Watches thrive even in the smartphone age

A vistor walks past the Rolex advertisement on March 13, 2012 in Basel, Switzerland.

Audemars Piguet's Millenary Minute Repeater in Titanium can chime -- like a clock. The technology is old - hundreds of years ago you wouldn't have been able to read the time at night, so, instead, you listened. But handmade watches like this come with more than nostalgia. Prices can run into the hundreds of thousands.

Kai Ryssdal: We're surrounded by things that tell us the time even when we don't want to know. But the fact is watch sales are up especially on one side of the price curve. Marketplace's Sally Herships has the story.
Sally Herships: I’m about to play a joke on someone. Benjamin Clymer. Here’s what you need to know -- he’s editor of an upscale watch blog Hodinkee.com. This guy is all about watches. He’s wearing a vintage Rolex.
Herships: Hey, do you know what time it is? Clymer: It is 1:37 on the dot. Herships: And how did you tell me? Clymer: On my iPhone.
Here’s what makes Clymer’s answer even more ironic, we’re at Audemars Piguet, a Swiss luxury watchmaker, in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by tiny magical time-keeping-machines, in glass cases. There’s even a watch that can chime, like a clock. Even though we don’t need watches anymore. We’re still buying them -- especially the expensive ones.
Herships: How much is the rose gold watch? Audemars Piguet Salesman: It’s $61,200. Herships:  Wow. And what about the car? Clymer: Forged carbon? Herships: The forged carbon -- what about that? Audemars Piguet Salesman: $36, 500 in forged carbon. Herships: Is that a good deal?
And the watch with the chimes you heard  is $470,000. Some clients wait up to two years for watches like these. They’re handmade and -- 
Joe Thompson: And the very hot spot in the world watch market is the top-tier, $10,000 and up.
Joe Thompson is editor of Watch Time Magazine. He says new wealth in China has been driving the luxury watch boom. And as China’s growth slows the U.S. market has picked up the slack. In the past 12 months, sales of luxury watches here grew faster than any other kind. That’s according to LGI Network, which tracks the watch market. But why watches if we don’t need them? Fashion. Catherine Moellering is executive vice president of Tobe, a retail trend forecast company.
Catherine Moellering: From a trend perspective, and I love the fact that I even get to say things like this -- we have moved away from the neck and are now in a big wrist cycle.
It used to be all about statement necklaces. Now it’s all about wrist wear. Today, Moellering is wearing her boyfriend’s Rolex. Big, chunky men’s watches are very in right now. And so is what she calls slow technology -- things that are potentially obsolete but also nostalgic -- vinyl records, non-digital cameras, and mechanical watches.  Which brings us back to Ben Clymer. He says the American market for watches is so strong his blog is turning away advertisers, he has to tell folks, maybe next time. 
Herships: What time is it? Clymer: It is now, 2:21. Herships: And you told me? Clymer: From my 1972 Rolex Mariner. Herships: Thank you. Clymer: You’re very welcome.
In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

Show us your watch

Friday on Marketplace, reporter Sally Herships explored the luxurious world of wrist watches to see how they're faring in the smartphone age.

Storified by · Sat, Jul 21 2012 11:42:28

Watch power! @ American Public Media http://instagr.am/p/NUaA5oSPTE/Chau Tu
Question: What time is it? Stop right there, did you just check your phone or your watch? Watch sales are up, especially luxury brands -- do you still wear one?APM: Marketplace
@MarketplaceAPM you know it! http://pic.twitter.com/54Mcs43iAlexander J. Florek
@MarketplaceAPM Yes! But I mostly use it to know the date & to set alarms during the day for meetings.Katherine Walstrom
@MarketplaceAPM I recently wore a watch as a fashion accessory and was reminded of its convenience. I have worn a watch everyday since.Danette Halloran
“@MarketplaceAPM: What time is it? Did you just check your phone or watch? ...://t.co/HYctJz4v” I wear a Placebo Band; it doesn't tell time.Wendy Hughes
@MarketplaceAPM I DO need my watch. I don't always have my phone on my arm. Sometimes it's lost in my bag, the other room, etc. I have 2.StacJac
@MarketplaceAPM feel very hipster now...been wearing a watch before it was cool! HahahaRobert Vaughan
@MarketplaceAPM my watch battery died 2 weeks ago, but I'm still wearing it!laura
@MarketplaceAPM get with latest in high (tech?) couture! #nikefuelband http://moby.to/dn1ja4Ed Ireson
@MarketplaceAPM watches = handcuffsDan Goldman

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

Audemars Piguet's Millenary Minute Repeater in Titanium can chime -- like a clock. The technology is old - hundreds of years ago you wouldn't have been able to read the time at night, so, instead, you listened. But handmade watches like this come with more than nostalgia. Prices can run into the hundreds of thousands.

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