Is the wristwatch just something that upsets the line of your cuff? Or one of those indispensable details that are necessary for a perfect ensemble?
A wristwatch is one of those small details that can be a nuisance but also a great pleasure. One might argue that the wristwatch is the only acceptable piece of jewelry and embellishment a man can wear without raising any eyebrows. Of course if you go terribly wrong in choosing a suitable watch eyebrows might end up being raised anyways. Que a long sermon on the evils of heavily ornamented goldwatches. You´ve heard all the arguments before. When I´m at it here comes another overused cliché: Less, in this case at least, is More. It is very comforting to feel the weight of a nice quality watch. But if you find yourself developing arm muscles previously unknown to you and you start causing traffic disturbances because of your big shiny timepiece then maybe, just maybe you should reconsider your investment. Upon considering what sort of watch to purchase, an acquaintance of mine when shown a watch with all the wrong qualities, once said: “yes, but what´s all the salad about?“ The world will always be full of people who would fancy not removing the pricetags on their clothes, accesories etc. Hence there will always be a market for timepieces that do their best to have your eye out. Let´s not run with this thought as it is such an ugly one.
The wristwatch also carries quite a lot of symbolism: the modern technocrat should have a proper chronograph that tells the right time more often than twice a day (it should in fact tell the right time at all times). Imagine James Bond without his trusty Walther PPK. Imagine James Bond without a good wristwatch (especially the magnetic Rolex because we all know what that one can do…)
Disconcerting image isn´t it? The beauty of the mechanical wristwatch resides in the compression of advanced functions in a small aesthetically pleasing form. Consider the beauty and engineering involved in a mechanical device that not only accurately tells what time of day it is, but can also measure an interval of time down to a fraction of a second. All those little spokes and wheels turning just to ensure that you keep up the right adrenaline high when late for work.
Other qualities that one usually take for granted are pressure, shock andwater-resistance. A watch being waterproof has it´s obvious reasons, but this is actually quite a good measure of the quality of the watch as most less expensive timepieces claim water resistance but quite often are not. This is a feature you might not want to test… Pressure resistance is a de rigeuer feature not only with watches specifically made for diving. The specifications usually don´t tell the whole truth. Waterproof and pressure resistance to the depth of X most often means that the case has been tested to the specified level of pressure without application of any separate external trauma. In other words: when at the maximum level of pressure (or even before) tap the glass and the watch is likely to implode. Of course very few sane individuals test the specifications of their watches but this might be good to keep in mind if you are somewhat excited by the thought of, for instance, having a whisky on the floor of the ocean.
A Glossary (of Sorts)
There is quite a lot of terminology surrounding watches. You might have heard the term chronograph. This is a watch with two independent time systems: two separate mechanisms (or movements as the professionals call it) for telling time and interval of time. Chronometer is a name that can only be used if a watch has been tested and approved of by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (or “Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres“) situated in Geneva, Le Locle and Biel. The dial or, more commonly, the face of the watch is where the digits are and on some models you can choose what color the dial will be in but more often a certain colour (or two) are specific for the model (much like Vespas and Lambrettas original colour shemes). On some more expensive watches the digits and details of the dial/face are handpainted. The horns are the part of the “endpiece“ of the watch connecting the case to the bracelet. The horns are fastened with metal rods/pins or as they are also called: “lugs“.
Chronographs come with several alternatives for glass depending on brand and model. Sapphire glass is probably the more common these days and is made of glass “bombarded“ with sapphire powder to obtain a less glossy finish than normal glass. Mineral glass is less common and plexiglass was most widely used during the 60.s and 70.s and is one of the nice details implemented in several ranges of “retro-modern“ watches. Sappire glass is supposed to be scratch resistant but a good point is that if you do scratch it you can actually have it polished to once again attain a satisfying finish.
The crown is the knob (also known as “the knob“) located on the side of the case with which you can adjust the time and calendar. On a quality watch this detail is often engraved with logo, as will often the clasp be. A so-called mechanical movement derives its energy from a spring whereas a quartz movement gets its kinetic energy from a piece of quartz vibrating with a specific frequency when in contact with an electric field. Quite recently a new range of watches was marketed (by Seiko if I remember accurately) that works through ambient kinetic energy- which means that the watches movement is powered by your own body movements.
The Heidi Factor
The Swiss tradition of making timepieces started with the first garden gnome who produced one of those silly clocks with things jumping out of it and startling you. Nowadays though Swiss Made is a mark of premium quality. There are several criteria that must be met for a manufacturer to be able to call a wristwatch Swiss Made. Firstly the movement (the components making up the “motor“ of the watch) must be assembled and tested in Switzerland. 50% of the value of the movements parts must be of Swiss origin. Secondly the watch must be assembled and final control made in Switzerland.
Time To Buy?
If we’ve firmly grasped the thesis of less is more we start looking at the aesthetic concerns when buying watches. Should the watch be stainless steel, titanium, gold etc? Obviously stainless steel has the most simple look. Brushed or polished to a high sheen almost all watch makers use stainless steel as a standard. If you are buying a gold watch there are several levels of quality depending on what brand and range you are buying. Ask the retailer. Gold has quite a steady market value but always remember that when incorporated in a watch for ornamental reasons it somewhat loses its value. Usually the value of a watch depends on the equation: production run (and vintage), brand,design and quality of the technical parts. Titanium can be a good alternative to matte/brushed stainless steel. The downside to titanium is that it feels so brittle and light.
Now we can move to what brand to choose. If you have no specific wish as to what brand you want just go into a shop and look for the nicest looking watch for the best price. You might like to enquire about the quality of the movement but not much else is needed. If you want something more you´ll have to do some research (that is if you´re not an expert already). Quite a few brands have a very specific profile and are associated with certain lifestyles. The Breitling is the classic pilot brand, Jaeger leCoultre’s Reverso range were designed with polo in mind and Rolex is the oyster divers watch etc. Most prestigious watchmakers are associated with high profile activities and sports. Foolish one might think but so it has been and so it shall be. Meeting a watch afficionado is a bit like being a freemason. Quite a few people can distinguish a quality watch from a cheaper one but if you´re interested in the subject you can even discern what sort of lifestyle the wearer would want to be associated with. Tag Heuer? Well judging by that, the mac and the rollneck the man obviously fancies himself to be of the Frank Bullit persuasion… Empty consumer culture at it´s best.
Now for the bracelet. Leather or metal is the question. An expensive watch will come with crocodile, calf or even ostrich skin. A practical feature on the metal bracelet style is if it features a safety extension bracelet. This enables you to fit the bracelet over a diving suit. There are several variations on bracelets depending on what you are going to use it for. Then comes the question of how to choose the cufflinks when wearing the watch. Preferably you will buy cufflinks of the same material as the watch which in some cases can be quite tricky. It might be a good idea to use the links which have been removed when fitting the watch. A good jewelers should with all certainty be able work these into a pair of perfectly matching cufflinks.
When buying a wristwatch you can actually justify the purchase by claiming that it is an investment. Several ranges with limited production runs are quite sought after nowadays and with the know-how and capital you might in fact (if it so amuses you) make a small profit after a while. Another thing to consider is the factor of designer watch vs. “professional“ watch. Be advised: almost all designer watches have their important parts made by a manufacturer who produces it´s own brand of watches. And usually you´ll pay the same price for a designer watch because of the “name“ as you might pay for a “non“-designer watch (obviously these are also designed but maybe not by for instance Tom Ford) of superior quality. Once again the conclusion is somewhat PC: stick with the classics, in this case they are considered classics for of a good reason.