I have a confession to make: I, one of the foremost evangelists for mechanical watches, wear an Apple Watch. I don’t brag about it or post it on social media, but I strap on my Apple Watch three or four times a week, making it one of the most trusty pieces in my entire collection.
Back in 2014, when the Apple Watch was launched, many of my fellow mechanical-watch enthusiasts turned up their noses, perhaps hoping that it would go the way of smart glasses. I get it: I’m not sure I’ll ever find a wrist instrument as soulful as, say, my Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache chronograph. But I also enjoy working out and playing golf, and my precious Vacheron, though a mind-blowing feat of engineering in its own right, can’t track my heart rate or calories burned. It also can’t replace my iPhone—which the Series 3 Apple Watch started doing when it was released in 2017. The Series 3 introduced cellular capability, allowing me to leave my phone at home. Paradoxically, the most advanced e-watch in the world untethered me from the digital realm. The more I wore it, the less time I spent obsessively checking email and wasting time on social media and the more I felt connected to what was actually happening around me. How’s that for an analog experience?
Apple is thought to be one of the world’s largest watchmakers by revenue, but I don’t think it poses an existential threat to the Swiss watchmaking industry the same way quartz technology once did. In my opinion the Apple Watch and other relatively affordable pieces of wearable tech, like those from Fitbit and Whoop, have actually brought more people into the mechanical sphere than ever before. Once you see your wrist as real estate, you begin to recognize all the occasions—lunch at Sant Ambroeus, perhaps—when you’d rather be wearing a Speedmaster than an e-watch.
The luxury space is starting to adapt. TAG Heuer and Louis Vuitton, for instance, are making incredibly beautiful smart devices (powered by Google’s Android operating system) with the artisanal ingenuity the companies are known for: The TAG Heuer Connected boasts a Swiss-made ceramic bezel and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and the LV Tambour Horizon has dozens of interchangeable monogram straps and constantly updating interactive faces—when Virgil Abloh drops a new collection, you can get a matching watch face.
Tissot, on the other hand, has established itself in the e-watch category by integrating smart features into a fixed dial with the T-Touch Connect Solar. The hour and minute hands tell the time, but when you use the touch-enabled crystal on the watch face to select the compass, the hands snap into a needle that swings to true north—adding a surprisingly cool new dimension to a watch that looks mechanical.
At the end of the day, the Apple Watch itself is a historic contribution to horology, but its greatest triumph just may be what Apple has done across categories for so many years—rethinking an entire vertical in such a way that it has forced everyone else to do better. Just as when wristwatches replaced pocket watches, the traditionalists will eventually come around, and we mechanical-watch people won’t have to be so bashful when we take our digital timepieces out for a spin.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June/July 2021 issue with the title “The Analog Lover’s Guide to Smartwatches.”