TG watches

Richard Holt on the art of pre­dict­ing the fu­ture

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Ev­ery­one knows where the car in­dus­try is head­ing. It will seem in­creas­ingly crazy to al­low clumsy hu­mans to drive pol­lut­ing cars on pub­lic roads, and soon the day will come when we re­luc­tantly go fully elec­tric and hand the con­trols to our Sil­i­con Val­ley masters.

But pre­dict­ing the fu­ture is not al­ways easy. In the late Six­ties, ev­ery­one was con­fi­dent about the crash and burn await­ing the me­chan­i­cal watch in­dus­try. Clock­work had been cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy for cen­turies – a crack­ing in­nings, but no­body stays in bat for­ever. Quartz watches were be­ing per­fected, and it was clear that in a few years no­body was go­ing to need old-fash­ioned cogs and springs any more.

As watch­mak­ing eyed the scrap­yard, it en­joyed some last glo­ri­ous days in the sun. The Omega Speed­mas­ter on the Moon in 1969 and the Heuer Monaco on the wrist of Steve McQueen in Le Mans – filmed the fol­low­ing year – were just two of the me­chan­i­cal watches stand­ing de­fi­ant ahead of the in­evitable death of clock­work.

But the end never came. Lots of peo­ple bought quartz watches, of course, and they still do. But plenty of oth­ers car­ried on want­ing only hand-wound and au­to­matic-wind­ing move­ments. Why pay more money for some­thing that does its job less well? You can throw around words like tra­di­tion and crafts­man­ship, but peo­ple pre­fer me­chan­i­cal not for rea­sons they think about, but sim­ply for how the watches make them feel. It is the choice between a watch move­ment pow­ered by your own hand, and one pow­ered by a lit­tle tin of toxic chem­i­cals.

It is easy to un­der­es­ti­mate the role our emo­tions play. Yes, com­put­ers will soon be safer than us at driv­ing, but are we re­ally ready to let go? We might not have a choice, be­cause, un­like watches, the car in­dus­try is gov­erned by rules of safety and prac­ti­cal­ity. But I like to think that there’ll al­ways be a group of us who love the act of driv­ing – and the emo­tions it brings – too much to ever let it go. And like cars con­trolled by hu­mans, the me­chan­i­cal watch isn’t go­ing any­where soon.

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