Why wear a wristwatch?

I bought a watch out of a military surplus magazine in the early 1990s when I was 11 or 12. I know this because the watch is a submariner’s timepiece worn by members of the Soviet navy, complete with a red star in place of the “12” on the dial. The Soviet Union had just broken up—my parents told me they never dreamed it would happen in their lifetime—and everything Soviet was for sale. I think I remember hearing about someone who bought a Soviet fighter jet for next to nothing.

Anyway, a box arrived in the mail several weeks later—shipping back then took six to eight weeks—and inside was the watch. It has a blue face, a rubber—and very uncomfortable—wristband, and it has to be wound every 36 hours or so to work. It’s made the way it is out of necessity: How would one buy watch batteries if he were in the middle of the ocean? Of course it would need to be wound—and waterproof.

I’ve had this watch since the early 1990s. The scratch below the date indicator on the right side is from hitting the face against a hard surface in gym class.

On the back is some writing in Cyrillic, and there’s a little slot on the face that shows the date, which is probably the only way those guys knew what day it was at hundreds of feet deep in the ocean.

In order to get the correct date to appear, one has to wind the watch forward through each date—two complete spins of the hour hand around the face, or 24 hours, cycles the little number forward a day. This is a problem, for example, if the watch you get in the mail has a date of “4,” but it’s the second day of the month: You have to cycle the watch forward through an entire month just to get to the correct date. In what seems like typical Soviet fashion, a decent watch seems half useless because of this feature.

I bought a watch recently that I thought I would wear more as an accessory than a timepiece. It’s a Timex from Target, about as inexpensive of a watch as one can get, with a red—my favorite color—band that is far more comfortable to wear than my Soviet watch. Being a somewhat anxious person, the newer watch has served an unintended purpose: It helps me focus and stay in the present.

Watches—ones that aren’t smartwatches that have a ton of functions besides simply telling time—are surely long obsolete by now. Yet I see many people still wearing them when we could easily check our phones to see what time it is. But why wear a watch?

I think we wear them because with a turn of the wrist, we can see what time it is much more quickly than the time it takes to stick our hand into a pocket or purse and fish out our phones. We tend to look more sophisticated, too, when we wear a watch, even if it’s a smartwatch or a cheap Timex.


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