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SIOUX CITY -- The sands of time are still shifting on the fate of the wrist watch, a classic timepiece fighting to avoid the history books as another victim of cell phone technology.

"I have a watch, but I haven't worn it for years, not since I got my cell phone," said Richard Steinbach, 52, of Sioux City, as he quickly flashed his barren wrists. "It's just one less thing I have to worry about since I can just use my phone to check the time."

The Briar Cliff University music professor is part of a growing number of people ditching time pieces for cell phones, forcing the watch industry to re-evaluate its market niche.

Max Kilger, chief behavioral scientist for the market research firm Experian Simmons, said many people are taking their watches off because smartphones can tell time in addition to check email, surf the web, play music, stream movies and countless other tasks a watch can't do.

About 19 percent of American adults, or 42 million people, bought a watch in 2011 compared with 25 percent, or 52 million adults, in 2005.

The number of adults with cell phones increased from 141.9 million people in 2005 to 208.3 million people in 2011.

Kilger said that consumers did spend more when buying a watch, an indication people are shopping for style instead of functionality. The average consumer paid $92 for a watch in 2011, up from $74 in 2005.

"People are buying high-end, prestige watches. They are gadget hounds, and they want to buy a watch that makes a statement," he said.

Sioux City residents Jim and Christen Palmer agreed with Kilger's assessment.

"I think the look is just classic. You can tell that a guy is well put together if he's wearing a watch," said Jim Palmer, who wore a watch. "It steps up your game."

Rusty Clark, owner of the Sioux City jewelry business Thorpe and Company, said watches are evolving and will survive the smartphone.

While teenagers are learning to use their phones to tell time, Clark said, many switch to a watch when they enter the workplace. That switch is tied to style and functionality since a watch is easier to check during a board meeting.

"It's a piece of jewelry -- an ornament -- and it says something about you," Clark said. "A Pinto will get you to Omaha just as easily as a Ferrari, and a cheap watch will tell the time just as well as an expensive watch. It's more about making a statement."

There is no indication that fashion trend will letup anytime soon.

Watch makers that focus on producing fashionable pieces of jewelry instead of focusing on functionality will have the strongest public appeal with American consumers, Kilger said.

"There will always be a place for watches," he said. "The more watch makers make fashionable watches, the better they will do."


Nate Robson is the education reporter for the Journal. He writes about issues impacting local school districts and colleges.

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