Time is ticking all around us.
On our phones, computers, microwaves, car displays and fridges. In fact, in the history of horology, never has the donning of a wristwatch been so personal, so outwardly expressive, and so happily unnecessary. The reasons behind the purchasing of a watch vary from person to person, as does the size and value of a collection. Potentially eight-digit fanaticisms aside, here are three influencing factors in the watch world today.
The very heartbeat of a watch. Often referred to as a “caliber” by time connoisseurs, think of a movement as a watch’s source of power. Very loosely speaking, there are three trademark groups of watch movements. The mechanical and automatic, the quartz, and of course the digital.
A mechanical, or an automatic caliber, is a combination of various springs and barrels, cogs and gears, plates and synthetic jewels that run off one another to give a watch life. The only notable difference between the two is that a mechanical watch (the far older design) is hand-wound, whereas integrated into an automatic’s caliber, is an oscillating rotor that self-winds using the energy created by the movement of the wearer. Mechanical and automatic movements are often found in the more sumptuous watches out there; Rolex – or any prestigious brand worthy of a name drop in a Jay Z/Kanye collaboration – not only boasts a bank-breaking price tag but a mechanical or automatic movement. The centuries-old complexity of these movements drive up the retail price, flooding watch blogs with fanatical outpour and many a disagreement whenever the slightest modification is made to their favourite heritage brand. This is not to say deep pockets are a prerequisite for owning a mechanically powered watch, they can be bought for less than $200. Anything with the words “Swiss Made” on its face, however, is another story. If you prefer something with an “old-school” complication and conversation-starting cachet, mechanically powered watches are the place to start.
This brings us to our second movement. Quartz calibers use a minuscule, specifically “grown” crystal that oscillates in response to an electrical current supplied by a small battery. This current creates a vibration that is then used to preserve the movement’s oscillations and move the watch’s hands. Quartz powered wristwatches were first developed at the tail end of the nineteen sixties, and by the eighties were dominating the watch market worldwide. Quartz allowed for a cheaper, more accurate watch, and still to this day has a far longer power reserve than anything mechanical (we are talking years). However, quartz, like batteries, need to be replaced every couple of years. Due to their fairly basic and easily replicable makeup, the more traditional watch wearers of the world often scoff at quartz watches. Of course, there are five-figure watches out there boasting tremendous quartz accuracy, but they do not command the same large piles of cash as their mechanical counterparts. Do not let that necessarily deter you, if you value superior reliability, something that is light on the wrist and can be bought for as little as $10, then watch snobs be damned – a quartz watch may be for you.
Our final movement group is something of an enigma to define. Forming their own cult following, I refer to them as “digital” due to their watch faces being so, and the computer-based technology that powers them. However, I suppose holistically, “Smartwatch” is also quite fitting. These watch movements have more in common with an iPhone or even a retro Casio calculator, and much like other smart technology; their battery life fluctuates from brand to brand (the Apple watch: series 4 offers 18 hours of battery life as opposed to the 2 weeks offered by the Garmin Forerunner 945). Time telling very much takes a backseat in these digital portents: taking connectivity and the innumerable rush of our fast-paced world to new peaks. If you value the ultimate multitasker, with bucket loads of functions and new tricks, a Smartwatch is an unquestioned choice.
2. Microbrands vs. Heritage Brands
About 10 years ago, give or take, the term “Microbrand” floated into the watch world. What exactly does it mean? In essence, Microbrands, or “Independents” as the more genuine brands prefer to be called, are small watch-making companies that produce watches with more modest resources (and price tags). How do they do this without trucks full of cash? They outsource their movements from well-established brands that specialise in supplying unencumbered calibers that serve as a base to build the remainder of the watch. Microbrands or small independents tend to indulge in originality and are responsible for some seriously innovative, borderline-otherworldly designs.
On the other hand, the traditional brands of the world are bound by their heritage and the iconic status of each of their models. They have resources that have been accrued over centuries, and this means that most of their watches (after a certain dollar mark) have movements that have been self-manufactured which is known as “in house.” This David vs. Goliath-like matchup between the well established and the Avant-garde has polarised much of the watch community. When it comes down to it, however, I have a fairly simple philosophy – both are pretty cool (and can co-exist). But if, like so many passionate watch collectors, you want to pick a side, here’s my advice. If you want to treat your wrist to a touch of prestige and reputation, if you value unparalleled warranty and historically-bona-fide watchmaking, there really is no other choice: a big-name brand is your calling. However, if you prefer something cheaper and unknown, with convention-stretching designs that can leave you awestruck like a seven-year-old admiring a Lego Death Star, then an Independents is certainly something to consider.
3. Watch Size
There is not much complexity to this trend and yet the size of a watch continues to impact a watch buyer’s decision. For a while there, we are talking most of the twentieth century, it was pretty much universally agreed upon that a watch’s diameter should never exceed 39mm (watch traditionalists continue to cling to this notion). In fact, even after World War II, watches tended to be between the 34mm and 37mm mark. Then the seventies, as they did in many wonderful aspects of life, spiced things up a touch. The giants of the watch world like Rolex and Omega began to release sports watches that crossed the 40mm threshold with little apprehension. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and the trend has exploded. Throughout each echelon of Swiss-brand prestige down to the Independents, who in keeping with their progressive philosophy never cared to start with, watches are easily popping the 42mm-45mm bubble. Furthermore, there are a handful of brands that have even ventured into 50mm territory and beyond. Ultimately it comes down to your wrist and what you feel best suits it. When buying a watch always remember to place the most credence in your gut feeling; trends serve as valuable guides, but nothing more.