- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Matt Swanston relishes his collection of sports, dress and fun watches the same way some women admire their array of shoes.

“It’s the only piece of jewelry most guys get to wear,” says Mr. Swanston of Arlington. “It’s a fun thing to wear with a conservative outfit. It’s a peek that you’re not as stiff as the suit would imply.”

Decorum is another reason Mr. Swanston, director of business analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, sticks to his watch-wearing habits. He does not like to be seen pulling out his cell phone to check the time at a meeting or in conversation. Nor does he like the awkwardness of fumbling for his phone when he rides his motorcycle, he says.

“I don’t like wearing a cell phone all the time,” says Mr. Swanston, who has gotten used to the weight and feeling of wearing a watch.

He is a loyal watch wearer in a day and time when the options for telling time have expanded to include cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA), computers and other electronic devices. The electronic displays on those devices fulfill a function that once belonged to the wristwatch and, before its invention in 1904, the pocket watch: checking the hour and minute.

“Technology has forced the wristwatch to become more advanced and to be more than just a fashion accessory or more than an accurate timepiece,” says Kim Craven, marketing spokeswoman for the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Inc., a nonprofit scientific organization in Columbia, Pa. “It’s true that the cell phone has replaced the wristwatch for some.”

Watch companies have come out with watches that have integrated global positioning system (GPS) receivers, Internet connections, Bluetooth attachments and low-resolution cameras.

The FM3 watch has an MP3 player with an FM transmitter. The IBeam is a traditional watch with a flashlight and magnifier for the 50-plus crowd. The Forerunner 301 is intended for athletes to monitor their heart rate, along with running speed, distance, pace and calories burned. The Ov-Watch is for women who want to track their fertility cycles.

“It would appear, at least from our perspective as a technology association, that the wristwatch is poised for somewhat of a comeback. It’s become an extension of devices we already carry,” Mr. Swanston says.

The extension follows on the heels of a number of technological advances in the past 40 years.

In the 1970s, quartz watches replaced mechanical watches, which used springs and gears to keep time and required winding to operate, Mr. Swanston says. Quartz watches work by running a small electrical charge through a piece of quartz that vibrates to keep time.

In the 1980s, watch companies developed digital watches with numbers formed by light-emitting diodes (LED), but they did not last long.

“It is much easier to read a round dial watch than a digital, and the location of the needle on the face of a watch than the number presented on a liquid display panel, because that’s how our minds work,” says Elias G. Carayannis, professor of science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship for the School of Business at George Washington University in Northwest.

In the 1990s, cell phones made watches redundant for their time-telling function and later, their external displays that enable date and time to be seen without flipping open the phone, says John Johnson, spokesman for Verizon Wireless in Laurel.

“It’s more important for me to have a cell phone than a watch because a watch does one thing, and a cell phone does many,” Mr. Johnson says. “An increase in mobility and multitasking makes cell phones more indispensable.”

Cell-phone companies require precise timekeeping to operate their cellular networks, Mr. Johnson says. A byproduct of their timekeeping is an accurate time on individual cell-phone displays, including during a change in time zones, he says.

“People know that and know they can depend on it, and that makes your phone more reliable,” Mr. Johnson says.

Mr. Carayannis notes that a simple turn of the wrist is more efficient than reaching for a cell phone.

“It’s often an inconvenience. You have to do many things to see time on a cell phone,” he says. “The aesthetic affects of watches and ease of use are important elements in place.”

The concept of time has changed to accommodate a busy pace of life, making digital time displays with the second indicated crucial, says Mohamed Chouikha, professor and chairman of the department of electrical and computer engineering at Howard University in Northwest.

The day is no longer divided into work, before and after lunch, and after dinner, but is a continuous 24 hours, with the ability to work anywhere and access information anytime, he says.

“Time is our master. We are rushing through things, even on weekends,” says Mr. Chouikha. “Time is a concept that is out of hand. That’s the first victim of our definition of time are the watches. … The concept is every second counts now.”

Watches have the advantage of not having to compete for carrying space with other electronic devices, Mr. Swanston says.

“As the watch learns to attach to other networks and devices, it’s a valuable piece of real estate on your person,” he says. “If your IPod and cell phone are competing for a place on your belt, there is nothing competing for this space on your wrist.”

Watches also offer variety and come in different fabrics, colors, styles and widths, along with ranging in quality and expense.

“Watches don’t necessarily have to be the most high-quality to be attractive,” Ms. Craven says. “It’s a fun accessory to have.”

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