It would probably make sense to me to explain this sudden interest in watches. The more I think about it, the more logical it seems that I'd like watches. While I work for a technologically innovative company, I've always resisted the temptation to embrace technology in my life (no smartphones for me!) To embrace the opposite of the software industry seems very natural, given my love/hate relationship with software. An industry that's steeped in history, that serves to create one item which serves one purpose exceedingly well, and one that doesn't cling onto silly notions of IP... well... wathces :)

I have a love for history, and watches have a rich history that dates back hundreds of years. The 18th century was dominated by pocketwatches. Then Patek made a revolutionary change by introducing the concept of wristwatches in the late 19th century. For 50 years, mechanical wristwatches dominated and everything was great... until the '60s, when quartz and the digital watch disrupted the whole industry. This wreaked havoc on the Swiss watch industry, and companies had to adapt. Suddenly companies had to compete against watches which were not only cheaper and smaller, but more accurate. By every measure, quartz watches are the better choice!

But the companies adapted. And now people end up paying a premium for the automatic/mechanical movements. Somehow, they convinced the world that watches which were less accurate are better! To me, it's amazing how an industry which seems so simple to a layman is actually so complicated and subject to so many disruptive changes.

And even today, there's innovation in wristwatches! An example that comes to mind is Seiko's "Eco-drive" - a watch powered by solar energy! An industry that's more than 200 years old... continuing to innovate. I mean, wow.

As an engineer, the complexity of automatic movements intrigues me. Just look at this Patek Philippe movement:

How can you say that's not beautiful? To me, it's more stunning than the other side of that watch (although Patek does a wonderful job of that as well)

Software is almost the polar opposite of the engineering behind wristwatches - it's all vague concepts and notions; there's nothing concrete. And generally speaking, software code tends to get uglier in time, not prettier. Being able to ogle at the engineering marvel that makes up a modern watch (quartz excluded, I have no interest) is a huge reason I love watches. 

Designs. Aesthetics. Watches have so many different designs - who thought the simple canvas of the wrist could yield so many different designs? And what I especially love is reading about the functional reasons why watches have certain designs (I'll cover this in a later post). Watches are ofentimes designed out of a functional need, not just for pure aesthetics. I absolutely love that concept.

Lastly, I still love being able to hold onto the notion that watches are the result of craftsmanship. The notion that Patek Philippe hand-make their watches still and are able to charge a premium (and that premium is valued and sought after) really appeals to me and gives me hope about the software industry. While there's a place for mass manufactured items (see most of the mid-brands like Tag Heuer), I really hope there's a place in software where excellent people can succeed in small teams to produce truly beautiful software that's appreciated and commercially successful.

Like watchmakers, who strive to create something of permanence, I really hope that software writers strive to create something that lasts. While there's a place for embracing the transience of time, at the end of the day, we should really strive to create things that last for a long, long time and can be appreciated as such.

I also have drawn some parallels in my last post: I do think it's quite interesting how an industry where it's so easy to rip off of one another has managed to maintain so many high-quality brands. With no patent/copyright protection on designs, you'd think companies like Rolex would be replica-ed out of the industry ... but they haven't. To me, these are clear examples that IP, as a concept, is, well, stupid.

Posted by roy on October 20, 2009 at 11:58 PM in Watches, Ramblings, Web Development | 2 Comments

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PM5K (guest)

Comment posted on October 21st, 2009 at 03:02 AM
You're an engineer? What kind of train do you drive?
Comment posted on October 21st, 2009 at 07:45 PM
a big one