When it comes to watches there tend to be three types of people. The first views a watch as a tool – it tells time and maybe what day it is. To this person, a watch is functional and is not an investment per se; it is a commodity. This man may spend some time on choosing his watch, but the choice will likely be based on finding the biggest bang for his buck. How much does it cost? How long will the battery last? Is it waterproof?
Then there are those who barely see the need for a watch. To this guy, telling time is what a cell phone is for. Better yet, that’s what his iPhone is for; and it’s the only thing he ever carries. He doesn’t need a wrist watch because, hey, this is 2009. For him, this is a normal evolution – watches are obsolete or at least a redundant hassle.
The final category is for the men who believe that a watch, particularly a well-crafted mechanical watch possesses an intangible and emotional power that an iPhone, with all its bells and whistles, can never match. To this guy, a watch is far more than a timekeeper. It is a combination of art, science, and horological functionality which together create something more significant than a mere tool.
I think it’s safe to say that I fall into the latter group.
The things you carry and use every day should have not only purpose, but meaning as well. Watches are an important and very personal way for a man to express his style and individuality. Apart from cuff links, and perhaps a bag, we really don’t have many options when it comes to displaying a little flair in our daily routines.
As men have increased their focus on style, elegance, quality, and a need to differentiate themselves from others, watches have evolved as well. From the pedestrian Timex to extravagant Breguet, quartz to chronometer, watches have become the men’s accessory linchpin. Your watch says a great deal about what you value.
And “value” may indeed be the operative word. Depending on your bank account and inclination, the choices are many. For those seeking a day-to-day workhorse, Times, Seiko and Citizen all offer practical and reliable models in the $100 range. A good resource for nicer watches at reasonable prices is Princeton Watch. At the other end of the spectrum, should price come a distant second to mechanical excellence, Patek Philippe’s timeless Calatrava in white gold can be yours for about $25,000.
The Mechanics of Mechanical
Though there are many types of watches, one particular category has shown marked growth. In one of those interesting juxtapositions, mechanical and automatic watches – which demand almost daily manual involvement – have increased in popularity even as automated technology dominates almost all aspects of our lives.
With hundreds of moving parts and complex “complications,” these anachronistic machines have not fallen by the wayside, the victims of progress as one might expect. Whether they are objects of status or the focus of a collector’s fascination, mechanical watches are more popular than ever.
To many, they possess a character and personality not found in mass-produced commodity timepieces. There are two primary ways in which a mechanical watch operates: manually wound and automatic.
“Manually Wound” refers to the fact that the watch requires the wearer to physically wind up the watch to make it work. Once the spring runs down, the watch stops unless it is re-wound.
“Automatic” watches have a counterweighted engine that, once wound, automatically rewinds itself through your body’s natural movement. Many of the most recognized watches are automatic, including the Rolex Submariner.
Automatics are the more popular of these two styles for an obvious reason – as long as you regularly wear it, your mechanical watch will always be ticking away. Manually wound watches are often coveted by collectors or those who look forward to the daily ritual of winding it up. The iconic Omega Speedmaster, or “Moon Watch,” so named because it was the first watch worn on the moon, is a manually wound watch. NASA chose it, in part, because of the concern that an automatic watch’s counterweight would be unable to operate in the vacuum of space.
Buzz Aldrin and his Speedmaster
Making a Choice
The past several years gave rise to a definite trend toward larger everyday watches; the Italian brand Panerai being an extreme example. While their Radiomir and Marina models average 44 millimeters, many classically styled sport watches now run a more manageable 40-41mm. The most common case shapes are round, square, and rectangular, though a variety of unique styles fall in between.
Though familiar to high end watches, even some mid-range brands are adding complications (complex mechanical functions) like calendars that can account for leap years, exotic timing, power reserves and multiple chronographic features.
Of course, more complications mean a higher price. Several years ago, Vacheron Constantine succeeded in creating a $1 million watch that contained the most complications ever in a wrist watch. You can still have high-end features without breaking the bank, but most good quality automatic watches will still put you in the $1,500-$2,500 range.
Name brands and precious metals will add to the cost. A stainless steel Rolex GMT Master II lists for $7,000, while a TAG Heuer Grand Carrera runs around $4,000. Finding a lesser known manufacturer who uses quality components and materials without the glitz can help in the area of price. Oris, for example, is an excellent Swiss brand known for its lower prices. In fact, for less than $2,000 there are several models from which to choose, all certified COSC.
Hands down, Swiss watches are still the gold standard and the addition of the “Geneve” badge on your watch ensures that it was not only manufactured with Swiss parts, but assembled in Switzerland. German brands like Tutima and A. Longe Sohn are also highly regarded. Even the United States is seeing a resurrection of domestic watch making though high-end craftsmen like Michael Kobold and his eponymous brand.
Whatever you get, quality matters; and its presence and absence are equally obvious.
I recently spoke with Jeff Bernard, owner of Bernard Watch Co., a leading online watch store for the secondary market. I asked Jeff what someone should get if he were looking to buy one good watch for everyday use? Jeff indicated that the volatile economy has affecting everyone, including the watch business. However, certain brands hold their value over the long haul. “Brands to consider, “ said Jeff, “are those with better than average resale and they are the sports models in Rolex, Omega, Tag and Breitling.”
Omega Speedmaster Professional
I had a similar conversation with Brian Satchell, Vice President of Operations for Kobold Watch Co. Kobold, a boutique manufacturer of high-end sport and adventure watches counts among its loyal customers The Sopranos’ James Gandalfini, former president Bill Clinton and globetrotting adventurist Sir Ranulph Fiennes to name but a few.
According to Brian, there has been a slight slowdown in orders, but minimal at best. He said that when a customer comes to Kobold for a watch, they already have their Rolex and their Breitling. His customers want a Kobold and come to get one. So, although they may take a little longer to actually pick up the phone, when they do, it’s to buy a watch.
When making your own choice, bear in mind that different watches serve different functions. Sporty models often have metal bracelets or rubber straps which compliment their often bulky profile. Dress or business watches tend to have leather, alligator or crocodile straps to balance out the slimmer profile.
Additionally, just because big is in, don’t run off and buy a 47mm Ernst Benz because some celebrity wears one. Can your wrist handle a watch that big – not mine. At least not every day. So, though I may get a watch with a case that large, I already have everyday watches that are a far more proportional 40mm.
Take time to learn about the brands that interest you. Find out about its history and what makes their watches special. Be honest with yourself about what you can actually afford, but whatever you choose, consider it an investment.