Smart Consumer: Has the rise of smartphones called time on the common wristwatch?
Published 01/02/2013 | 06:00
Or, as a man's only fashion statement, do they have their best years ahead, asks Aideen Sheehan
Is time up for watches now that mobile phones are taking over our lives instead? A growing number of people don't bother with a wristwatch any more – instead they just check their phone.
In fact one-in-four consumers surveyed said they now use their phone to tell the time instead of a watch – and this soars to 40pc of people under 35.
This ditching of wristwatches has accelerated rapidly in the last few years, market research by Mintel in the UK found.
But given that's a British study, are Irish people turning away from their watches in similar numbers?
Kantar Media data shows the number of people in Ireland who had purchased a watch in the last year fell from 21pc in 2008 to 17pc in 2012 – even though overall ownership remains pretty high at 86pc.
But are we using them to tell the time? In fact Smart Consumer counted just 11 out of 20 colleagues wearing a watch.
Some reported they had a watch at home but hadn't got around to replacing the battery because they could manage with just their phone.
Those may not be the most scientific findings ever, but they're indicative of a trend.
However, some specialist watch sellers here beg to differ. Dublin jeweller Weirs said that while watch sales are down since the end of the boom, they've actually risen again in the last two years.
"I've heard people say watch sales are down because everyone uses their mobile instead, but hand on heart that's not our experience. We haven't seen a fall-off," said Paul Broughan, head of Weirs watch department.
"Watches are really the only jewellery most men will wear so they remain very popular as a gift. Sales are still strong and we had a great Christmas," he said.
Their watch prices ranged from €25 for a basic Casio model to €147,000 for a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, with middle-range options such as Citizen, Seiko and Tissot very popular.
For women, there is no longer the bling thing of buying a watch for every outfit, but there is still strong fashion trends, with Michael Kors watches priced €220-€290 a particular bestseller in the last year.
Fourth-generation watch seller Richard Hartmann of Galway store Hartmanns said watch sales had been rising over the last 10 years.
"Sales have held up well particularly at the higher end of the market, and they remain very strong with men because really it's the only fashion statement a man can make," he said.
Hartmanns does not stock watches for under €100 and it was possible that market had suffered from people using their mobiles to tell the time, Mr Hartmann said.
Swiss watchmakers have also been reporting healthy profits in recent years, suggesting the end is nowhere near nigh for the industry.
The latest figures from the Swatch Group, which makes everything from cheap Swatches to pricey Omega, Breguet and Longines watches, show that global sales rose 17pc in the first half of 2012, with all price brackets performing strongly.
Singer Ronan Keating is one of Ireland's most high-profile watch fans who admits to having spent "obscene amounts of money" in the Watches of Switzerland store in London.
Mintel said that to halt the decline of watches they need to become more technical and have multiple functions such as GPS, temperature gauge, sports tracking or even blood pressure monitors to encourage more purchases.