Apple Watch vs Rolex Submariner
Given that the mechanical watch industry was almost rendered extinct by the onslaught of quartz technology at the end of the 20th century, it’s understandable that the rise of the smartwatch is posing a bit of a concern. Can the ancient and outdated mechanical wristwatch survive another round with modern innovation?
Whether you are an Apple fan or not, there’s no denying that its third generation watch looks like the future. In space grey with a grey silicon strap, it has a ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ vibe about it, clean and simple with blending curves and an enveloping screen. It’s easy to imagine the sensor array on the back glowing red and mistaking you for some guy called Dave.
Apple's 3rd generation watch adds cellular functionality
Talking of sensors, this thing has a few: it knows where you are, where you’re going, speed, height, heartrate, calorie burn, the people you love and where you live. It’s an all seeing eye that can tell you what the weather’s like in New York, how to get there, and will play your favourite tune as you travel. Got a question? Phone a friend, or failing that, ask Siri, your digital assistant, and she’ll fetch the answer for you. Oh, and it’s got a clock as well, let’s not forget, one that syncs with the most accurate in the world, which also has a chronograph that’s accurate to one-hundredth of a second.
And as daunting as all this seems for someone who’s used nothing more than a three-hander all their life, it’s a simple and intuitive device to use. Gone are the days of attempting to pass the technological baton down to the more geriatric generations: this is a system that even the most analogue technophobe can get to grips with. There’s a minimal instruction manual, but it’s not needed. A few presses and turns of the digital crown and it all makes sense.
Touchscreen and a digital crown controls the Apple Watch features
In fact, if you’re finding yourself heading towards an age where memory becomes a precious commodity, the Apple Watch begins to make even more sense. Siri can add an appointment to your calendar for you, remind you of a loved one’s birthday, help you work out a sum, give you directions, find out the name of a song, tell you who that actor is in that film you like—the possibilities are endless, they really are. The internet was always imagined as a gateway to universal truth, and the Apple Watch can help anyone get there.
But the question is can it replace a ticking collection of wheels and springs that traces its origins back half a millennium?
As the universal epitome of the mechanical wristwatch, the Submariner—based on a 65-year-old design—is as simple as simple gets. This example doesn’t even have a date. You can’t tell what the time is in another country, or even if it’s AM or PM in the one you’re already in. There are three hands: hours, minutes, seconds.
The classic Rolex Submariner in modern 114060 form
The most complex thing this watch can do, besides telling the time—which isn’t synced with an atomic clock or anything like that—is count the passing minutes from the rotating bezel. Pretty rudimentary. There are of course mechanical chronographs, but other than a few, rare examples, they don’t offer an accuracy of more than a tenth of a second. This Submariner can only display a maximum of an eighth of a second, not that there’s any real way of seeing it. And it doesn’t really matter, as the watch will likely be out of time by about two seconds a day anyway.
It’s not looking good for the mechanical watch, that’s for sure. The hammer blow comes with the price: an Apple Watch Series 3 starts at £329, rising to £399 if you want independence from your phone. And the Rolex? £5,450. Never mind the same ballpark—the Rolex is in a different dimension.
Before we go further, I’d like to draw an analogy. A few days ago, Tesla’s newest technological tour-de-force, the Model 3, was announced as America’s best-selling electric car, even though none will be delivered until 2019. The battery-driven motor zips passengers along without the clatter of engine noise, without the fuss of changing gears—and even, with autopilot engaged, without the driver themselves. You can browse the internet in it, watch a movie, stream your favourite podcast—all commanded by voice, of course—for the price of a modestly spec’d Volkswagen Tiguan.
By comparison, Porsche’s 911 GT3—which, despite also being a car, costs another £85,000—has a loud petrol engine that needs to be revved to 9,000 rpm, a gearbox that the driver has to operate themselves—and it certainly won’t drive itself. If anything it’ll do the opposite and throw an inexperienced driver clean off the road. Yet, somehow, it will always remain the enthusiast’s choice.
Can a simple three-hander offer a better experience than a complex Apple Watch?
Why is this? How can a technically inferior product sway such an illogical decision? The answer, quite simply, is emotion. The way analogue, mechanical technology makes us feel is unparalleled by digital, the visceral experience triggering the same part inside our brains that draws satisfaction from a well-fitting puzzle piece or drawing on a banana with a ball-point. It sounds stupid, but it’s hard-wired. Primal. And there’s nothing we can do about it except wait for evolution to weed it out.
Granted, you wouldn’t be able to use a Submariner to record your vital stats on a muddy, cross-country run, in the same way that you wouldn’t want to drive the GT3 home through rain-soaked rush hour traffic, and that’s the crux of it: these are different products for different purposes, despite how similar they seem, because whilst you’ll never be able to ask your Submariner who won the figure skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics, you’ll also never get the sense of satisfaction from a coiled spring driving a set of wheels through a dancing escapement in the smart watch either. The amazing thing, really, is that we even have the choice.
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Other watches you may be interested in: Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust 17000 Rolex Daytona 116500 LN Rolex Submariner 14060 Rolex Explorer II 16570 Rolex Datejust 1601