Let me say this at the outset – I.Love.Watches! It does not matter if they are a beater or if they are something fabulous. I love wearing an article on my wrist that has both utility and beauty. At a glance, they can tell me the time and date for starters, and, with more complications, impart more information like the moon phases, 2nd time zones, day of the week, and much more.
In the world of watches however, the luxury category brings out emotions in me that are difficult to explain to those that have not succumbed to the bug. Trust me, It is an exercise in frustration to try and convince someone that wears a $25 quartz watch, a smartwatch, or for that matter, no watch, relying on their cellphone for time, that spending a large sum of money on an object that just tells time, and maybe the date, is worth the expense.
To make matters worse, we all know that quartz movements are inherently more accurate than mechanical movements, to say nothing of smartwatches and cell phones that are synchronized to your country’s time server’s atomic clock, the new atomic clock being so accurate that it will only lose .1 second in 14 billion years!
Contrast this with a mechanical watch that, at best, gains or loses 1 to 2 seconds per day if it is COSC certified. COSC stands for: Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, the Swiss Chronometer testing institute – and, to make matters worse, will need service or cleaning every five or so years. It is not an insignificant expense.
Couple this with the cost of repair if you break a crystal, break a crown, or worse, destroy a movement because you forced a date change when the hands were in the wrong position! Why would anyone want to wear a luxury watch? What drives this madness?
Let me try and give the uninitiated a sense of why I, and a multitude of others, love luxury watches. So, for purposes of this article, let’s first define what a luxury watch is. In my mind, a luxury watch is a timepiece with a list price that starts in the four figure range, made of either steel or precious metal, and utilizes a mechanical movement. Oh, and let’s add; is manufactured by a horological house, primarily, but not necessarily, in Switzerland. No hate mail please. I said, not necessarily!
I’m not trying to be snobby here because there are many excellent watches with quartz and mechanical movements that cost way less, but we have to put a stake in the ground. Before I forget, we will also exclude smartphones and smartwatches as they are a category unto themselves.
Let’s get on with it then, shall we?
So, what elicits the emotion that one feels when wearing a luxury watch? And why do I love them?
To write this article, I became introspective and asked myself many questions to try and understand the lure. After much back and forth, to the point of schizophrenia, it became clear that what motivated me and by corollary, luxury watch owners, was the existence of four primary groups or emotional quadrants from which I drew my stimulus. That realization now out of the way, I will thus attempt to capture the essence of these emotions.
Now, understand this: No single quadrant has more weight or is more important than the other, but each person will fall into one of these quadrants and assign their own hierarchy to the other quadrants. There will always be a tug-of-war within everyone as to which is more important. If you are like me, some days it can change 😉 – usually, this correlates to the type of watch that is on your wrist.
All that said, I’ve identified the emotional appeal Luxury watch lovers feel into the following categories:
- Engineering and Utility
- Beauty and Design
- Status and Individualism
- Speculation and Investment
The first group are fixated on the movements and complications that reside in a watch. The technical aspect has all the draw. There is nothing better than getting into the “guts”of the watch to understand how one type of escapement works versus another – how a tourbillon was invented to counter gravitational effects, how many beats per second does this movement have, and does that make it more accurate than another that has less? – and on and on and on!
These are the technical minded amongst us, who have an understanding, and can appreciate, the long tedious hours spent by teams and individuals to design and craft intricate mechanisms that perform so many functions, and to top it all, still be able to cram these marvels of machinery into an object you wear on your wrist!
The next group is all about the looks. They can’t stop looking at their wrist to check out how the enameled guilloche dials and anodized hands shimmer and change hues under the changing light, the rose gold of the case glinting or the lume springing out in the darkness – accentuated by the marvelous stainless steel and leather bracelets or the rhodium plated numbers on a bezel. Simply beautiful, they say!
These are the artists amongst us. Seeing the interplay of the colors and components. In a word, they are enthralled by how the watch comes alive as they contemplate the second hand sweeping gracefully around the dial. This is the satisfaction they feel as they gaze on their timepiece.
Then there are those that use watches to mark their status. A statement of their level in life or their wealth. Possibly giving little thought to the aesthetics of the timepiece but rather, more importance to the logo on the watch face.
These are the ones that have arrived, no, strike that, want to announce that they have arrived. In some circles, it may be used to determine a pecking order and conversely, it can be used to thumb their nose at a superior or peer, a way of subtly showing them that they aren’t THAT superior. The flip side to this group are those that seek the unique or avant-garde looking watches, also as a means to separate themselves from the crowd – “sure, you have a sub, but so does everyone. Mine is a Blancpain 50 fathoms” – that kind of snobbery.
There are a variety of nuances to this game but ultimately whether you play it or not or whether you subscribe to this group will depend on how you see yourself and your self worth.
The last, but not least, category are those that choose to leverage luxury watches as an investment vehicle or another place to park their money. Think about it, if you buy a $60K Patek and sit on it for several years, it may be worth double when you want to sell. It can be lucrative if you play it right. Buy low, sell high – or higher is the mantra. There are Brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet that hold value and can increase over time depending on the rarity of the piece.
These are the business people. Always looking for an angle to play and to leverage the value of an item. It’s not for the faint of heart but can be quite rewarding. Just think that the Rolex Daytona worn by Paul Newman fetched $5.4 million and Steve McQueen’s Heuer sold for
$2.2M the last time they came up for auction! That is insane!
Now that I’ve laid out the emotional quadrants, I am hoping to impart to those of you that do not understand, some sense of why we love luxury watches. You should give it a try, visit an Authorized dealer of one of these timepieces. Hold it in your hand, feel the heft and wonder at the craftsmanship of the dial. Turn it over and view the movement through the clear caseback. Be mesmerized at the ruby jewels and the tiny gears turning slowly, the balance wheel swishing back and forth as the self winding rotor twirls around its axis! Ah, the beauty of it all!
As you can evince, there are many reasons to love luxury watches and I ascribe my infatuation of them to all the categories I’ve laid out. There is a little bit of me in each category. Can you guess which main camp I fall into?
No luxury watches were harmed during the writing of this article.
By: Stephen Semenchuk