zondag 19 augustus 2012

How to choose your watch

It is quite interesting if you think of it...we all live now in the middle of extreme high-tech invasion: smartphones, tablets, navigation systems that ask questions and give answers...and still, for some funny reason, the sales of mechanical watches know unparalleled growth. I mean why not those watches with e-mail, gps, compass or termometer but the same old same old mechanical watches?
Whatever the reasons may be I promise to come back on that. For now, let us accept the mistery and move on with our story.
When you decide to buy a watch you may be driven by different forces but I would assume, for the sakes of this blog, that you decided to go for a classic watch.

There are many ways we could classify brands and types. One way would be Swiss versus the rest of the world. Another way may be quartz or mechanic, dress or sport, or if we take the price into consideration, entry-level, medium or high-end (luxury)

But what about "in-house" versus ETA? Of course, when you buy a "designer's watch" such as Boss, Armani or D&G, to name just a few, you do not think of "in-house" and we are not going to walk on that road now.

I've always been surprised how many people are ready to spend thousands of euros without asking this simple question: "Is it <in-house> movement?"

"In-house movement" or "proprietary movement" means that the specific brand you are looking at produces the movement (mechanism, caliber) in its own factory, following its own pattented mechanism design. Such companies actually produce the whole watch "in-house", not only the mechanism. Nowadays the true "in-house" producing companies can be counted on the fingers of two hands. Famous examples include Rolex, Zenith, Jaeger-le-Coultre, Vacheron Constantin or Patek Philippe. When you buy one such watch you know that every single tiny component of the mechansim, case, bezel or strap has been designed and produced within the walls of the company. Such companies are also called "manufactures". Although we generally refer to Swiss brands when we say "manufactures" please keep in mind that Japanese brands like Seiko, Citizen or Orient could also be called "manufactures". In fact Seiko has given the world some of the most reliable and accurate calibers.

In contrast to "manufactures", many (famous) brands buy their mechanisms from mass producers such as ETA or Selita. ETA is a movement mass production company owned by the Swatch Group. It delivers both quartz and mechanical movements for its sister companies inside the Swatch Group but also to brands outside the group placing it in a monopoly position.
ETA has created famous calibers such as ETA 2824, ETA 2892 or the chronograph Valjoux 7750. They are reliable and accurate and most importantly they are cheap when compared to the "in-house".

Most of the Swiss brands use or used ETA: Swatch, Tissot, Longines, Rado, Eterna, Movado, Bulova, Oris, Tag Heuer, Baume et Mercier, Omega, Breitling, Panerai, Maurice Lacroix or IWC together with many more relatively new brands that appeared during that last decades.

Because the buyer has become smarter with the passing time, some of the ETA brands invested in developping their own calibers in order to escape the "ETA stigmate" and to be able to call themselves "manufacture". However they do not use these calibers on all of their watches, rather in limited models. Such an example is Breitling.

Another way of diluting the ETA pedigree was the "heavily modified ETA" or "ETA based" terminology. For instance Omega took the ETA 2892, modified it and turned it into ETA 2892A2 with Co-axial escapement. The same goes for Breitling or IWC who embraced the "ETA based" terminology. When you inspect many of the official websites you might be misslead by the fact that, although ETA, the used calibers received new names, usually starting with the initial of the company's name. This trick might make you think that they are "in-house" movements. At some point the Swiss authorities made it compulsory for the ETA using companies to present it so on their websites, however the latter found ingenious ways to avoid it.

And does it matter? I mean if it is an ETA or Selita or a proprietary movement (in-house). Well, it should! when you buy a 500 euro Swiss watch you do not expect something else than ETA. In fact that is OK because you probably get the ETA 2824 caliber which is nick-named the "work-horse".
But when you invest 5000 euro to buy a timepiece wouldn't you like to have it from a "manufacture"? I mean what is the point in paying so much when the mechanism inside worth about a couple of hundreds and was bought from someone else and it also is at every wrist to be found?

To conclude here: when you think of buying a watch please check the internet, check the company's website and ask the dealer: IS IT AN ETA or SELITA INSIDE or IS IT <IN-HOUSE> MOVEMENT? Do not let him alone until he confesses. If the watch comes with a reasonable price than ETA is acceptable but when you're asked for thousands think twice. With the same sum of money you could have a true genuine "in-house" watch! And what a difference it makes I might ad! For instance, Zenith, which has a long reputation for quality and accuracy has two main calibers: El-Primero and Elite. The El-Primero movement is a technical marvel: first released in 1969 the El-Primero beats with 36 000 alternations per hour which in turn leads to extreme accuracy and stability. In fact, to date, El-Primero took the 1st place award in precission contents no less than 1565 times!!! making it, in my and many of my fellow enthousiasts view, the world's most famous caliber.

Now that we all agreed you should not pay hilarious sums of money for non "in-house" movements let's go further. What else does define a watch?

Aestethics: you have to buy what you find appealling!

Case and bracelet: various combinations are available ranging from steel to gold with metal, leather, plastic strap. One thing is worth being mentioned: some brands developped anti-scratch materials. For instance Rado is a pioneer in this field and uses hardmetal and ceramic scratch-proof materials. Other companies do the same nowadays including Rolex and Oris, first to come in my mind. Not only is it aestethically nice not to have scratches on you watch but it also preserves the re-sell price better. So do not forget to check this too before buying your watch, especially when you work a lot with your hands in special conditions.

Glass: Nowadays most of the watches come with a saphhire crystal. This sort of glass makes it virtually impossible to scratch or brake. Other options are the mineral glass and the plexiglass (mostly in vintage models and Swatch). Consider here that Tissot has all of its models equipped with sapphire crystals and they come in a very affordable price range. So do not accept high prices being asked for anything else than sapphire glass except maybe for vintage pieces.

Hands and indexes: Here you can opt for luminiscent or not. Luminiscent dials are very handy for the obvious reasons. Superluminova is a specific paint used for a good and long-lasting readability in the dark. It is always a good ideea to check this aspect with your dealer and with the internet. Big hands with plenty of green paint do not necessary mean long lasting night glow!

Price: this is the main driver of your final decission. I mean it is true that Patek Philippe has produced the most beautiful advertising campaign so far but after checking their prices you might want to look for something else. If you are in the range 200-800 euro than Tissot is probably the best choice. ETA? Sure! However I strongly believe they do offer the best value for money in the whole Swiss watch industry, great quality, innovative design, very good service, enjoyable advertising campaigns. From 800-1000 euro up to 3000-3500 euro you have all other ETA and Selita options. Here you make decissions based on brand equity, personal touch and discounts. From 3500 euro up you still have the ETAs (don't even think about it! you do not want to know what the connaiseurs think of those who pay so much and proudly wear ETA watches!) but fortunatelly you also have the starting point for "in-house"s such as Rolex and Zenith.
Just as I named Tissot in the low and medium end I would like to stress out that Zenith is in my view the best brand you could have in the high-end segment. It offers superb quality and design, extremelly realible "in-house" movements, elegance and class, excellent customer service, lots of tradition and brand equity. Moreover is a brand generally avoided by the "show-offers" so you won't probably share your favorite brand with the illiterate nouveau-riche-to-become next door.

Mass acknowledgement: Rolex, Breitling and Tag Heuer score here in my view the best. I remember seing somewhere in US a board saying: "If God was wearing a watch it would be a Rolex". So if you want acknowledgement in general and the feminine one in particular than those brands are for you. I mean you won't explain your date in the bar all the crap about watches, would you? She would recognize a Rolex and probably a Breitling and if she asks then Tag Heuer sounds like music in her ears. Omega is increasingly popular in women's eyes in the last period, maybe after the train dialogue from Casino Royale: "Nice watch! Rolex? No, Omega". You can't beat James Bond!

I was about to forget about water resistance. Every watch is rated for a water resistance. You must know that the number + M or atm does not actually mean that specific value. Namely 50M (5ATM) does not mean you can dive with the watch. It is complicated, just trust me. In the Operating Manual of every watch you may find a table explaining what does this mean in practice: for some brands 50M means you could have a shower safely, 100 M means you could swim with it and 200 M or more that you could actually dive with it. Preferably chose at least 50 M and if you are more of the casual type than go for at least 100 M.

When it comes to buying a watch to your girlfriend, well it depends more on the girlfriend rather than on the watch. Since women do not share our enthousiasm for watches, a safe approach would be to let her chose. You would probably end-up paying a fortune on an ETA watch, or even worse on an ETA quartz watch. Brands like Breitling, Tag Heuer or Omega have models costing thousands and being operated by battery, probably based on the above mentioned reasoning. If you girlfriend happens to be one of those (you know what I am talking about!) do not go for the expensive brand. Probably one deocrated with Swarowski crystals would do just fine. Or at least ask her first to pronounce Vacheron Constantin or Jaeger-le-Coultre.

Value in time (re-sell value). When you pay a large sum of money on your watch it may be comfortable for you to know you are able get a lot back in case you decide to sell. Here comes the bad news: very very few brands hold their values in time (or even increase), namely two to my knowledge: Patek Philippe and Rolex. But do not let that influence you.

Have a nice hunting!

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