Steve thought that he was asking me a simple question when he asked, “What are the 5 things to know before you buy a watch?” Simple does not mean easy and this one turned out to be difficult to answer! The problem is, the more I become involved in anything the harder it becomes to suggest anything. I have been involved in watches for over 25 years and now understand all the nuances and compromises in the creation of any watch it is impossible to answer a question like this in black and white.
But I have to resist the obvious: “Buy a SNGLRTY”.
Many would start with the “budget question,” but is that right? How many times have we bought more than we initially intended and extended our personally-set budget? Going to the store and looking for a shirt and leaving with a suit, tie and socks. Or, and this is a true story, we were commissioned to develop a quartz chronograph watch for US$350 – US$500 and ended up with a diver watch, hand-winding, unique, Swiss Made at US$1500. And it sold. Your budget will always end up broken when you realize what you need!
So, let’s do it our way, the SNGLRTY way.
Question 1 – WHY? Why Do You Want to Buy a Watch?
This is a complex problem and an important one that you can only answer for yourself. “The watch I received for my 20th birthday and lasted for 10 years but……..” is a completely different purchase motivation than “I would just like to have something new after a tough month of struggling to make this deal happen at work….”.
What do you expect of the incredible timepiece you are planning to purchase? Inspiration? A companion? Would you like to wear it for swimming? Wear it daily or as an occasional wear? Or are you looking for a piece of art to inspire you each time you look at your wrist? There are so many options at first. But in the end, it is, as it often is, the process. The path is more important than the goal. Your pioneer spirit is released and, finally, you can relax and enjoy the path of discovery to find your own motivation for your newest timepiece.
Imagine, the selection of your timepiece is quite different if you want to buy a totally unique, single piece rather than one of the beautifully crafted watches that you have just noticed on that guy’s wrist who is sitting across the table.
Or, if you are looking for a heavy sporty professional look for an evening out. As opposed to a practical, clean and lean timepiece that will be with you for decades before passing it on to your son, or daughter. Same but different, right?
So, enjoy the process and challenge yourself, if you don’t ask the question how will you ever know? You will do yourself a disservice if you don’t ask the question. Questions are free, there is no limit!
Question 2 – WHAT? Industrial, Functional or Crafted With Passion?
Industrial and functional or crafted with passion? This is just another way to ask if you want a mechanical, quartz, smart or hybrid movement? The answer to each of these questions is a book in itself and all are interesting. Some of the options have probably been eliminated through considering your Why? But the purpose of your watch will drive, What?
This is a minefield of a subject as many people have very strong opinions about the movements and functionality of watches. Something I feel my co-founder, Steve Mansfield, was aware of when he suggested I take on the task of writing this. 5 things to know before you buy a watch – simple but definitely not easy! I must be more careful about saying “Yes” in the future.
Quartz movements are extremely precise, mostly safe, functional, almost clinical and therefore have less emotion attached to them. With battery powered watches it is more about the look, the functionality, maybe the construction but for sure less about the craftsmanship, the art or emotion.
Quartz watches lack that feel of timelessness. Every time you need to change the battery is a constant reminder of this fact. Once the battery is depleted do we head off to the watch shop and change the battery or do we start to wear that other watch from the cabinet and forget to replace the energy supply? But that other watch we bought some years ago is no longer moving – oh, that battery is out of life too.
Mechanical, automatic or manual movements do (or should) last for years. Depending on the movement they are more or less precise to a few seconds, crafted by artisans and always repairable. They carry the emotions of hundreds of years of evolution of mechanical watch movements.
With a manual movement you need to include the winding process in your daily routine. Or with an automatic movement you supply more or less of your own energy while wearing the masterpiece, but, depending on the watch case construction it could appear a little more robust than a manual movement. It depends on your own preference. On the other side of the metal if you enjoy changing your watch frequently you may have to wind it up again and, most importantly, set the time correctly again 😊. Or, if it is an automatic movement, perhaps you have a watch winder.
But imagine, there will always be watchmakers who can work on mechanical movements. Each year your watch is with you it becomes a little more “timeless”. Even after years of vault storage you can wear it again – after a bit of winding.
Oh The Details
And of course, the more you understand about how mechanical movements work, how complications are integrated into the basic movement, the complexity of each complication, its limits and challenges, the more you will be drawn into a fascinating area. It will become truly personal.
Fascination with the intricacies should not distract you from the fact that quality can vary widely. The manufacturer of the movement is the first indication of the quality of the movement. The safe choice is always one of the well known manufacturers, the likes of Eta, Sellita and the high-end movement manufacturers in the Swiss Jura mountains. There are many great independent movement manufacturers from all around the globe or those who re-worked movements but care is necessary as unfortunately the opposite can also be true (even when branded). One thing that you can rely on is that a good quality mechanical movement has a minimum price – if it looks too cheap then it probably is and you will compromise on precision and lasting quality. Always check carefully the provenance of the movement.
Smart Watches – another world, another talk and another reason to purchase a new watch. It can satisfy the search for trendy, functional (overly functional?), a talking piece and it is emotional in another way. But it doesn’t fit the term “lasting” at all. I will not go further on this except to say smart watches are simply another field of excellence, but it is an area for computer programmers rather than us old school watch types.
Autoquartz or Real Hybrid
Autoquartz or sometimes called real hybrid – a “smart”, sorry “intelligent” choice. There is no battery but it has the precision of a quartz movement! A fusion of an automatic movement with a quartz movement. It has a rotor as a power source that generates electrical energy which is then stored in a rechargeable battery. The energy is released to power a quartz oscillator that gives it the extremely high precision of a quartz movement.
Both Japanese and Swiss manufacturers were leading this technology but it never had the breakthrough that it deserved given the elegant application of both mechanical and digital technology. Was it the fact it is “not-fish-nor-bird” and it could not fit into a clear category. Or is it the in-between price point? Or did it simply need too much explanation? And finally, it does not have a beautiful sweep second hand movement. Anyway, it is good to know that it exists but unfortunately there are very limited collections available.
Question 3 – (From) WHOM? Going Safe or Unique or Both?
Niche, known or well-known? Traditional versus unique? New versus secure? Innovative versus proven? The options here are quite a challenge! New brands, new movements, new technology, new concepts are not necessarily less safe – but they can be. Or is it an opportunity to have one of the first editions of a watch from a brand that will be the next Patek Phillip?
Every additional movement complexity has its additional challenges (and possible failures) – especially on the mechanical side. This can be a delightful fascination or a frustrating annoyance. It all depends on your perspective. You can choose between well-established, proven, known, unoriginal and new, unique, different, challenging and everything in between.
If security stands on top of your list you may go for a traditional brand with well proven functionality. If you are keen for something in the middle then you may look into traditional, historical brands that remain innovative and able to bring new concepts to market. Possibly their label and budget will secure a perfect functioning movement even when they challenge the status quo.
But sometimes you can achieve the same level of security of execution and uniqueness of movement and/or concept with new brands – provided you have enough data available to understand the engineering or you can personally connect. Check-out the brand, understand their motivation, their manufacturing, their processes, quality control.
This is another level of shopping, but it is a lasting experience. It’s personal. And you will remember the journey every time you look at the time on your wrist.
Question 4 – WHICH (one)? Best of Class!
See, so far, I have not mentioned the price range and you already feel a little closer to the watch that you are looking for, don’t you? I was tempted to answer the “5 Things To Know Before You Buy A Watch” with a list of technical considerations, but Steve and I have never taken the easy route so I look to answer this simple question more fundamentally – that makes it difficult to answer.
The answers are in for Why? What? And Whom? And we are now getting to the business end of your decision. Which One? But not exactly which watch but which class for the timepiece you are after.
The class is defined by you and so may include specific options that you have carefully selected. List all your criteria on paper or in your mind by name or by class. Then establish the criteria that define, for you, the best of your class.
Is it the most outstanding or outlandish version? Or the quality to price ratio that drives your choice. Or perhaps your budget necessitates some compromises. Does the best story sway you or are you looking for the most trustworthy, highest quality, trendiest, the irresistible beauty or a combo of all of it? You decide.
It is hard or even impossible to give an answer of what will be best of class. It is always a personal perspective that governs the answer to this question. Our unique enthusiasm and passion will result in as many unique answers to this question.
That Price Question
Generally speaking, quality has its price. But what that “price” is, has been challenged lately and mainly because customers can directly access the brands and vice-versa. The classic 3 step distribution model (brand-distributor-retailer) has been drastically stirred-up, prices in some of the categories have come down and customers are receiving more value for their money.
But quality and service still takes time and energy and will put a premium on the watch itself. What level of quality and service you are looking for is key. Swiss Made is not everything but when considering automatic movements then Switzerland remains the leading manufacturer with Japan second. Japanese movements are generally cheaper but are less refined movements with limited executions and limited options for personalization.
Finally, to be complete, there are Chinese mechanical movements that are manufactured on a large industrial scale. There are some exceptional Chinese hand-crafted pieces too but in general if price is your biggest concern and you are merely seeking a simple 3-hands-date movement you may consider a Chinese movement. But, and it is a big “BUT”, if you are looking for value, precision, lasting engineering then …. well let’s just say I remain to be convinced.
Besides the obvious large manufacturing centers of movements there are some small movement manufacturers that are located all over the world that truly do a remarkable job creating some beautiful movements.
It is Not Just The Movement
Outside the movement and digging even deeper, the quality of the rest of the watch is just as important and I suggest you check out the details carefully. The watch is not just the movement and the dial, although the dial is extremely important. Any watch is the sum of its parts and each part that is manufactured is a story in itself. There is a fascinating industry with its specialist knowledge, skills and artisan secrets. It is worth digging deep and comparing, you will be surprised what you discover – I promise!
As an example, just consider the hands. A comparison of the hands can be quite instructive or more specifically the length of the hands. For the watch you are considering, did the brand just choose a standard “8015” design or the standard length even though they appear too short on the watch face? Maybe it is just me, but I cannot stand hands that are too short and it speaks volumes about how involved the brand is in their own collection.
I could write about each component of a watch, but we do not have space here. If you would like to know more about these details please comment below and I will write more about the components you are most curious about.
Question 5 – Personal and Personalized
Some may say that we are done after answering the 4 preceding questions, but my colleague, Steve Mansfield said there had to be 5 – so I saved the best for last.
Personal and Personalized!? I spent a lot of time thinking about this one. Perhaps I should have called it “emotion” or “added value”? I decided not because emotion is involved the whole way through the process – if we do not need something to survive its purchase is an emotional decision. Added value does not cover the intimacy I am thinking about here. This is all about your secret, why this watch is always going to be yours and why those who come after will covet it.
So, yes, personal or personalized is different. It is not a new factor but has become very much more important than ever. None of us want to have an unoriginal or insignificant watch on our wrist – especially the millennial generation. The watch on our wrist is about the person who wears it, it reflects the unique person, their influence and status.
Limited Editions, Special Editions, Dedicated Launches definitely provide a deeper and more personal approach. You have the opportunity to choose and become familiar with the story behind the watch, behind its launch or simply behind the brand.
It May Be More Than Just The Watch
The personal touch can also be provided by the location, the place and even the process of purchase. “They do such a great job curating the perfect product & brand mix for me”, “their shop (on or offline) is amazing and just a perfect match”, “I have trusted them for 10 years and have never been disappointed” and even “I called the brand, they are available, open and I feel good about working with them”. All these feelings, opinions, arguments are valuable, increases your affinity and helps to assure you that you have made the right and smart choice. There is nothing wrong with not sticking to the rational, calculated ROI of your purchase – it is your purchase after all.
Personalizing is different for each person (by definition!) but originates from the need that it be “personal”. To what extent can you add your personal ideas to your unforgettable piece? How deep is the selection of the collection? Are changes possible? What options do I have? Be demanding (but not crazy). What are the choices? How flexible is the brand and what are they charging if we do not select “standard”?
What can I get for ME that truly reflects ME?
Of course, when talking about personalizing, we have left the mainstream and mid-to-low price segment already. Much is possible but sorry, not everything.
It’s up to you to check out the limits but it’s worth doing it – you never know what you may find!
But There Is Always More
Now you have answered all YOUR questions, now you want to ask all the right questions about the watches that interest you. How do you know what you are paying for?
Join Steve and I as we take you for a whistle stop tour of the technical detail of watches, you get to ask your questions and we do our best to answer. And Daniel will let you into a few secrets of the watch making world!