In the iPod and Cell Phone Age, Who Needs a Watch?

Watchmakers today are worrying that their time has passed, and they are scrambling to do something about it.

According to The Wall Street Journal, teens and young adults are fast abandoning watches as too low tech and too limited.

In the not-so-distant past, no one -- not teens, young adults or the middle-aged -- would have left home without a watch. There was a time when names like Bulova and Longines Witnauer and Timex were some of America's most important brands.

Are Watches out of Time?

Who, of a certain age, could ever forget John Cameron Swayze putting his Timex through a torture test and announcing: "It takes a licking, and keeps on ticking."

From purely mechanical designs, they evolved during the last half of the 20th century into electronic, digital and crystal-controlled timepieces. Form became as important as function. And even a few years ago, teens craved plastic fashion watches.

But all of them did little more than one thing: tell time.

Today's checklist before leaving home is different, however. IPod? Check. Cell phone? Check. BlackBerry? Check. Laptop? Check. Watch? Who needs one?

Teens and young adults, it is clear, aren't interested if they can't use it to play music, talk with friends, send text messages, read e-mail, or surf the Net.

Statistics bear this out. In the price category most frequently purchased by teens and young adults, watch sales have fallen by 10 percent in the last year. Sales of teen watches have as well, according to the Donegar Group of New York. And the decline accelerated in the last quarter of 2005, which included the Christmas shopping season.

At the same time, Pew Internet Project reports that 45 percent of all teens have a cell phone, and that a bigger percentage of young adults carry either a cell phone or a digital assistant, or both, all of which display the time digitally.

Reinventing the Watch

Watch manufacturers are fighting back by redesigning.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, some new watches carried ear buds and the ability to play music. Others gave the temperature of the air and water. Components of others could be designed by teens themselves. And, of course, one manufacturer will soon market a watch that provides news, horoscopes, and tips on trendy bars.

It is an uphill battle, but many watchmakers are convinced their time will come again.