Are luxury sports watches really made for sports?

If you’re a fan of luxury watches, then you will have heard the term ‘sports watch’ bandied around quite often. It is a term that implies a heightened degree of functionality, suggesting a timepiece that is very much a tool before a talking point.

But how true is this implication? It is fair to say that at some point in the history of horology mechanical sports watches were the go-to choice for professional event timers and sportsmen and women alike. Those days, however, were long before the days of quartz and the emergence of electronic timing systems able to separate competitors by thousandths of a second. It seems quaint to suggest it now, but there was a time that the Olympic 100m final was timed by eight synchronised mechanical Omega stopwatches – a far cry from the precision we know today.

In terms of functionality, a mechanical sports watch is relatively useless for actual sport, and although some athletes compete while wearing luxury watches, it would be misleading to suggest they do so for any practical reason. Richard Mille has managed to convince both Rafael Nadal and Yohan Blake wear their custom-made wrist-candy while on the job, but this is only possible because of Mille’s lightweight case materials and their relative comfort. In most cases, the sports watches advertised by sports people, are worn away from competition.

Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie proudly don their Omegas whenever they step off the fairway; Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton flash their Tag chronographs from the podium; Eli Manning straps on his Citizen at the post-game conference, but none of the above need a watch during the act of sport.

So what are ‘sports watches’ for? It is simply a stylistic bracket with a tenuous-at-best link to physical activity. It is a popular pastime of those who are charged with academically analysing fashion and design to conceive, with varying degrees of success and agreement, principles into which most every item can be sorted. Effectively a set of rules and recurrent themes, design principles can be used at the genesis of a product to guide its creation, or at the end of a ‘Eureka project’ to qualify the final product of a more organic process.

Sports watches are inspired by movement and the freedom of physical expression, but they do not do anything sporty.

These days, when selecting a watch for sport, it’s hard to beat a Casio F91W, (available in a rainbow of colours for all of you who think red ones go faster). If you’ve got cash to burn or are desperately chasing that elusive PB, you could invest in a Garmin (the forerunner range is particularly useful).

Luxury watches are supposed to make you feel good, and while I would normally pin my colours to the mechanical mast, it can’t be ignored that digital watches are better at helping you enjoy the luxury of health. Save the steel for the celebration of the victory to which your quartz companion can carry you safely.

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