Protecting my data: switching to an analog watch

Photo by Dmitry Nucky Thompson on Unsplash

I wore a Fitbit for many years. There’s something great about seeing how many steps you’ve been, even when it was just four little dots that showed your progress. Then the model with the time and date came out – wow! I enjoyed my Fitbit Ionic, which let me see the time, date, heartbeat, steps, and so many other details. After all, knowledge is power.

The catalyst

One Friday night in November 2019, I saw an announcement that Google planned to buy Fitbit. This was in the wake of the rumours (now facts) around Google’s Totally Creepy, Totally Legal Health-Data Harvesting. – even worse, Google’s secret cache of medical data includes names and full details of millions. I’ve been exploring how to reclaim my data, don’t be the product, and generally becoming more aware of data privacy. I could already see it: my Fitbit would tell Google that I wasn’t sleeping enough, and I’d see ads for sleeping pills – or worse, this would affect insurance premiums. That was the night that I went down the rabbit hole of watches.

I had no idea just how big the watch world is, and it has become quite a rabbit hole. I’m still discovering new and exciting things, but I’d like to share what I have learned so far.

Smartwatches are often powered by Google Wear

I started by looking at smartwatches, such as the Fossil line – they’re gorgeous, subtle, can show notifications, and they come in all sorts of classy looking designs.

It turns out that most smartwatches these days are powered by Google Wear:

Smartwatches powered with Wear OS by Google are compatible with iPhone® and Android™ phones. Google, Google Pay, Wear OS by Google, Google Fit, and other related marks are trademarks of Google LLC. Touchscreen smartwatches powered with Wear OS by Google require a phone running Android OS 4.4+ (excluding Go edition) or iOS 9.3+. Supported features may vary between platforms.

Even other watch lines such as the Huawei Watch GT2 use a proprietary app – what’s happening with that data?

So while I liked the idea that I could be connected, the fact that I still wouldn’t completely control my data meant that I needed to explore other avenues.

Analog or digital?

I had a digital watch in elementary school that I’d ordered out of one of those catalogues when I’d sold enough cookies. When I pressed a button, it told me the time via speech. For 1994, it was cool. Even now, when I think of digital watches, I think of that clunky, awesome watch.

Or something like this vintage Casio calculator watch:

I’ve finally grown up enough to value form to some degree – so I focused on analogue watches.

Analogue watch faces are more visual and allow us to see more than just the numerical representation of the time. Here’s a great example:

The hands of an analog clock are perceived by our mind’s spacial recognition and then directly converted to “time left until event” or “time left in my morning” and so forth. For example visualize an analog clock sitting at the 12:48 point: I can instantly see that I have close to ten minutes left before my 1:00 appointment. 

To perceive time with digital clock interface, one must calculate “time left till event,” which uses a different mental process. You read “12:48” and then make a brief mental calculation that you have twelve minutes till your 1:00 meeting. It only takes an instant but this repeats throughout the day.

Quora

The watch strap doesn’t matter

Photo by Ana Azevedo on Unsplash

When I first started searching for watches, I already knew that I don’t like metal bracelets. I prefer the warmth and personality of leather. So when I started searching, I filtered on watches with a leather band.
In another TIL, that metal watch band isn’t called a band: it’s called a bracelet.

In general, if the watch is sold with a metal bracelet and you could conceivably want the bracelet at some point or want to sell the watch, buy the version with the metal bracelet. It’s harder and often more expensive to buy the bracelet later. Most watches have removable straps so that you can switch to whichever strap you’d like.

If you do want to switch that bracelet or strap, you’ll need a tool which allows you to pull out the spring bars holding the strap in place. It’s aptly called a spring bar removal tool.

Watches for men? Or for women?

Photo by Jutta Wilms on Unsplash

Technically, a watch is a watch: there isn’t anything that makes a watch specific to a certain gender. Watch manufacturers and sites categorize watches to men or women for marketing purposes and findability. Many women’s watches are more fashion-oriented; I prefer not to be pigeon-holed because of my gender.

The main variables here are dial diameter (the distance across the face of the clock, usually excluding the crown – the bit that you use to set the watch) and the lug to lug distance (the distance from one watch strap attachment point across the dial to the other watch strap attachment point). Once you know your own wrist size (circumference is a great start, as well as the width across the flat top), you have a better idea of how watches will fit you.

Modern tastes have gravitated towards watch styles with a larger case. For women, a standard watch case measures 26-29mm and mini watches are typically 23-25mm in diameter. For men, the average watch is 37-39mm; a sports watch is 40-42mm and over-sized watches measure 45mm and up. Some wearers will argue the case sizes have grown too big—others love the weight and impressive size of an over-sized watch case.

Ultimately the “correct” size comes down to personal preference and which size feels most comfortable.

WATCH SIZE AND FIT GUIDE: HOW YOUR WATCH SHOULD FIT

When looking at watches on /r/watches, people will often ask if a watch fits well, or ask for wrist sizes to better visualize if a watch would fit them.

I’ve personally found that I prefer watches that are approximately 35-39 mm as that size seems to work well on my 18 cm/7″ wrist. But it’s like trying on shoes: you need to see what works for you, your wrist, and your personal style.

There are a number of sites around that help surface smaller watches for those with slimmer wrists or who just happen to prefer smaller watches. The Slender Wrist is one of my favorites.

Quartz or mechanical?

Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Unsplash

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

mechanical watch is a watch that uses a clockwork mechanism to measure the passage of time, as opposed to quartz watches which function electronically via a small battery. A mechanical watch is driven by a mainspring which must be wound either periodically by hand or via an automatic winding mechanism. […] Mechanical watches evolved in Europe in the 17th century from spring powered clocks, which appeared in the 15th century.

Mechanical watches are typically not as accurate as modern electronic quartz watches,[1][2][3] and they require periodic cleaning by a skilled watchmaker.[3] Since the 1970s, quartz watches have taken over most of the watch market, and mechanical watches are now mostly a high-end product, purchased for aesthetic reasons, for appreciation of their fine craftsmanship,[2] or as a status symbol.[2]

Source: mechanical watch on Wikipedia

If you want something that tells consistent time without ever thinking about it, choose the quartz watch. If you want something that appreciates the history and complexity of horology, choose the mechanical watch. As suggested in Mechanical watches can be thousands of dollars more expensive than quartz — but you should still buy one,

I went with an automatic watch, which means that the movement is mechanical and it winds based on your body’s movement. It’s not as accurate as a quartz watch, but the geekiness sold me. Here’s a message I shared with colleagues:

So today, it’s a little fast, close to a minute today. This will probably change by tomorrow. I catch myself thinking, “I’m going to be late! The sky is going to fall!” And yet… maybe this is good for me. Maybe a minute doesn’t really matter.

There’s also the fact that my Fitbits all needed a charge after 3-4 days, even with battery optimization modes enabled. There’s something about knowing that I won’t ever have to charge a mechanical watch that is a relief.

There are days that I wish I had a quartz watch. I do sometimes track the time difference on my mechanical watch and it’s often 10-15 seconds fast per day – that means it’s another thing to pay attention to. Mechanical watches will also eventually need servicing – if it’s an expensive enough watch to make it worth it. I wish there was such a thing as a watch that would go forever, but I haven’t found it yet.

Where I am today

For those who noticed there’s a Panerai at the top of this post – no, I haven’t bought a Panerai watch. 😀 I don’t even want one: I think it’s too big and bulky – but it’s a gorgeous photo.

I know I love wearing a watch. It’s helpful to know what time it is, and I do prefer watches with a time and day complication. I appreciate not having to check my phone to find out what time it is. And I love the subtle accessory.

I’m still trying to figure out what I like, so I swap back and forth between my Seiko 5 SNKL41 and my Certina DS-8.

Seiko 5 SNKL41 with leather strap – and yes, I wear it on my right wrist.

They’re both dress watches, which seems to be a style that I like. I’m curious about field watches, though, particularly the Hamilton Khaki Field Auto 38mm and the Seiko 5 SNK809 – there’s something about that red second hand that fascinates me. I’m really liking the Seiko 5 line in general as it’s affordable and fun.

So, from here? I’ll continue to daydream about my grail watches – which will probably shift from time to time. And I’ll continue to enjoy the hobby.

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