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We Now Have Four Wrists

There is an insightful piece of advice I've heard from longtime watch collectors. It is this: you only have two wrists and they are extremely valuable property. Think carefully about what you buy and ask yourself if a watch brand has earned the right to reside on your wrist.

Saraswati, the Indian goddess of wisdom, music, art and speech.
It recently occured to me that wrist real estate has doubled for many people these days. No, I'm not referring to some kind of surgical grafting of additional limbs. I'm talking about the "metaverse." Before the advent of this buzzword, I generally refered to this space as virtual reality, so I'm going to stick with that for the purposes of this post.

A bit of background: back in December I bought my family an Oculus Quest 2 from Facebook (now Meta). This is a wireless VR headset with accessible pricing. One of my kids had tried out a game call "Job Simulator" in the past and loved it. I thought I'd bring one of these headsets into our family and see what happens. I also thought there were decent odds that it might end up collecting dust in some corner of the house as everyone lost interest.

It turns out that the Quest has been way more popular in our family than I expected. My spouse loves a workout app and I use that now and then. I enjoy a few games as do both of my kids. We're still using this product on a regular basis.

One of the problems with using VR of the Quest variety is that it is very easy to lose track of time. You can't take out your phone to look at the time (hands occupied with controllers) and you can't see anything in "meatspace" because you've got two screens strapped to your head with all of your other vision blocked out (there is "pass through" of video around you but it isn't very detailed). If you press a button on a controller, a menu pops up with the time but it is really a bit jarring and could possibly lead an app to crash.

It then occurred to me: why isn't a watch available on one (or both?) of those additional virtual wrists? A wristwatch offers the same advantages in both cyberspace and meatspace: it keeps you in the moment. If you check the time with your phone, there is a huge risk that your attention will be sucked into some kind of DM or social media platform and you'll lose whatever connection you have with the moment. In fact, I've read that a lot of the mobile app space is devoted to figuring out how to make that distraction irresistable. A watch does not carry the same risk. You might momentarily become distracted by some design element but basically you look at the watch, get the time, and then you're right back in the moment.

The exact same rationale exists for a VR wristwatch. Let me illustrate this with a video I took in the VR game called "Warplanes WWI Fighters."
In the video, you'll see that popup menu I mentioned earlier, it displays the time. I click Resume and then I'm back in the game (this was the very start of a "mission" and you can see a number of planes off in the distance if you look closely). You can see that my actual hands / controllers are rendered in VR as gloved hands and I'm motioning with the controller to show how I could check the time if there were a wristwatch in VR. There isn't, so my only option is to take off the headset or use the popup.

I don't want to come across as pollyanish about the possibility that the watch industry will start offering virtual versions of their product. Doing so would require a whole lot of negotiating with developers of a VR platform (in the case of Quest, Facebook / Meta) as well as game developers. However, leadership at most of these platforms is very eager to make VR as appealing as possible, especially when there is revenue potential (we'll get back to revenue in a minute). The watch industry would also need to convince app developers to allow their virtual product inside their app.

On the other hand, the cost of rolling out the virtual version of a watch should be minimal. Three dimensional renders and models of watches are standard practice in the development process. Adapting these design files to virtual reality is entirely feasible. There is also precedent for other manufacturers to bring their products into VR. Both Apple and Logitech collaborated with Meta / Facebook so that certain keyboards could be presented and used in VR. Further, there are real complimentarities between the historical and cultural experiences portrayed in virtual reality and the history of timepieces themselves. What if you could wear a special edition Seamaster while completing a James Bond mission or start the chronograph function on a Speedmaster while trying to time the engine burn during a VR version of the Apollo 13 mission? The list goes on and on.

Virtual reality represents an opportunity for the watch industry to increase the value proposition when it comes to timepieces. If you buy a particular watch and you can still wear it when you're using your virtual wrists, the reason to buy it is that much more compelling. In addition, there is a real risk that the Apple Watch will become more competitive if the traditional watch industry does not offer a virtual extension. Rumors are swirling that an Apple VR product is in the offing in the very near future. If there is one thing we can predict, it is that Apple will do everything it can to ensure that all its products, watches included, have functionality that is integrated with their VR headset. Traditional watchmaking has been remarkably resilient in the face of smartwatch ascendency. That may not continue if smartwatches outperform traditional watches in the virtual realm.

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