"But once they hit their 30s and find their career path, they'll get a watch as a status symbol."
True enough, the Jewelers of America said that "fine watches" continue to hang on to about 13 percent of the jewelry market, as it has been in recent years, and that overall sales of watches ticked up 3.5 percent this summer from a year earlier.
Looming over future sales are those bare-wristed millennials: Less than a third of Americans ages 18 to 29 report wearing a watch at least most of the time, according to surveys by YPulse, a market researcher.
The most commonly cited reason? "It's unnecessary ... since I always look at my phone to know the time."
Still, more than one-quarter of young adults tell YPulse they will sport wristwatches from time to time as fashion accessories.
That means they'll buy, then buy again, but the watches on most days stay on the dresser while the cellphone goes everywhere.
For millions, the phone represents the return of the pocket watch, the preferred time-telling tool before World War I. Any number of apps can display the time as if it is a pocket watch, with Roman numerals on a clock face, a second hand and even ticking noises on command.
If fault lines are forming in the wristwatch trade, Kansas City's Borel family - among the nation's major distributors of watch parts - hasn't missed a beat.
"I can't tell you if cellphones will someday make watches obsolete," Paul Borel said. "All I can say is we're very busy doing what we've always been doing. And that's selling watch parts."
Recently rounding up a mainspring and other tiny parts for a repair order from Maine, he recognized the watch needing service as being a classic Jaeger LeCoultre.
"This guy's trying to fix something that has to be 60, 70 years old," he said. "We see a lot of that."
A quiet institution downtown, Jules Borel and Co. has operated out of the same six-story building on Grand Avenue for more than half a century. Founded by a Swiss immigrant who arrived in America with a suitcase full of watch parts, the company is a maze of drawers resembling a library's card catalog - each little drawer containing neatly supplied packets of watch crowns, crystals, bezels, stainless-steel spring stems or microscopic gaskets.
CEO Mark Borel, 90, bends over a bench with a magnifying optivisor strapped around his eyes as he performs surgery on a Mallard watch of his own design.
His nephew, Gary Borel, shows off his own copper-colored timepiece with a vacuum-sealed face surrounded by a ruby case topped with a sapphire crystal.
"I've worn this about 38 years, and it looks pristine," Gary Borel said. "That's what happens when you put ruby and sapphire together. Nothing scratches it."
Imagine a cellphone lasting 38 years.
Not that cellphone technology takes a back seat.
With dozens of GPS satellites overhead talking to a network of cell-tower receivers on the ground, telecommunications companies such as Sprint Nextel can "have all times synchronized precisely to the micro-second," Sprint manager Ben Bellinder said. "We call it network time."
The network even knows when you cross time zones.
Some of the world's largest electronics manufacturers have begun to blend such technology with wristwatch fashion. For about $150 retail, Sony's SmartWatch slaps around your wrist a 2-inch-square screen that channels the Android phone in your pocket. You can check the time and read emails and texts without reaching for a mobile device.
Not to be outclassed, Swiss mechanical watchmaker Omega is plastering images from the new James Bond flick, "Skyfall," on its website.
That's actor Daniel Craig sporting an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean, priced at $10,000 and beyond. (Until the mid-1990s, the Bond character was a Rolex man.)
Omega is part of the Swatch Group, owner of 19 high-end brands, which in July posted double-digit growth in gross sales and operating profit for the second straight year.
Time out, said the watch-rejecting Pinks back at the JCCC Student Center: Some disconnect here or what?
"If I had $10,000 to spend, I'd buy a motorcycle and ride across the country," he said, "and leave the wristwatch at home."
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