A Guide to Watches: Part 1 - Why Do You Need a Watch?
Before there was a “home’”screen button on the phone in every pocket and a digital clock in the
Before there was a “home’”screen button on the phone in every pocket and a digital clock in the corner of every computer monitor, the principle means of checking the time was a casual flick of the wrist. But the closer we move to embracing complete connectivity in a digital world, the more beloved the analog tools of yesteryear become. Case in point: the wristwatch, once an essential for punctual sartorialists and hard-working tradesmen alike, now enjoying a massive resurgence in necessity through expression of style.
Selecting a watch that speaks to one’s character can be an intimidating experience. For some, a watch is the means to an end, and little else. But for others, it’s an expression of character or a rite of passage. What Hypebeast will be exploring in the coming series, is how the wristwatch is best served as a medium of expression. And that expression — be it style, practicality or commemoration, comes in many shapes and forms, and doesn’t have to be the cheapest, or conversely the most expensive. We’ll be focusing on what to look for in a quality timepiece, and just how to present the right message while on a budget of USD $2,000. Get the most out of your money, tell the right story, and click here to start the journey.
The Inner Workings: Quartz vs. Mechanical
In 2012, the Swiss watch industry produced over 29 million timepieces, accounting for more than USD $23 billion in exports. While not meteoric in its year-on-year growth, the watch industry is still enjoying something of a quiet renaissance, and is growing to meet increased demand. Naturally, this also comes with rising prices in both the luxury and casual markets. But demand also spurs the growth of choice — widening the range of amazing wallet-friendly options that would not only appease collectors and aficionados, but also the style-conscious looking for the perfect statement piece: regardless of the nature or volume of said statement.
Appreciating the story and complementary style that the right watch pairing can bring is always important, but of equal importance is in the guts of the watch itself. Do you like the simple, economical and worry-free reliability of a ticking quartz movement? Or do you prefer the complexity and romance in the self-winding whir of a mechanical movement, characterized by its elegant sweeping seconds hand? Cachet aside, practicality must be considered. For example, a decent Swiss-made Ronda quartz powered watch is usually accurate to within about 15 seconds a month, compared to a mechanical watch which could err anywhere between 5 and 25 seconds a day (depending on whether or not the movement has been regulated for improved accuracy and certififed by COSC, which traditionally drives up the value of the watch). Furthermore, quartz movements are also significantly less prone to be affected by physical shock or magnetization, making them arguably more reliable and worry-free than a typical mechanical watch.
Because of the low cost, reliability and accuracy of quartz movements, it’s no surprise that of the 29 million watches that Switzerland produced in 2012, only 3 million were powered by mechanical movements — that’s just one mechanical watch for every 10 quartz watches. Granted, mechanical watches have always been more expensive than their quartz counterparts, but that’s not just for the cost of entry. Mechanical watches typically require a mandatory servicing (re-lubrication, calibration, etc.) every five or so years to maintain their accuracy — a procedure that requires a greater time and monetary investment than the simple changing of a quartz watch battery. So ultimately, while mechanical watches might carry a bit more cachet than their quartz brethren, the required service intervals will likely always keep them in the minority for both demand and production.
How Much Should You Spend?
If you’re leaning towards the practicality of a quartz-powered watch, note that because the self-contained, battery-powered movement itself can be had for around USD $10, there’s little reason for even a Swiss-made Ronda quartz-powered watch to cost more than $500. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but those examples are a far cry from the reliable quality of a Victorinox or Timex.
As we move away from the lower-priced thresholds of quartz movements, you’ll notice that you can quickly make a sartorial statement with $1000, or $10,000. Granted, they’re different statements of style, but statements just the same. The challenge with finding the right watch, is being able to make that statement without taking out a second mortgage or selling your kidneys.
In the coming series, we’ll be examining a wealth of context-specific watch styles with great heritage or technical aptitude for well under USD $2,000, along with what justifies their prices. Ultimately, knowing how much you’d like to spend, and what you need the watch for, will best help you narrow down your search. So as you find your next watch, remember that what’s on the dial is just as important as what’s beneath it.
- James Lee