Apple Watch: Watches are jewellery, and jewellery is personal expression

They may well sell a billion of ‘em. And that’s part of the problem.

One of the most awkward things that could befall on a trend-conscious person, is to walk into a room and be wearing the exact same shirt as somebody else. It’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing.

A shirt is just a shirt, though. You can laugh it off. How much does the shirt you’re wearing really say about you? Where it would get really untenable, however, is if you were to wear the same jewellery as someone else in the room.

These frames cost me all of £15 at the time, but when I wore them, I was ‘the guy with the red glasses’. The only reason I’m not that guy anymore is that they broke, and I haven’t been able to find a replacement set that fits me.

As an aside: women are luckier, in that respect; men generally don’t tend to wear earrings, necklaces, or much other jewellery, for that matter. The problem is — what little jewellery there is for men, says all the much more about you.

Most men I know will use exactly three pieces of jewellery: A wedding ring, a pair of (sun)glasses, and a wristwatch.

According to CNBC, Apple could sell 1 billion watches. That may be exciting for Apple’s bottom line, but also the reason why a great number of people won’t be wearing one. Sure I will happily wear a Fitbit Surge; but that’s not a watch per se. It’s a fitness tracker, and I don’t mind if — as I experienced at Startup Grind recently — several people are wearing the same fitness tracker as myself.

A matter of personal expression

For a while, I had this as my Facebook profile picture. By then, I was so recognisable by the red glasses, that people knew this was a selfie, even if I didn’t actually appear in the image.

However, if I met someone wearing the same glasses as me (unlikely, but not impossible), or if I were to spot someone who wears the same wedding ring as me (extremely unlikely, but… it could happen), I think I would feel rather taken aback.

In my immediate circle, there are at least twenty people who use a phone that is exactly like mine. I don’t mind — just like I don’t mind if they use the same laptop I use. Phones and laptops are tools, not vanity items or methods for self expression. And that’s the crux of the challenge.

The problem Apple is going to be facing is this: If they are trying to market the Apple Watch as a piece of jewellery, they’re going to struggle. There is little space for self expression if, by one analyst’s estimation, a sixth of the world’s population will be wearing the same item of jewellery as you are.

Maybe the Apple Watch is a tool?

The only saving grace might be if it is not a piece of jewellery, after all. Perhaps they’re able to sell the watch as a must-have tool, alongside the smartphone. And perhaps people are willing to accept to put their beloved, carefully chosen, lovingly hand-wound watches away (let’s face it, nobody’s going to wear a fine timepiece and an Apple watch at the same time — even if said Apple watch was carved out of solid gold). But at the price points they’ve chosen, they’re going to really struggle not to be compared with a timepiece, and therefore, a statement of self-expression, more than just a device to measure out hours and minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I might wear one, if they sort out the 18-hour battery life issue. But if I did, it’d be a loss to self expression and the ability to choose a watch that is as quirky, as ambitious, or as robust as you are: the storytelling is gone. When I wear my Suunto D6, fellow divers know me from afar. When I choose to wear my Casio Edifier — by no means a very expensive watch — I say to the world ‘look, I love the aesthetic of an analogue watch’. I have several friends who are far better off than me who would really have to swallow hard to put away their vintage collectable watches.

I for one, would mourn the loss of glancing at someone’s wrist, and complimenting them on a fine choice of time-keeping machinery, should such a thing be strapped to said person’s radiocarpal joint.