In designing the Apple Watch, Jony Ive said that he and his team immersed themselves in the history of horology, the art of timekeeping. Though the Apple Watch is a undeniably complex and advanced piece of modern technology, Ive noted that it was nonetheless crafted with a great sense of deference to the science of traditional timekeeping. In fact, during the design process, Ive told BusinessWeek that Apple "invited a series of watch historians to Cupertino to speak, including French author Dominique Fléchon, an expert in antique timepieces."
Having said that, if you take a look at any promotional shot of the Apple Watch, you'll notice that the time on each one is set to 10:09. Now given Apple's penchant for sweating even the most minor of details, there must be a reason for this, right?
As it turns out, there is.
Setting the Apple Watch to 10:09 falls in line with a practice many traditional watch companies have abided by for decades. Indeed, if you take a look at almost any watch advertisement, you'll note that the default time is usually set somewhere in between 10:08 and 10:11. Timex, for instance, always sets its watches to 10:09 and 36 seconds.
This tradition amongst watch companies, detailed here in a 2008 New York Times article, dates all the way back to the 1920s and was first introduced by the Hamilton Watch Company. Rolex followed suit about two decades later, soon followed by Timex. Indeed, today one would be hard pressed to find a watch ad where the time isn't pre-set to 10:10 or thereabouts.
The reason behind this practice boils down to marketing, with just a dash of consumer psychology to boot.
Because a watch company's name and/or logo often resides directly underneath the 12, positioning the hands at 10 and 2 ensures that the company brand is not only visible, but framed in a symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing manner. The 10:10 time also has the added benefit of making it appear that the watch is smiling, albeit mechanically.
The Times piece reads:
Additionally, the 10:10 position doesn't obscure other information, such as the date, which might be located next to the 3 or 9.
Klaus Peter Mager, a spokesman for Swatch, said his 25-year-old company, based in Biel, Switzerland, has always photographed watches primarily at 10:10, because "they're smiling instead of a sad man's face."
Interestingly, before variants of 10:10 became the de-facto standard, watchmakers pre-1920s used to set their watches to 8:20, a position which, as mentioned above, evokes more of a negative and sad vibe.
Whether you buy into the explanation of smiling watch faces or not, setting watches to 10:10 is a time honored (no pun intended) tradition amongst watch companies that dates back nearly 100 years.
"It's almost like an unwritten rule that everyone understands to photograph a watch a 10:10," Andrew Block, a former VP at Tourneau, told the Times a few years ago.
By setting the Apple Watch to 10:09, Apple is able to pay homage to the long lineage of mechanical watches that preceded it. It's also Apple's way of declaring that the Apple Watch is, despite all of its advanced digital components, a bonafide timepiece that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as more traditional watches. From Apple's vantage point, the Apple Watch isn't a smartwatch. On the contrary, it's a modern watch that just happens to be extremely smart. The difference is subtle, yet distinctly important.
Apple has never once referred to the Apple Watch as a smartwatch. For a company as detail oriented as Apple, this is no coincidence. Apple is effectively saying that the Apple Watch doesn't belong in the same category as the Galaxy Gear (itself set to 12:45) or the lazily named Sony Smartwatch 2. The Apple Watch, Apple is telling us, is an elegantly designed device that is as much about fashion as it is about advanced technology. The Apple Watch, Apple is telling us, is a modern take on a traditional watch, not a geeky smartwatch meant for a niche audience. Setting the time on the Apple Watch to 10:09 is arguably a reflection of this mindset and underscores Apple's own understanding of what the Apple Watch is and who the intended audience is -- everyone.