Watches for Kids - First Impressions of Blok
I am not sure when I stopped wearing watches. I always liked them, though. Perhaps this was a precursor to my desire to become a mechanical engineer. Moving parts within functional systems that were created to support human endeavors.
The ending of my most recent watch-wearing stint was the shattering of the face of my Apple Watch Series 3. When thinking about purchasing a new one, I decided to detox. It started with “wait a month”, but shifted to “wait until my tan lines disappeared” and at some point, I decided that I simply didn’t need it.
But the Apple Watch is not like those other watches, no matter how close they get; Apple Watches are not what a child who wants to be an engineer dreams about. Instead, that child dreams about mechanisms; that child dreams about gears and springs. Even today, with my wrist bare, I think about the craftsmanship that goes into an automatic watch and I feel myself drifting into a dream-like state.
My wife and I are beginning to plan a late spring trip to Disney with the kids and I felt this was the perfect time to begin that watch journey with the kids. But if I am being honest, I didn’t want to buy junk, I didn’t want to get something to get us through. I also was unwilling to answer any requests for smartwatches by my 4, 7, or 10 year old.
I wanted to buy the discerning-engineer-dad watch. A rabbit hole ensued, into which I went head first for a couple weeks.
The passage of time is something that we learn to contextualize as children. Because children don’t experience time in the way that adults do. They have no idea what 15 minutes is in reality because it always depends on what they are doing, how much perceived fun that activity is, and how they feel when the time is up.
Few watchmakers are thinking about this space in new and innovative ways, instead devoting time and energy to characters (Snoopy still seems to be a hit) and gimmicks. The number of watches out there that are charging not insignificant amounts for the same things they were hawking ages ago is intense.
The same old (tried and true?) brands are still there—Timex, Swatch, and Casio—but they are now joined by every fitness watch maker and kids toy company that can slap a battery into a piece of plastic to fit (barely) onto a wrist. The majority of these watches are wasteful, hideous, or intentionally made to be gateways to would-be Apple product buyers.
Since I was looking for analog watches for kids, I had the dumb luck to be able to filter my searches to remove a lot of the cruft, but even then, I was struck by just how many reviews, rundowns, and articles pushed me toward something unnecessarily complex, cheap, or disposable.1
One of the first legitimate hits for this search (and really the only one I needed) was from Time & Tide Watches, a Melbourne, Australia-based group akin to Hodinkee, which is based out of New York. Hodinkee, much to my chagrin, doesn’t really do rundown-type reviews, so I was stuck searching their individual watch reviews for kids.
As I said, though, the Time & Tide article was the only one I needed because just as there are a thousand different brands that put out junk watches for kids, there are only a handful of companies that I would consider during my rabbit hole search and both Time & Tide and Hodinkee pointed me in their direction. Those companies are (in alphabetical order) Blok, Casio, Flik Flak, Parchie, Swatch, and Timex. Note that three of those listed are the “same old (tried and true?) brands” from above; when you do it right the first time, it sticks.
But in the grand scheme of things, only two of those truly caught my eye because of their modern styling, unique colorways, and ability to stand the test of time; Blok and Parchie are watches that I could see even myself wearing. Just because they are designed for kids, doesn’t mean that they don’t look good on an adult wrist.
Coming out the other side of that rabbit hole, I have the first contender in hand. A Blok 31 in Lime for my 7 year old (the color was his choice), which was generously provided to me by Blok founder, Neil Ferrier, to try out.2
The Blok 31 is admittedly too small for my wrist both in dial diameter and strap length (it ships with the small version for 5”-6” wrist sizes), but fits my son’s wrist perfectly. In other words, if I were to get this one for my 10 year old, I would need to size up the band (adding ~$30 to the purchase price), but she likes the dial size and the Wisteria colorway, a light purple hue.
First impressions from all of us is that this is going to be a winner. The time was already set properly when we opened the box, which was a nice touch, and the color is striking. The materials feel nice, the watch is very light-weight but solid, and the “blok” time-telling methodology is everything I thought it would be.
That last point is key when approaching this watch brand. The numbers on the dial are slightly offset from the norm and assist in helping kids to read the time, as the hour hand points to a number at all times and the minute hand sweeps past the numbers on the bezel (in the standard positions).
The original Blok 33 included a rotating bezel, with four timer “bloks” that allowed for on-the-fly time management and contextualization. That bezel isn’t a part of this watch, but speaks to the larger ethos of the brand: innovations that assist in child learning for analog watches with intentional designs. If that isn’t exactly was I was looking for, I don’t know what is.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the inherent disposability of kids products generally. My wife and I have always tried to be intentional about how we approach our children’s things, opting for things that will either stick with us because they have value across age ranges or have value for someone else when we are done with it. In the age of eco-friendly labels, one would think this forethought would be common, but a single Amazon search can easily shatter that perception. ↩
I reached out to Parchie as well about potentially getting a sample to test with the kids and I have not yet heard back. ↩