Watch Snob on Judging Quality and Making Bad Choices
Watch Snob Talks About a Horological Education
Worth the Wait
I have an Orient mechanical with open dial that has served me well for the last several years. I know of your detestation for open dials, but I will say this: being my first mechanical watch, there was something about watching the balance wheel turn inside the movement that piqued my horological curiosity. Now here I am, researching all things horological like mad, eager to begin my collection, and asking your advice on the purchase of a more mature timepiece.
As I consider my purchase, many of the usual suspects are there: Speedmaster Professional, Grand Seiko Snowflake, Grand Seiko GMT SBGM221, El Primero 38mm, Rolex Explorer I (if I could ever find one), JLC Reverso and JLC Ultra Thin Moon (with a black dial).
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But then it happened. I read up on and tried on the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin 37mm in pink gold. I was smitten. Everything was perfect. My face got hot. I started smiling uncontrollably. My heart skipped a beat.
So I put it to you: what do I do now? I could acquire something like the SBGM221 in about four to six months (and be perfectly happy with it) but it would take four times as long to save enough for the Saxonia. Ought I buy one of these other watches to scratch the itch, then make the Saxonia a more long-term goal? Or should I master myself, learn some patience, and save up for the watch that stole my heart and make it my first major purchase?
You know, there is something that I find absolutely repellent about a so-called “open heart” watch and in general I am happy to both mock them, and their owners, but you make an excellent point, which is that watching that little balance go back and forth can be a very effective gateway drug to spending previously unsuspected, and ungodly, sums of money on more wristwatches than one ever thought one would own. I don’t think I will ever find them appealing aesthetically, but the truth is, especially if you are just starting out (horologically speaking) they might have a real purpose to serve.
So, let us discuss the Saxonia. The fact of the matter is that Seiko (a cream-dialed automatic with GMT complication, and a quite lovely blued steel GMT hand, for those of you among my readers who do not memorize reference numbers) is a simply gorgeous watch. It is one of the nicest things, in my view, that modern Grand Seiko has ever done and in terms of case fineness and the quality of the dial, hands and markers.Iit is the equal and more of anything that comes out of either Germany or Switzerland at this point (or anywhere else).
The Saxonia Thin, however, is in another league — it sits right at the top of what you can expect in a precious metal, classic dress watch from any brand and while there certainly are other watches to which it could be compared, at its price point, at the moment, there is nothing else like it. You might be the first watch enthusiast in history to go from a so-called open heart Orient to a wristwatch from A. Lange & Söhne, which is an interesting distinction to have — but you will have a watch that is truly unforgettable. Yes, it will require patience but a little piece of perfection is not a bad thing to wait for.
Ask, Answer, Repeat
Let me start by saying I absolutely love your column. I am 25 years old and since taking an interest in the world of watches less than a year ago, I have found your advice and opinions to be highly informative and generally representing my own values, applied to a subject I am only coming to be familiar with. I started my collection with a Bulova REF #98D130, and soon after bought a Tissot Le Locle T0064071103300.
As I grew more educated in the world of horology, my enthusiasm for either of these greatly diminished but I do still enjoy them for daily wear. I recently purchased and returned a Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre Five Day Date, because although I liked it I quickly found it did not scratch my itch for what I would consider a “nice watch.” I am now holding off on all purchases until I can get the watch I truly want, the Vacheron Patrimony 4100U/000G-B181. But, I digress — In all my passions from music to martial arts, I have always found myself attracted to performers and creators who demonstrate a balance of creativity and technical proficiency. To get to the point, I believe these are two of the main attributes you tend to value in your assessments of various timepieces.
On to my question: I understand that whether or not a watch manufacturer produces its own movements in house is generally considered a major factor in the quality of a given piece. Beyond that, I am fairly confused by what it actually means in a practical sense. Are there objective criteria to evaluate the quality of one movement over another? When comparing, let’s say, a specific movement by Jaeger to a specific movement by Perregaux, if the functions are the same, how can one assess which is superior? Is there a degree of mechanical knowledge that is required? If all functional qualifiers like power reserve and VPH are the same, are they equal? And to touch on VPH specifically, the general understanding of it I and those I speak about these things with have is that higher VPH means a more accurate watch. If this is the case, why do certain high end manufactures create movements that operate under 28800, which seems to be the industry standard for automatics?
My apologies for the barrage of questions, but as I am finally taking the time to write you I figured I would just get them all out at once.
Well, well, this is a most excellent question — one of the best I have had so far in this extremely trying year. It is not so much that you are asking a barrage of questions — rather, you are asking one very fundamental question, which is how to evaluate movements. I will give you three necessarily brief answers, because it is a subject as old as watchmaking itself.
First, “in-house” is a term I wish we could dispose of completely. Making a movement, as much as possible under a brand’s own roof, became a mark of distinction in the 1990s and certainly, it is associated with many great brands. Rolex, Patek and Audemars Piguet, for example, as well as Seiko and Grand Seiko, all make their movements “in-house.” However, this was not, ever, the general practice in the watch industry and while it is meaningful on a case by case basis, what you do with a movement in terms of finish, adjustment, and refining to higher standards, is at least as important, if not more so, than the bare fact of whether it is in-house or not.
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Second, aesthetics. The classic Genevan vocabulary of watch decoration is an enormous field of study, and to evaluate the finish of a high grade watch, requires years of experience and education. It includes black polishing and straight graining of steel parts, beveling (anglage) of plates and bridges, polishing flanks, beveling and polishing spokes of wheels and teeth, polished countersinks for screws and jewels and on and on. There are also different ways of executing all these techniques, from the almost fully automated, to the traditional and fully manual, and as automation has improved it has become extremely difficult, if not in some cases impossible, to tell the difference; caveat emptor.
Third, functional excellence. What constitutes functional excellence in a watch varies with the type of watch; expectations are different for a thin, time only watch, versus an automatic chronometer, versus a perpetual calendar, versus a repeater, and so on. Every category has its own language of functional excellence — chronometers for instance, traditionally had (as a very general rule of thumb) overcoil balance springs, large, hand-poised balances, very finely made levers and escape wheels, and so on.
You are very, very lucky in that you obviously have an active and enquiring mind, and all three of these questions provide a most absorbing lifetime of interest. Unlike those who collect for the gratification of ego, or to show off wealth, you are going to have a (hopefully very long) rich horological life and moreover, one which depends neither on wealth nor ownership to be enjoyable.
“It Is Tonneau, Not Tourneau”
Question for you and I am sure I already know the answer but I would like to [ask] your opinion. I have always loved the Frank Mueller Tourneau shaped watches. I have noticed recently the prices for them have come down a lot. Ranging from $6,000 to $15,000 depending on style. The one that I looked at was 46mm. That was too large for my taste even though I am 6’4 but it looks really large. The second one is I love Roger Dubuis. I have been looking for the Sympathie sport 42mm with white face blue hands. Not many people know about this brand but I like the look and size. I was looking at the Hublot Tourneau style watches too but does not seem to have the same look as FM. Looking to spend $10,000 for the timepiece. What would be your suggestions? Oh boy.
Oh boy indeed. It is tonneau, not Tourneau — the latter is a retailer, the former is a case shape (which means “barrel” for what it is worth). I am afraid that I am not going to be much help for you here because all three of the brands you mention, I find uninteresting — deeply uninteresting as they sell largely on the strength of their ability to project the affluence of the owner, rather than any intrinsic horological interest.
I feel this especially acutely for Roger Dubuis and Frank Mueller — both brands started by what started out as very talented watchmakers. Mr. Roger Dubuis lost control of the company that has his name, and Frank Mueller, as so often happens, became so enamoured of the good life as to lose all interest in credible horology.
However, on the understanding that I am going to give you advice on companies in which I have no interest at all, I would suggest looking at the Frank Mueller tonneau timepieces; you will at discount, realize better value for your money than with either Hublot or Roger Dubuis, and at least you will have the benefit of owning an iconic case design which the brand really did put on the map. You will also have a watch that is a mournful reminder that pride goeth before a fall, but don’t let that stop you.
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This post was syndicated from askmen.com