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Why We’re Calling Time On Smart Watches

Meet the classic styles making a comeback

By Naomi Chrisoulakis

Alyce Tran has never owned a smart watch, even though she’s been gifted several over the years. “To be honest, I’ve never liked the look of them – I’ve never even set them up,” admits the entrepreneur and founder of homewares brand In The Roundhouse

Instead, she wears a gold Cartier Panthère, which appears frequently in her Instagram feed, whether she’s relaxing at home, busy on shoots or enjoying envy-inducing holidays in Paris and Rome. “I wear it every day, in the shower, at the beach, in a dress, in activewear… it goes with everything because it’s essentially gold jewellery. Yes, it’s an investment but it’s a classic,” she adds. 

In fact, Tran is one of a growing number of women who are choosing to invest in classic watches, rather than updating their Apple Watch every two years. Sadly, not all of us are buying a Cartier timepiece (the Panthère retails at about $30,000), but ‘proper’ watches – that don’t give regular updates on your steps or heart rate – offer a welcome time out from our always-on culture.


“As more of the world becomes digital, I think there’s great appeal in all things analogue, and classic watches have a lovely charm,” says stylist Lucy Wood, who is hoping for a Cartier Tank one day. “I’ve seen a lot of fashion editors wearing them, and to me it feels like a nice change from your wrist buzzing and constantly being connected – it’s like a breath of fresh air.”  

Karla Clarke, co-founder of fashion and culture platform Side-Note, has owned a Cartier Tank for a few years, and is adamant she won’t be swapping it for a smart watch. “I have a giant phone and my entire work life is out of it – I have 39,000 unopened emails. The very last thing I want is to bring that closer to my body, it’s just unnecessary,” she laughs. 

As someone working in the fashion industry, Clarke says she’s thoughtful about her purchases, but frequently tempted. “I don’t buy a lot of stuff but I definitely have a constant feeling of FOMO, so I wanted to buy something that would stop me hankering for the next new thing. The Tank is tasteful and timeless, not ostentatious. I figured, if the design’s lasted 70 years then surely I’ll be satiated by it for the next 25.”

If the design’s lasted 70 years then surely I’ll be satiated for the next 25

Interestingly, investment in traditional watches hasn’t come at the expense of smart watches; Australia has one of the highest per capita spend in this category globally (by the end of last year, 17 per cent of the population owned a smart watch.) The popularity of ‘proper’ watches is instead a reflection of Millennial and Gen Z’s appreciation of ‘storied’ brands that come with a healthy dose of nostalgia – and rising second-hand value. 

“Gen Z loves vintage,” says Tran. “Just look at the ’90s trend. The resale market has had a huge uplift thanks to young people looking back.”

Back to the future

Certainly the figures tell a similar story. In the US, pre-owned watch sales hit $US18 billion [$AUD26 billion] in 2019, and could top $US30 billion by 2025, according to consulting firm McKinsey. Pre-owned watch sales will be about half the size of the market for new watches by 2025, up from about a third today, it says.  

In a (particularly specific) piece of research carried out in 11 countries, Deloitte found Millennials would choose one luxury timepiece over a new digital smartwatch each year for a decade if given $US5,000 to spend on a watch. Gen Zs are showing off their pricey purchases on socials: watch-related content generated over 173 million views on TikTok, according to the app. 

Start-ups like US-based Hodinkee (which raised $40 million from the likes of singer John Mayer and Apple alum Tony Fadell) and German Chrono24 are hoping to become the eBay for high-end pre-owned watches, and with Millennials and Gen Z prioritising sustainability, they might just have the market to do so. 

“I prefer vintage to new,” Ilona Hamer, co-founder of swim and resort brand Matteau, told the Sydney Morning Herald of her 1985 gold Panthère. “I love to think about the woman who wore it before me and the life she lived.” She also owns a 1970s Tank. “I’m ticking the classics off my list: the watches; the luggage; the handbags.” 

Such is the diversity of the market that you don’t have to spend a fortune for a beautiful piece, says Wood. “I’ve recently come across Australian brand Cendré, which delivers vintage-inspired jewellery and watches without the price tag of the luxury brands. Sure, they won’t match on quality but these are pieces that feel special and timeless without being such a big investment.

“In fashion right now, there’s a focus on timeless dressing and investing in refined pieces that we’ll wear year after year,” she adds. “That’s reflected in jewellery and watches, too.”

Main image: Serpenti Seduttori watch with stainless steel case & bracelet, Bulgari, $7,350; Serpenti Seduttori watch in stainless steel and rose gold case, Bulgari $12,600; B.zero1 20th Anniversary 5-band ring in rose gold, Bulgari, $4,400

Styling by Lucy Wood


BY Naomi Chrisoulakis

Naomi is a writer who lives on Sydney's South Coast. She is hoping for a Cartier watch for her next big birthday

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