It's Time To Ditch The Apple Watch - Stylish Timepieces Are Making A Comeback

In 2020, when the world was in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, research firm Strategy Analytics saw the demand for smartwatches skyrocket, with Apple watches leading the charge. That surge in popularity of smartwatches and fitness trackers (like Fitbit) made sense at the time; because they came with health and fitness monitors, industry watchers like Steven Waltzer credited these digital devices — led by Apple Watch — as the best way "to monitor their health and fitness during virus lockdown," per USA Today.

But the smartwatch wasn't just a gadget that could help you stay healthy — they were perceived to be status symbols too. In 2021, another survey reported that Apple Watches were more popular with affluent teens than the classic watch brand Rolex. That appears to have changed when the COVID-19 lockdown ended. Less than a year after demand for smartwatches appeared solid, sales began to decline, and tech market monitor IDC reported seeing a 3% drop in global demand for wearables in general. While the Apple Watch still managed to chalk up a sales growth of 6.6%, other brands didn't fare as well.

IDC said the decline they said was because people were coming out of lockdown, flush with cash, and ready to spend on other things. And one of the items buyers were looking out for was traditional timepieces. That demand, which consulting firm Deloitte saw as being led by millennials and Gen Zers, actually resulted in a global shortage, particularly in luxury watches. 

Demand for classic timepieces surged after the pandemic

The turnaround was astonishing because just a few years ago, it seemed a smartwatch was one of the coolest things you could own. Not only could it tell time, but it could also do many things, like keep you connected to work and track of the number of steps you took. And because it was so versatile, it seemed that the smartwatch was poised to do to automatic watches what streaming did to DVD players, which is make them practically obsolete.

But even then, no matter how multifunctional and forward-looking a smartwatch was, the gadget didn't really take off with a number of women. Some had indicated they weren't particularly impressed by the uniformness of the smartwatch's design, particularly since watches have historically been known as fashion accessories,  and smartwatches just didn't do it. Then there was the question of cost. Smartwatches could be prohibitively expensive, and more than a few felt the money would be better spent on a classic watch that had the potential to become a keeper.

Those women might have been dismissed as Luddites then, but today's trends show they might have been ahead of the curve because the demand for classic timepieces is back. As American watchmaker, Tom Lewand told Fox News: "I do think that, even with the explosive growth in the smartwatch space, there still is an appetite for ... beautiful timeless timepieces that are classics, things that can be handed down from generation to generation."

Women are investing in classic timepieces themselves

Women may not be leading today's demand for classic watches, but sellers say they are seeing more women shop for the fashion staple — specifically, luxury timepieces. It's a way of expressing agency because they are selecting their own chronometers instead of waiting for them to come as gifts. One such collector is Brynn Wallner, who believes watches aren't just an eye-catching, classic accessory, they serve a financial purpose too. "In uncertain financial times, a luxury watch made by a prestigious name can feel like stored wealth, an object that's going to retain its value, if not increase it," she said, per The Times of London.

That women should be interested in collecting watches should come as no surprise. Historically, watches were regarded as a fashion accessory and were first worn by women whose clothing didn't have the pockets to carry the ubiquitous 19th-century timepiece, a pocket watch. So they began to use watches by tying them onto their wrists, or around their necks. 

Just like in the past, classic timepieces can be worn in any way that suits the wearer's fancy. It can be used on its own, or it can be dressed up with just about any kind of jewelry, whether it is an elegant tennis bracelet or a fashionable stack of chunky rings.