Horst Zoller is a horologist, a member of a shrinking group of people skilled in repairing timepieces. He has been fixing watches for almost five decades, starting as an apprentice in 1960.
Zoller’s store, House of Time, mostly serves people over 30. And with the rise of cell phones and other technologies, he has noticed a decline in business.
“In the last five years, I’d say it’s probably down by 20, maybe 30 per cent,” he said.
For most people, time is everywhere. Flip open a cell phone, check a computer screen or glance at an MP3 player and the time will reveal itself. With more and more devices taking over for watches, the industry would appear to be in serious trouble. Zoller says watchmakers like him will not be around in another 20 years.
“Nobody really needs a watch,” says Adrian Robson, an employee at Watch It!, a national chain of stores selling mostly high end timepieces.
“Time is everywhere. There are clocks everywhere. There’s a cell phone in everyone’s pocket,” he said. “Usually the people who buy from us are concerned with fashion and their appearance.”
Robson says that particularly for men, watches are a way to express their sense of style, although the majority are still sold to women. The average price of a watch available at Watch It! is between $200 and $300, with higher end watches often being purchased as graduation and anniversary gifts.
“You notice somebody who’s got an expensive watch, whereas you don’t notice somebody who’s got a cheap Timex that’s been through the wash a couple of times.”
Robson maintains that sales are strong and that watches and cell phones can co-exist. Statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry seem to back this claim.
Most of the world’s major watchmakers, such as Rolex, Omega and Swatch, are based in Switzerland. Between 2003 and 2008, Swiss watch sales grew by 67 per cent and only recently slowed due to the recession.
During the same time, the phone industry has seen an even greater explosion. By some estimates, there are over four billion cell phones in the world today.
Those phones appear to be the method of choice for telling the time for many young people, replacing most low-end watches. According to a recent consumer study by Experian Consumer Research, watches costing less than $10 have been declining in popularity over the last few years. But high-end watches are still popular as a form of jewellery, especially for people older than 30.
Thus it would seem that cell phones are not killing wristwatches entirely, only the inexpensive ones. Watches will likely continue to be status symbols. But for cash-strapped students, the cell phone will have to suffice.
Rob Laprairie, a fourth year biochemistry major, thinks watches will survive. He says they can act as fashion accessories but he prefers his cell phone for telling the time.
“It’s more convenient to use a cell phone,” he said. “I have it on me anyway, so why spend the extra money on a watch?”
photo Robby Davis