The timely trend for wearing two watches

On a flight to New York recently, I spotted a man in the seat in front of me wearing two watches: a Rolex on one wrist and an Apple Watch on the other. I understand the dilemma this man might have faced as I own more than a dozen watches, and most mornings I fret over which watch to wear. The decision is a battle between my left brain and my right, my practical side and my stylish side. However, wearing two watches is an extreme solution that I had never previously considered. It would be like wearing a suit with shorts — you have to be prepared for a few raised eyebrows.

After seeing “double-wristing” — as it has been dubbed — in the wild, I was curious and pondered the question of wearing two watches in my style oriented newsletter A Continuous Lean. The response caught me off-guard. Multiple people wrote to tell me they also wear two watches at once, and not just because they want to convey a certain sprezzatura.

The majority of my readers said that the practice of wearing two timepieces together, with two on one wrist or one on each arm, mostly paired a mechanical watch and a smart watch. Chris Echevarria, who designs footwear brand Blackstock & Weber, simply messaged me with a photo of his arm accessorised with a Rolex Submariner and an Apple Watch together. I asked just why a stylish man like him was doing this. “One is a stunner and the other is for tracking steps,” he texted back with a crying laughing emoji.

Each of them explained how they love the look of a traditional watch but needed the health-tracking or some other feature of a smart watch. With the advent of smart watches, the double-wristing trend has gathered momentum — yet it does have precedents.

Norman Schwarzkopf in military fatigues with a stars and stripes flag behind him
The late US general Norman Schwarzkopf wearing a watch on each wrist in 1991 . . .  © Gilles Bassignac/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Chris Pratt sits smiling in a chat-show studio
. . . and actor Chris Pratt models the look in 2019 © Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

One notable example is American general Norman Schwarzkopf, who wore two watches during the 1991 Gulf war — though for practical rather than style reasons. He had one set to show the local time in Saudi Arabia and the other the time in Washington.

The ability to monitor several time zones at once is a problem that Rolex tackled in 1954, with the introduction of the GMT-Master. Named after Greenwich Mean Time, the GMT was introduced by the Swiss watchmaker at the suggestion of Pan American World Airways, to allow pilots to quickly check the time in two places simultaneously. A Rolex GMT would have solved Schwarzkopf’s problem of reading two time zones at once, but his approach was the quirky solution that he preferred.

Other famous figures to dabble in the look include Gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson and Marlon Brando, and more recently Billie Eilish and actors Chris Pratt and Bill Murray, who paired the cheap and cheerful Timex Easy Reader with a rather more sophisticated Cartier Tank at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

The penchant for wearing two watches raises the question: what is the purpose of a watch? Is it a style accessory or is it an alternative to the smartphone? Or perhaps it helps to dodge the question. As technology writer and venture capitalist Om Malik, who wears two watches, says: “I normally wear my Grand Seiko — which is always on the left wrist — and then the Apple Watch on the right for health-tracking reasons, text messages or using Apple Pay. I am older and I like the idea of fall detection and heart monitoring.”

A 1981 photograph of the young Princess Diana wearing a pink blouse and a watch on each wrist
Princess Diana sports two watches at a polo match at Windsor in 1981 . . .  © Alpha Photo Press Agency

Billie Eilish, dressed in black jacket and black headscarf, shows off the gold-coloured watches on each wrist
 . . . and singer Billie Eilish with double Chanel watches in 2017 © Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

However, one of the most stylish men in the watch world, IWC chief executive Christoph Grainger-Herr, makes a case for emotional factors and the self-expression of a mechanical watch: “The occasion, my mood, and my outfit clearly influence what watch I’m going to pick in the morning. I find it hard to go out of the house without having a watch on, it makes your outfit feel complete, and it has become such an important part of what I’m trying to express at any given moment.”

On the other hand — pun intended — smart watches offer science fiction-level technology that many of us don’t think we can live without, which has further complicated things for lovers of mechanical watches.

Although there is an ongoing battle for wrist real estate between smart watches and traditional versions, and tensions ran high in Geneva when the Apple Watch was announced in 2014, it turns out that the technology did not derail the Swiss industry in the way the advent of quartz watches did. Grainger-Herr believes that “getting people used to the ritual of putting something on in the morning and wearing something on their wrist and ultimately then getting interested in proper watches is a good thing.”

Perhaps this is just another expression of the everyday dilemma between form and function. I can’t bring myself to wear two watches at the same time because that would just be too flashy for my personal style. Instead I will continue to choose which version of myself I want to be, the stylish guy with a beautiful mechanical watch or the sci-fi guy who talks into the tiny computer on his wrist.

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