n 1963 Georges Caspari, a PR consultant who was well known at the time, wrote the following in Europa Star:
“The diving watch, with its complicated dials, the impressively chunky sports watch, and the chronograph, gives its owner the kind of assurance that possession of a weapon sometimes grants. He will probably never use it, but the fact of knowing it’s there persuades the wearer that he is tough, that he has nothing to fear. Thus – and this bears repeating – young people must be given creations that seem irrational to the understanding of men of a different generation. Let’s not think like adults, but like adolescents. The ‘dad’s watch’, the watch bought for a son’s or daughter’s first communion, to be cherished for the rest of their lives, is dead!”
This statement was part of a vast campaign being waged, with the backing of the Fédération Horlogère (FH), in support of the return of the chronograph. The chronograph enjoyed its time in the sun from the end of the 1940s to the mid-’50s, before falling out of favour. At the beginning of the ’60s, classicism and conservatism had the upper hand. It was a time of adulthood and elegance.
“The ‘dad’s watch’, the watch bought for a son’s or daughter’s first communion, to be cherished for the rest of their lives, is dead!”
- The title says: “For the youngsters, the chronograph is an instrument as well as…” (Europa Star Europe 5/1963)
But there came a groundswell of renewed demand for chronographs – from “adolescents”, as Caspari called them. From the youngsters who danced the twist, who raced Vespas, who loved speed and records – in short, the up-andcoming generation of Baby Boomers with their new-found prosperity.
We know what happened next: chronographs and sports watches reached a pinnacle of popularity, where they have remained ever since. Older models now fetch astronomical figures at auction, and new models remain the bread and butter of the industry. It pays to keep an eye on the youngsters.
What is today’s equivalent “weapon”? Something that confers status? A watch that would “seem irrational to the understanding of men of a different generation,” as Caspari put it? The smartwatch?
We know that the vast majority of people who wear chronographs hardly ever use them. What about smartwatches? It’s very hard to find any statistics on the subject. Over and above their multiple functions, of which telling the time is one of the lowliest and most pedestrian, could it be that their attraction is also, perhaps primarily, as a status symbol? Are they the modern equivalent of the “weapons” Caspari spoke of, little used but reassuring on the wrist, convincing their wearer that they too are relevant, important?
What is today’s equivalent “weapon”? Something that confers status? A watch that would “seem irrational to the understanding of men of a different generation,” as Caspari put it?
But there’s one problem: the smartwatch has no real identity of its own. Its face is a rather dead-looking slab of black glass. Attempts to transform this tool into an object of pleasure, such as Apple’s decision to wrap it in Hermès leather, are all so many bids to give it what it lacks: warmth, a relationship, a personality. A sound, a presence. All the things that make a watch such a personal object.
The fact that the vintage wave, which also arose from the younger generation, places a higher value on personality and authenticity than on function and utility, is a salutary reminder. So, is dad’s watch dead? Not necessarily. It’s reassuring. It’s still a “weapon”.