Get Smart, Or Not? 8 Timepieces For The Modern Man

A debate about the timeless watch and the watch that is of our times—and the best, in both categories, on the market.

Jens Mortensen
OF 9

One year after the release of the Apple Watch, as established watchmakers enter the connected-timepiece game, two armchair horologists take sides.

Nicholas Foulkes on Mechanical Watches

I have been a lover of watches since I was in my early teens, when I first got an unsigned 1920s silver cushion-cased watch. I’ve learned there is a touch of sorcery about watchmaking that makes a mechanical watch come alive. The gold that is used to make the case of a wristwatch may have a scrap value of just a couple of thousand dollars, and the metal in the tiny screws, toothed wheels, polished metal bridges, springs, and arbors inside is more or less worthless, and yet a fine watch is a sum of much more than its parts. Indeed, when finely crafted components are assembled with the painstaking care, attention to detail, and experience of watchmakers who have trained for a lifetime (and who have imbibed the accumulated knowledge of centuries), the result can be among the most valuable of man-made objects. Just ask the guy who paid around $25 million for the Graves Supercomplication, by Patek Philippe, when it sold at Sotheby’s in 2014. 

I sometimes wonder what it is that has kept me interested in watches for so long. The best that I can come up with is that fine watches are like art, cars, and wine, all in one. At their most ingenious and most beautiful they stand among humanity’s finest artworks. They have the mechanical virtuosity of a great sports car. And watches can possess a regional character akin to the appellation d’origine contrôlée of wines. (With a few notable exceptions, the best watchmaking is carried out in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.) 

A great mechanical timepiece has a little sorcery, yes, but in fact, it’s you that has the power. Every morning you rotate the winding crown between thumb and forefinger and dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny components, crammed into a microcosm just a few millimeters high and a couple of centimeters across, interact with one another to perform the humble miracle of giving you the time of day. Depending on how elaborate your watch is, it can allow you to time events to within a fraction of a second; give you the date, month, year, and phase of the moon; predict the date of Easter or Yom Kippur; or reproduce the movements of the heavenly bodies in the night sky. Then you sleep. And the next day, wind it once again. 

Ted Gushue on Smartwatches

The crew of the USS Enterprise knew smartwatches were coming in the ’60s. Every Bond from Connery to Craig has trained us to expect a smartwatch capable of...just about anything imaginable. And now we have them. But it’s not enough, it seems. We’re ungrateful little brats. 

As I write this I’m sitting at my desk, glancing down at my left wrist, where an Apple Watch reminded me, just moments ago with a gentle tap on my scaphoid bone, that I have dinner plans tonight with my friend David. I turned my wrist, glanced at it, and then turned my wrist back. Twenty feet across the room, my iPhone 6S sits in a cradle, charging away. In one-tenth the time it would have taken me to get to my iPhone’s apps to glance at my calendar, I had everything I needed to know, and I was back to writing. 

Okay, so that was an assist. 

Consider this: Lately I’ve been trying to lose a bit of pudge from around my middle, so I’ve started taking the dog on longer and longer walks. How long? Precisely 6.3 miles today, reports my watch. Better, right? 

Later this month, as I fly to my parents’ home in Connecticut, I’ll be scanning a QR code that pops up automatically with a geofence around LAX and it will check me into my flight. Never touching my phone, never fingering a kiosk. The more I play with the Apple Watch, the more I like it. Music? Sure. Phone calls? Yep. Voice texting? Works shockingly well. The only downside is you usually need your iPhone to be close by, in Bluetooth mode. But I’m into it.  

Yes, there are going to be instances when you really should wear that beautifully aged 1969 Rolex GMT. But there will be times in a busy day when you’ll be getting a ton of use out of your Apple Watch (or your new smartwatch from any number of legacy watchmakers) because you need a little help. And isn’t that what any watch is for?

Nicholas Foulkes is a London-based author and contributing editor at Financial Times’s How to Spend It. Ted Gushue is editorial director of the car magazine Petrolicious and lives in Los Angeles.