March 29, 2007

Keeping Up With the Times

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The way the wristwatch market works is very telling of the function-follows-form mantra of the fashion world. If watches are bought for the purpose of telling time, how is it that precise and efficient electronic watches, such as digital and quartz-motion watches, are practically given-away-free-on-street-corners inexpensive when compared to inaccurate and less-than-reliable mechanical watches, priced in the upper hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars? It could be that we no longer feel owned by the grips of time — that we have exchanged our “busy bee” national identity for a calm and carefree lifestyle. Or conversely (and definitely more likely), in this technological-frenzied society of today, perhaps our never-failing cell-phones, Blackberrys and I-pods, with their universally-correct time allowing us to be that much more punctual, have replaced wristwatches. Far from disappearing though, watches are finding a new breath as a piece of personal adornment, like jewelry. And, as a calculator watch immeadiately renounces the wearer to be a nerd, wristwatches provide more information quicker about their owners — even about those who are oblivious to their communication powers like our aforementioned nerd — than do ordinary pieces of jewelry. No longer functional in the conventional sense of telling time, wristwatches, like real estate, cars and most items of fashion, have now become another social indicator/personality definer.

Inexpensive electric watches are a great way to make a statement and, at low-cost, you can stay up to date with the latest trends or dabble in different styles before committing to a pricier piece. And, while each season more hot designers are rehashing this century-old piece with quirky colors, materials and motifs, even cheap, plastic watches bought at the most inane of places can, at our age, be playfully chic. In fact, until just recently, one dollar bungee-cord watches sold out of a mall vending machine were all the rage among my fashion-conscious friends. And while no one knows just which of these irreverent trends will sweep us next, some sure bets are the cheeky, pop-art inspired Andy Warhol rubber band watches or, with two giraffes locking necks on the watch’s face, the whimisical “giraffe” watch by Harajuku Lovers. Like with all trends though, the prices of some of these youthful watches have gotten out of hand — unless you are part of the Hello Kitty cult, $3,450 is a bit much for a hot pink Hello Kitty watch, even if it is diamond encrusted and has a genuine alligator-skin strap.

While it is fun to mess around with these unpredictably trendy pieces, there comes a time when all of us must choose a wristwatch to employ (almost) full-time (there’s nothing wrong with wearing a Toy Watch — very hot at the moment — every now and again). Signaling a rite of passage of sorts, a rather expensive, mechanical watch valued for its craftsmanship as well as design, is the ideal graduation present. Regardless of whether you are choosing a watch to buy yourself or one that will be given as a gift, decisions should be made scrupulously and with much self-questioning and -definition, as even seemingly-innocent choices will largely impact the personality exuded by the piece. Begin by choosing a strap type — material (metal or leather) and color, basing decisions about the material for the case, number and face colors from there.

In the end though, when choosing your perfect watch pick one that you love. Forget all the rules of fashion — who knows? You just may start a craze of your own.