What makes you want a watch? It seems like a simple enough question, but there are so many factors that go into the decision of whether to pull the trigger on a new watch. No matter your net worth or the price points of the watches you are considering a new watch is a meaningful investment. Below I will outline some of the things I personally care about when buying a watch and also some of the things which make me think twice. Note that I am not going to mention price. These factors play a role no matter the price point I may be looking at. While the options may vary, the selection criteria is what I want to talk about here. As the title suggests, this is the first in what will hopefully be a series of “Ask the audience” articles, so please comment below with how you think about buying a new timepiece and what some of your deal-breakers might be.
What makes me want a watch
There are two ways to look at the brand of a watch. The first is “will this brand impress my friends”. I’m fine with this, we all want to show off a bit now and then, but what I really care about when selecting a watch brand is “is this brand interesting, does it have an interesting backstory?”. There are so many watch brands out their with interesting and varied histories that brand can be considered at any price point. Certainly Patek has a great history of watchmaking, but Hamilton has an equally rich history in the area of American railroad watches. Napoleon may have owned more than a few Breguet clocks, but JFK wore a Bulova (a model you can find on Ebay for under $200). A watch without a brand is a great piece of micromechanics, but a watch with a brand tells a story. That’s a big part of why I (and I’m sure most of you) love watches. Would I want an Omega Speedmaster if it wasn’t the first (and only) watch to go to the moon? Honestly, still yes, but definitely not as much.
Complications are by no means a pre-requisite to my interest in a watch (as evidence by my purchase of the Nomos Tangente). That said, complications add both functionality and character to a watch and are an important consideration when looking at a purchase. I know lots of people who choose to collect only chronographs, I also know quite a few who would never buy a chronograph watch no matter how large their collection. My personal perspective is that variety adds to a collection and makes for a more varied wearing experience. I have a few chronographs right now and have not yet explored the world of calendar watches outside the standard day-date, but complications like an annual calendar or a perpetual calendar add another layer of interest to a watch that makes it even more of a joy to own.
I will continue to avoid the question of whether in-house movements or generic movements are better (one day I will write about this, I promise), but either way the movement is the heart and soul of the watch and affects every part of the experience of wearing a watch. For one, a mechanical movement is beautiful to look at and an exhibition caseback is always important to consider when looking at watches. Unless you are buying a dive watch I’ve always felt an exhibition caseback was key to a watch purchase. Why spend all that money on something hidden behind a solid case? After that movement finishing is a key consideration. Movement finishing certainly comes with a premium, so it can be difficult to disassociate it from cost, however at certain price points there is a trade-off buyers have to make. Would you prefer a perpetual calendar from IWC with a modified ETA movement, or a time only Patek with a beautiful finished manual wind movement? It all depends on how much you value complications versus movement finishing. Finally the movement impacts your interactions with a watch in a number of ways. There is the obvious decision between automatic and manual, but then there are additional movement considerations like winding feel or ease of setting different functions. Even something like the feel of a column wheel versus a lever set chronograph can impact a decision to spend thousands of dollars. Personally I have not ventured too far into these types of decisions, they are for the most part in another price bracket. That said when I think about what watches I want in the future the quality and look of the movement will be front and center in my mind.
What makes me not want a watch
There is no doubt Rolex makes phenomenal watches. Every single one is chronometer certified and there are some truly incredible stories (like this one) about their survivability. In all honesty I may very well one day find myself buying a Sub or a Daytona simply because they are cornerstones of watch history. That said, as a lover of watches I could never see my first over-$5000 watch expenditure being on a watch that I see 4-5 of every day I go to work. There is a reason the Sub is so popular. It works, its easy to use, and it looks good with everything, but it just isn’t that interesting. Rolex has built an incredible marketing operation around being the name and face of watches. You want a nice watch, you buy a Rolex, end of story. The downside of their success is that everyone knows what Rolex is and everyone buys a Rolex once they make it. I have nothing against Rolex as a brand or their products, but as a watch lover I want something with a bit more character before I think about buying something everyone has seen before.
We all know high end watches are expensive. If I see someone wearing a Patek on the street I know they have done well for themselves, but one of the nice things about Pateks is that the average joe on the street probably wouldn’t know. You walk down the street with the Hublot above people will either think you are 50 cent or its a fake. I don’t think the primary purpose of a watch should be an expression of wealth. Perhaps the worst part about this (and some would say Hublot in general) is that there is a beautiful well made movement underneath all those diamonds and yet the person buying a watch like this is not buying it for the craftsmanship of the watchmakers. As I said above its fine to show off a bit every once in a while, and the purchase of a high end watch is certainly a celebration of success, but something ostentatious is not in good taste to me.
There are times when the size of a watch is part of the history of the watch (the IWC Big Pilot and the Panerai Luminor and Radiomir come to mind) then there are times when watches are large for the sake of being large. Personally I don’t see myself wearing a 45mm Luminor, but I can appreciate the backstory of the size, I can’t say the same for Breitling when they take the traditionally 39-41mm Navitimer and blow it up to 46mm. The trend today is towards larger watches (though some thing/hope that trend is turning) but again these watches have a tendency to feel ostentatious, like they are on your wrist to be seen. The Patek 5204 houses a rattrapante chronograph and perpetual calendar all in a 40mm case (its predecessor the 5004 was only 37mm). To me this is the pinnacle of restrained excellence and is much more representative of quality then a 50mm monster. I will however caveat that buy saying there are some brands (Urwerk included) that use size to experiment with new ways of showing the time or new complications. While I personally wouldn’t buy this type of watch I can appreciate that the size serves a necessary function rather than a stylistic one.
So there you have it, my thoughts on what makes me want or not want a watch. Please do comment and let me know what you think about when buying a watch.