Is that the time?

Is that the time? Photo: iStock

What started off as a fad that people assumed would die out as soon as it started has become one of the few items of jewellery considered acceptable for men to wear.

Watches are often seen as an investment and a statement of luxury and good taste; for some men, they're the most valuable item they possess. In fact, if forced to choose between the two, I'd put good money down that a large number of men would probably rather lose their wedding ring than their watch. And be very comfortable with that compromise.

However, I – like a growing number of people that live in the 21st century – don't quite understand the fascination. I'm more likely to reach in to my pocket and whip out my mobile phone if I need to know the time. Or, if that isn't handy, there's my laptop, my iPad or my computer if I'm in the office. Even my television and microwave have a feature that tells me whether it's time for lunch.

So in the midst of all this electronic clockwork around me, what practical purpose does a watch now have, other than an expensive accessory that would only accentuate just how incredibly skinny my wrists are?

Well, manners and social etiquette, for one. Sure, watches are a great way to add a touch of class to your outfit, express an understanding of the finer things in life, and even demonstrate a certain level of affluence. But an often-overlooked beauty of wearing a watch is its social subtlety – sitting at the end of your arm in easy view, it's easy to discreetly keep an eye on the time without appearing to, and avoid your conversation partner getting the idea you'd rather be somewhere else.

I blame my mother for this sudden crisis of conscience, after she practically smacked my iPhone out of my hands while we were shopping for my sister's birthday present. She thought I had spent the past few hours constantly checking Facebook, tweeting and sending emails, instead of focusing on what she had been saying to me.

Julie Lamberg-Burnet is the founder and director of the Sydney School of Protocol and teaches not only the nuances and importance of modern etiquette, but also the impact our mannerisms can have. She suggests mobile phones, for all their convenience, can become a social hindrance the more we rely upon them.

“A conversation that is interrupted by glances at a mobile – even if it is to check the time – becomes frustrating for both you and your colleagues,” explains Lamburg-Burnet. “Using a phone to check the time is the same as constantly checking for incoming messages of any sort when in the company of others.”

As mobile phones increasingly encompass more of life's little distractions, we often forget how we can be perceived if we always have one in our hands. Rather than paying attention to the people in front of us, we can appear to be invested elsewhere or have something better that we would rather be doing.

That isn't a problem if you're sitting on a bus or train, but when you're in a roomful of people, be it an office or in a social gathering, you might soon find yourself excluded from conversation or dropped off the invitation list. I'm sure they have many other redeeming features, but for me the beauty of a watch lies in making sure you can keep your eye on the time and not appear rude or distracted.

I have yet to find a watch that doesn't make me look like I have the wrists of an eight-year-old girl, but I've at least made a conscious effort to not look at my phone as much as I once did. And not only because I don't want to upset my mother again, but mostly because I finally figured out how to turn off those damned message alerts I was getting every time someone on Facebook decided they needed everyone to know what they were having for lunch.

Do you think watches still serve a practical purpose, or are they expensive window dressing?