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I have owned very few watches. As a child, my aspirational wristwear was a Swatch, launched in 1983. I had the “Little Jelly”, with a clear face through which you could see the tiny cogs beneath its multicoloured hands. I thought it was awesome.
Various Swatches followed, including the black-and-white “Classic”, a no-frills design with neon hands. I wore the lady version, while my father wore the bigger man-sized one. My father had a peculiar obsession with Swatches: he would pick them up in duty-free shops and squirrel them away in a drawer beside his bed. He usually wore a fancier model from Longines but the Swatches were a strange little indulgence: a sequestered stash of toys he liked to award himself as some sort of long-term consolation, I think, for the loss of a train set, erroneously gifted to a cousin by his mother.
When he died, we gave the Swatches to charity but I snatched up the Longines straight away. I had always coveted its oversized flat face and the little window on its back that revealed its workings. Moreover, it was a piece of him. I was strangely comforted by the worn little grooves on the strap where the buckle had once held it fast. When the strap fell apart, I put it in a drawer beside my bed.
The watch packed up, too. Too big for my wrist, I kept catching its dials in clothes and wrenching the inner mechanisms. When the cost of replacing the teeny bits of whizzgog and spring that could be found only in Switzerland after a six-week wait got out of hand, I got another watch. A Rolex. A birthday gift from my husband, who shook his head with muted outrage at the extravagance of such a gesture but who, nonetheless, tramped off to a vintage dealer to buy it. I have a very obsessive relationship with it. At night, I trace its outlines in the dark and cradle it on my wrist.
Which brings us to the Apple Watch. Marketed as the most personal piece of kit created by Apple, its design has been built on our making a deep connection with the wearable technology: time-telling being the least of it. I tried one last week and quickly fell for its sinuous design and sleek contours. I loved its cutesy animated emojis and the Mickey Mouse interface where his feet tap-tap away the time. I even quite enjoyed the Pavlovian pulsing vibration it emitted to notify me of incoming emails, texts — or cardiac failure (as monitored on the “heart rate” app).
The Apple Watch is so perfectly utilitarian as to be utterly desirable: its uses infinite, its function sublime. I could foresee a future in which myself and the Apple Watch might never be parted. But would I invest the watch with the same lasting affection as its analogue antecedent? Does it have heirloom potential?
As a personalised object, the Apple Watch is extraordinary. It unifies hundreds of tiny technologies so that we can drive and take phone calls and follow directions and sing along to our favourite songs at the flick of our wrists. I have no doubt we will come to love the Apple Watch. But devices — of which this watch is one, no matter how many gold facets or luxury materials it might be crafted in — aren’t very endearing. Conversely, they often come to represent something else altogether. My daughter loathes my iPhone. She resents its intrusion into our every conversation and the endless hours I spend scrolling around on it. The Apple Watch is even more intrusive, even if our engagement with it is subtler.
“The watch means I can put the phone away,” insisted Paul Deneve, vice-president of Apple’s special projects, namely the Apple Watch, when I met him amid a rush of pre-ordering at the new Apple store in Selfridges. “It’s much healthier,” he insisted. “You don’t have to be on your phone all the time.”
Deneve arrived at Apple from Saint Laurent, where he was chief executive. More than most, he understands the magical alchemy that invests objects with the lustre of desirability. He knows his heirlooms. But when I asked if he had given up a treasured timepiece in order to wear the Apple Watch, he just smiled: “I didn’t wear a watch before,” he said. “So, no.”
Many of us wear a watch — especially those luxury consumers Apple is so keen to woo. And we love our watches. I feel stupidly sentimental about mine. I’d feel terribly guilty about jettisoning it in favour of the newfangled. And I don’t want to wear two. So we reach an impasse. Will utility win over sentimentality? iWatch this space.