men opting for the pocket watch until military men realised that wearing the time on their wrist was a lot more practical than having to fish around for a pocket watch. This developed in line with the need to coordinate war efforts across multiple troops and battalions – with the time being a crucial element used to synchronize across the front line. After World War I, the prominence of wrist watches in the male market grew hugely, expanding into the mass consumer industry and finally shifting perception of watches being a luxury – instead defining them as something practical and useful for more users.
This exploration of the history of watch styles brings us up to date to the modern day, where innovations are still being made in the accuracy of time telling and especially in the way that modern watches can be used now for a variety of functions rather than just telling the time.
One of the leading developments in the modern watch industry has been the invention of the smart watch, which occurred in the early 2000’s and meant that watches finally benefitted from internet connections and digital screens; allowing them to be used for a wider variety of purposes, from reading and screening messages to telling the time all over the world. Of course the Apple Watch is, today, arguably the most successful product range in the smart watch sector, though it is joined at the top by specific watches designed for a multitude of different purposes – for example sports watches which are led by manufacturing brand Garmin. What the Apple Watch offers is a complete experience from the convenience of one single device, which matches the watch up with the consumer’s own phone and other technology devices and creates a seamless stream of connection between all the linked Apple products.
The smart watch industry is still not perfect – with devices suffering from low battery life and with little interest in apps which range outside of the fitness and wellbeing sector, however manufacturers and brand names like Apple , Samsung, and Microsoft are consistently bringing out new and improved models which are designed to elevate the user experience and meet the demand for various trends.
Top retailers in the watch industry
Throughout history, there have been a number of leading brands which have led the watch industry and which separate the industry into the high end and luxury watches, and those which are affordable and designed for the mass consumer market.
Some of the top brands at the high end level of the industry include:
- Tag Heuer
One of the interesting things to note about how this level of the industry presents itself is in the marketing campaigns around these top level watches – with many of the big name brands using celebrity faces to model and help advertise their watches; defining them as a distinct luxury which puts the consumer on the same level with the likes of Daniel Craig (James Bond) and David Beckham.
Expanding the industry down into the more affordable and cheaper product ranges and brand lines, some of the most notable names of brands offering watches at high street prices include:
- Olivia Burton
- Plus, all the watches created by accessory and fashion high street stores which replicate popular high end designs but use affordable materials to make them appeal to the mass market
Trends in the watches industry
We have already ascertained how crucial the watch industry is not just as a functional accessory provider but also in the way that watches are considered accessories designed for aesthetic enjoyment as well as usability. Throughout history, there has been as much development in the appearance and design of watches as there has been in the way that they work and in their mechanics, with the most modern products on the market enticing all manner of consumers with the chunky watch faces, the innovative and interchangeable straps which can be switched over to match an outfit or chosen look, and the extra features and accessories which make modern watches multi-functional.
One of the leading trends which has long been a crucial element in the design of new watches is the way that materials are discovered and used through increase popularity – for example, silver becoming replaced with gold, and now rose gold as the most popular material on the current market. Much of this stems from the jewellery industry as a whole, as watches are designed as an accessory to be worn and enjoyed visually, thus giving them as much prominence as a piece of statement jewellery.
With the popularity in the modern world of period dramas and stories and movies set in previous decades and centuries, the watch industry has seen a vast resurgence of old fashioned and traditional styled watches, for example pocket watches which are now regarded as popular collectables and antiques; fixed up and kept for show as much as for use. What this has done is create a vast expanse of styles in the industry, with the modern world lending as much focus to old fashioned designs as to modern ones. This is supported by the rise in marketplace second hand sites and antique stores, many of which are frequented by those who like to revel in the older styles which tell us more about how our ancestors lived.
As already explored, one of the other major trends which is consistently driving forward the modernity of the watch industry is the rise in watches which perform multiple tasks and which can be used to track location, fitness, messaging and provide alarms. These are the watches which are largely manufactured and provided by big names in the technology industry such as Apple, though there is a distinct trend which is starting to see crossover between these big technology names and those brands which focus more on fashion and style – creating partnerships and brand fusions and utilising the marketing value and following of both companies in order to create a huge increase in demand across a wider customer base.
To look at the evolution of the watch industry is to understand that over time, watches have been developed as much for their appearance as for their functionality and use. One of the most interesting things to note is that the earliest watches were used primarily for appearance – before developing in line with usability, and eventually settling on designs which encompass both of these trait and match them together to create something which is both usable and aesthetically pleasing.
Consumers are often divided when they enter the watch industry and look for their perfect product – separating the fine designs and high end materials from the affordable pieces which are less likely to last the test of time but which provide the consumer with the chance to purchase multiple styles for different occasions and events. The fact is that the watch industry is still a luxury – but the luxury now lies in how much the consumer decides to spend, and whether they need multiple watches for different styles or if they are happy with one statement watch. With watches available across more and more retailers and marketplace sites, the choice available is such that the industry is open to consumers across all levels – depending on what they are looking for and how much they are willing to spend.