Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Watch Primer #08: Tiers & Price Ranges, Part Three & Conclusions

This post is the last installment in the Tiers and Price Ranges entries for A Watch Primer.  It covers the final, most expansive (and yes, expensive) range - $10,000+ and beyond – and then looks back on all the tiers at which we’ve looked and offers some helpful tips for those interested in starting or expanding their watch collections.

Haute Horology - $10,000+ and Beyond

Once the price tag on a watch begins to exceed the ten grand threshold, you begin to venture past the realm of mass-production pieces into hand-finished, hand-assembled or bespoke watches.  In short, you’ve entered the playground of haute horology. 

The highest pantheon of big Swiss manufacturers – Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin – start becoming accessible at this point, along with their peer from Glashutte, A. Lange & Sohne, as do the high-end models from Jaeger-LeCoultre.  Precious metal cases and bands enter the fold, and as you venture into $50k and beyond, so do the most challenging (and sought after) complications: perpetual calendars, rattraponte chronographs, minute repeaters.  Or if you’re looking to avoid widely available and factory manufactured pieces for something produced in small batches, largely by hand, and even built to your own specifications. 

If money is no object (as it is increasingly likely to be, if you’re shopping in this rarified neighborhood), you can snag a bespoke piece from world-class horologist like F.P. Journe or Richard Mille.  An honorable mention for the made-to-order market must go out to American company RGM Watches, which offers a great degree of customizability and has succeeding in offering the first American-made movement since Hamilton became a Swiss company, as well as its own tourbillion model.

Ultimately, this tier covers too much ground in terms of style and function to be able to encapsulate it all in a couple of exemplary watches.  My own “grail watch” picks from this tier reflect my preference for simpler watches with clean dials: Patek Philippe’s Calatrava line is still the high water mark for dress watches, Audemars Piguet’s classic blue-dialed Royal Oak (which, try as I might, I still prefer aesthetically to the also Genta-designed PP Nautilus) for steel sports watches, and, my top if-money-was-no-object choice, the A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia Dual Time in white gold:

Drawing Conclusions

So what can we learn from looking at the entire field of watches from drugstore Casio to bespoke Richard Mille?  For a device that has been rendered potentially obsolete with the advent of the smartphone (which could, with the right app, perform any of the timekeeping duties of a wristwatch, with greater accuracy and without costly maintenance), the wide panoply of designs, features, and target markets are as diverse as the people who wear them.  Every watch-wearing individual has his or her own opinion about what’s good and what isn’t, and with the traditional rules of wrist wear becoming increasingly blurred over time (case in point: the mounting consensus that a classically designed sports watch like the Rolex Submariner can perform dress watch duty as easily as it can time a dive), it is the clarity and coherence of your own sense of aesthetics that must chart the course of your watch collection. 

Price alone cannot determine the inherent worth of a timepiece.  It should, however, factor into your buying decisions for at least two reasons, the first obvious, the second less so.  First, the watch you buy to wear around your wrist should not be expensive enough to pay off your mortgage (or you probably should have used that money to do just that) or cause you to worry over your timepiece so much that it inhibits your ability to use and enjoy it.  Second, the price of your watch reflects your philosophical view of watches and the practice of wearing them. 

As wearing a wristwatch is no longer a requirement for telling accurate time, the act of wearing one has shifted from practical necessity to a stylistic choice.  It can be assumed to some degree that a man who wears a watch every day – or even as part of a larger rotation – does so because he appreciates it.  Given that appreciation, an observer can safely deduce facets of the man from the qualities of the watch.  A gentleman who chooses a solid but inexpensive quartz model like the Timex Easyreader as his day-to-day watch may be unpretentious, frugal, shrewd, or utilitarian – or he might be the opposite of all those things.  But his selection of timepiece inevitably speaks to his view of watches as a whole: his choice of a value-priced model with quartz accuracy and convenience evokes a perspective of watches as tools rather than affectations.  A man who wears a Rolex daily may do so because he is appearance-conscious, a big spender, or appreciates the aesthetics of the brand or a mechanical movements.  But his choice evokes a view of watches as objects of intrinsic (and, perhaps, intangible) worth, irrespective of functionality, ease of use, or efficiency.  Such a man inevitably acknowledges that watches as both timekeepers and aesthetic statements, and displays a willingness to invest in an aesthetic object that, if maintained and cared for, is designed to accompany him throughout his life.  Neither outlook is wrong; nor is one any more correct than the other.  But each man’s outlook inevitable reveals something about the man himself, and so it is a wise individual who takes pains to both know himself well enough to understand his outlook and chooses a watch that comports with it.

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