There’s a lot to consider when buying your first watch, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the world of watchmaking. We all want our watch to look nice, but what makes a good watch behind the scenes? Through the eyes of a horology novice, discover the top 6 things to consider when embarking on your first foray into the horological world.
When I was 20-years-old, I was gifted my Grandfather’s vintage Omega with little to no knowledge about it, other than the fact that Omega was “apparently” a well received brand amongst those in horology. It sat almost ignorantly on my wrist, with minimal understanding as to how it actually kept working. I was told that I needed to keep wearing it in order to keep the power going, which somehow meant it was the same as my Seiko watch, kinetically powered. To me, it was wizardry really.
We care a lot about the things we put on our body. Our skin routines have become more convoluted as we bathe ourselves in retinoids and unpronounceable acids that we’re certain will make us feel better. We care where our clothes are from now more than ever, continuously evolving to become more sustainable consumers with organic fabrics and methods. We meticulously consider how to fill our fridges and food cupboards and choose shopping outlets that suit us most as individuals. We make salient decisions about what goes near and on our body, but the one we so often overlook is the value behind how we choose to measure time. Everyone needs to tell the time, but for those outside the realms of watchmaking, it’s difficult to know what actually makes a good watch tick.
A trip down the rabbit hole to the heart of horology in Geneva was enough to give me, a novice in temporality, a guide to what constitutes a watch worth investing in, that will stand the test of time. If you’re joining the fledgling club with me, discover the 6 most important factors to consider in watchmaking through the eyes of a newbie.
The in-house vs. outsourcing debate
If you come across a watchmaker and they tell you everything inside the watch was made in-house, note that it’s a pretty mean feat. Some aficionados might tell you that creating all parts in house can lead to pressure on production and dramatic increase in value, while the other herd of horologists will tell you it’s a sign of brand independence. Building your own watch components – or movements – in your own factory space has become somewhat of a prerequisite in the past 20 years for brands that are able to stand strong with their own identity. It’s also a nod towards the tenacity and dedication of their engineers, training them to create things from scratch, rather than purchasing them from suppliers. You’ll either sit in one camp or the other, but from a pioneering perspective, it speaks more to the talent behind the watchmakers who can produce it themselves and are committed to learning.
Making conscious consumerism for a greener future
Consider We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time in re-thinking our ecological footprint as humans. We bid farewell to plastic straws, charged for plastic bags, banned plastic cutlery, used metal water bottles for continued use. It feels somewhat second nature now, but there’s no denying that there’s much further to go. While we’re busy looking at the world around us, figuring out what we can make greener, it’s often overlooked that while your watch might be forever, longevity isn’t the only sustainable virtue in the industry. Have you thought about how much greener your watch can be? Renowned for their environmental commitment, Panerai offers a recycled titanium case and straps made from recycled PET bottles, while Breitling turned their hand to packaging, producing boxes from upcycled bottles too. Changing the standard of luxury as we know it, a greener watch isn’t just about what’s visible to the naked eye either. Take Oris for instance, committed to the goal of producing a full sustainability report by 2022 and working with pioneering charities such as Pacific Garbage Screening.
It’s about what’s on the outside too
You might’ve heard a watch often described as jewellery, partly due to its fastening around the wrist and the host of detailed metal straps. The straps of a watch seem to always be an afterthought to the intricate configuration of the dial, but we cease to remember that all of the fascinating complications inside the minuscule canvas wouldn’t be able to decorate our wrists without the assistance of the straps, otherwise we’re just carrying clocks around with us. So best not to neglect this essential companion. After all, if you change the straps, you’ve got an entirely different watch. While you might not be changing the dial so impulsively ($$$) you can get playful with the straps, a deeply personal part of the watch that can speak most to your personality. We might air on the side of caution to wear odd socks in public, let’s not be so shy with our wrists. After all, in order to be irreplaceable, one must be different.
Consider if the product rate is worth your wait
The concept of time has been around, we estimate, since the dawn of mankind. From following the position of the sun in the sky, to hourglass structures, we’ve always had some form of grasp on how to structure the difference between day and night. And while the watches we wear in the present day are a culmination of centuries of work, it’s still surprising to know the timespan these objects take to create as a technologically superlative generation. At Greubel Forsey, the Grand Sonnerie, a chiming watch, took a staggering 11 years to make, with other models coming in at a total of 3 years. What does that mean for production? It sits at a slower rate than the likes of Rolex, who produce almost a million watches a year, dominating the watchmaking world with large quantities. It’s important to remember that purchasing a watch ironically takes a distinct amount of time until you find it on your wrist. But it’s not sustainable for brands to be sat with stock, with clients on a three year waiting list to receive their watch and there’s always the fear that by that point, the model could be discontinued. Instead, it’s worth assessing the production rate of the company, how long is the wait? Is it more efficient to spend your money elsewhere, both for your own sake and for the brands who haven’t yet reached a higher production quota to operate with larger quantities. Find out the waiting time, are there subscription options or on demand commissions instead that will mean the watch could arrive on your wrist sooner benefiting both business and consumer?
Don’t just invest in an object, invest in the story
Young consumers like to be educated about the brands they’re spending money on. It’s not about empty consumption anymore for the sake of it. People care more about the ethical manifesto’s than ever before, and if they aren’t familiar with them, the well of the internet will quickly remedy the absence of knowledge. For this group of digital natives, aesthetic value isn’t as resolute without knowing the story behind it, and the value chain of the company.
Take Blancpain for instance, and the launch of the Fifty Fathoms, a modern diver’s watch invented in 1953 aiding those with a passion for the marine world to explore their way through the ocean with a water-resistant watch. Hailed as a deity in the underwater world, Jacques Cousteau, a French naval conservationist wore, alongside his crew the renowned Blancpain diving watch in the documentary, Le Monde du Silence, following the explorer as he uncovers aquatic habits around the world, earning the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. It means more to consumers to celebrate and continue the legacy of this historic model, to feel part of the reputation forged by the legendary ancestor.
The battle of the power reserve
If, like me, the threshold of quartz vs mechanical was an absolute maze to get your head around at first, the distinction between the two modes of watchmaking is easily identifiable with the power reserve on a watch face. When it comes to mechanical watches, the self-winding or manual-winding of the watch produces the energy, which gets stored in a barrel. Power reserve is one thing; power reserve indication is another. A watch can have a power reserve of 72 hours and still not be indicated on the dial. Twenty years ago, 40 hours power reserve was the norm across self-winding and manual-winding watches. But as watches get more and more elaborate with the evolution of technology, the more brands can experiment with multiple complications which require more energy to operate.
Today, people want more power. As wearing habits diversify and people own more watches meaning alternate usage, there’s demand for a bigger power reserve with the hope to take off your watch on a Friday evening and expect it to still be working come Monday morning. You might think, get a bigger barrel, or add more, and while the more you add, the more power you can get, and with that, increased accuracy, but the age-old quest to fit these inside the case behind the dial without creating a megatron model that weighs down your arm comes with a price. After all, the more complications you add, the more complex the model becomes and the more energy it requires to function. Much like us humans, the faster or further you run, the more energy you need to get there. It’s a race of who gets tired first and who will get to the finish line without failing, except in the watchworld, the guessing game is eliminated and you know the leader from the start.